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Monday, 9 December, 2002, 17:09 GMT
The hunt for India's elusive bandit
Villagers surround the body of former Minister Nagappa to his home village in Kamagere
Mr Nagappa's death will be embarrassing for the authorities

The death of former Karnataka minister, Hannur Nagappa, who was held hostage by India's most wanted bandit, Veerappan, has brought an unexpected end to a hostage crisis which lasted almost three months.

It has brought into focus the failure of two southern state governments to catch Veerappan, who has been accused of hundreds of murders, sandalwood smuggling and elephant poaching.

H Nagappa
Nagappa: Debate over who really killed him
The difficult nature of the territory and the lack of a coordinated campaign have ensured Veerappan has stayed one step ahead of his pursuers.

The question of who killed Nagappa itself is likely to remain unanswered for a long time.

In the final audio cassette Veerappan sent to the authorities saying he was abandoning his hostage, he was clearly rejecting responsibility for the death of his hostage, who he claimed was injured in an encounter with Tamil Nadu special task force (STF).

Elusive

Indian authorities, including the Tamil Nadu police and the Indian Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, have denied the encounter ever took place but it is highly unlikely that the complete truth will be found in this case.

With the hostage crisis now ending in a fiasco, the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments have announced they are resuming their operations to capture the brigand, who has proved to be elusive for the past two decades and more.

However, Veerappan has so far shown he knows his terrain better than his pursuers.

The dense tropical forests providing a haven for the outlaw span nearly four districts in an area of around 6,000 square kilometres across the two states.

Even an operation conducted by the Border Security Force (BSF) to catch Veerappan in the 1990's proved to be a failure.

Observers point out that so far, the joint operations to catch Veerappan have been conducted only in response to crisis situations like a high-profile abduction by the brigand, but that efforts then decrease once the issue is resolved and the news was out of the headlines.

Robin Hood

Even top police officials have openly admitted that there was a lot of bad blood between the two state forces operating in the forests.
Bandit Veerappan
Veerappan: Has asked for an amnesty in the past

Veerappan, over the years, has been regarded by some as a Robin Hood character after gaining the support of many locals in the villages adjoining the forests in Tamil Nadu.

STF efforts to win the local support have been largely unsuccessful, especially as there have also been serious charges of excesses including rape, against STF officials.

The Tamil Nadu Government has ordered and enquiry into these allegations.

Some observers say the government have never considered alternative ways of bringing the Veerappan to saga to an end including offering him a general amnesty in return for his surrender.

Veerappan himself has, more than once, asked for such a deal but this has proved to be unviable as both the state governments have rejected this.

They point out that an unconditional amnesty has never been granted to any fugitive in India and say that, even in the case of the dreaded bandits of Chambal Valley in north India, the brigands had to undergo imprisonment before they were rehabilitated.

It seems the present hunt will also have to continue until Veerappan finally runs out of luck.

See also:

08 Dec 02 | South Asia
08 Dec 02 | South Asia
22 Nov 02 | South Asia
15 Oct 02 | South Asia
14 Oct 02 | South Asia
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