Veerappan is not to be forgotten. Two years after the abduction of the Kannada actor, Raj Kumar, this sandalwood-smuggler and elephant-poacher from the forests of the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border has knocked the heads of the two states together yet again by another very similar piece of vile mischief. Veerappan and his men have picked up the former Karnataka minister and Janata Dal leader, Mr H. Nagappa, and carried him away into the woods. To add insult to injury, Mr Nagappa’s security guards have also been abducted. He has also left behind a video cassette, the contents of which have not been made public yet. Veerappan is an old hand in all this, working his way through abduction and murder since the mid-Eighties. It is a measure of the incompetence and the bizarre political dynamics in the two states that each time he strikes, there are allegations and snidenesses exchanged between the two chief ministers, together with fairly serious disruptions in law and order. But nothing seems to happen eventually. Veerappan disappears into the forest, after voicing petty political demands and threats, to strike again after some time. This time too, an angry mob has burnt a bus, Ms J. Jayalalithaa has hinted at Mr S.M. Krishna’s bad handling of Special Task Force affairs which might have given Veerappan the handle for his latest sins. The two chief ministers now wish to meet, and the prime minister and the home minister may also be caught when they pass through the states for consultation.
Apart from ruffling up inter-state politics, Veerappan is also proving to be lucrative for the Special Task Force heads and personnel, and therefore dreadfully expensive for Tamil Nadu. The amount of money spent by the government on Veerappan-related operations has jumped from Rs 4.41 crore in 2000-01 to nearly Rs 16 crore during 2001-02. The ten-year hunt for him is believed to have cost the Tamil Nadu government more than Rs 70 crore. Ms Jayalalithaa has experimented with the size and toughness of the Special Task Force, but Veerappan has remained elusive. The emissaries sent to him usually end up in jail, so nobody seems willing to do the job this time. It is possible that an ageing Veerappan is simply running out of money and steam, and is looking for means of rehabilitation, Phoolan Devi-style, into some sort of political agenda. Hence, his erratic attempts at whipping up Tamil nationalist sentiments in some of his earlier demands. But purely from the point of view of law and order, his long invincibility from the police forces of both states remains an absurd, inexplicable and occasionally dangerous phenomenon.