It would seem that the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are determined to establish the mythical qualities of M. Veerappan. The question of exactly how the former Karnataka minister, H. Nagappa, died has become less important within the larger implications of the death itself. It takes a staggering effort of suspending disbelief to accept that in spite of the untiring efforts of special task forces from both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu since the Nineties, a poacher, thief, kidnapper and murderer, operating for almost four decades in the forests on the border between the two states, has remained at liberty — except for a stint in Mysore jail in 1986 — to do what he pleases within the 14,000 square kilometres from Chinnamapathy in Coimbatore district to Anchetty in Dharmapuri district that comprise his “fiefdom”. The abduction of the former minister, belonging to the Janata Dal (United), is especially shocking, since the kidnapping saga of the actor Raj Kumar about two years ago is still fresh in popular memory. Evidently, the state administrations concerned do not have good memories and the STFs are asked to take time off when the criminal offers a lull before the next storm. Officially, his murder victims number around 120, most of them policemen or security personnel and forest officials. Although he turned to kidnapping from 1994, he does not usually make a habit of murdering his captives, which perhaps makes the circumstances of Nagappa’s death, whatever they were, even more tragic. His demands range from ransom to general amnesty to the freeing of certain prisoners belonging to Tamil extremist groups or charged under anti-terrorism acts. Not all of his demands have been met, it is true, but neither has he been caught.
He seems to lead a charmed life. The forests are dense, and the local villagers cooperate with the criminal because he is said to kill those who betray him and reward the loyal. This is good stuff for a bedtime tale, but not for a civilized structure with modern state power ranged against a fugitive. His criminal hoard is substantial: an official estimate puts his loot at more than 88,000 pounds of ivory and sandalwood worth millions of rupees. Veerappan is clearly dependent on very good transmission lines for his illegal goods, as for his arms and information. It is strange that so many state governments through so many years have not been able to reach the criminal by homing in on this invisible network. If this is the condition of the state machinery, it is difficult to see what chances the state has against terrorists in Kashmir and elsewhere.