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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Controversy haunts bandit search
Veerappan - many people may be relieved he never came to trial
The killing of India's legendary forest bandit, Veerappan, is already mired in controversy.

Local people insist the police should not have shot him dead.

They wanted him captured alive so he could have been brought to account for more than 100 murders he has been associated with.

That controversy reflects the widespread criticism over 20 years of the way security forces in southern India tried to deal with Veerappan.

Bad blood

The job fell to the governments in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Even senior police officials admitted in the past that bad blood between the forces of the two states operating in the regions extensive forests hampered effective search operations.

In addition a Special Task Force in Tamil Nadu alienated many local people who might have provided valuable information and support. The force has in the past faced accusations of excessive behaviour, including rape.

By contrast, Veerappan proved adept at keeping the local poor on his side.

He was willing to share some of his booty with villagers - hence the title of India's Robin Hood. In addition his fearsome reputation meant that few in the region dared cross his path.

The BBC's TN Gopalan in Madras says that, unlike many other gang leaders, Veerappan never used his position to take sexual advantage of women.

Out of the news

Critics also say that that joint state operations to catch Veerappan lacked consistency.

They accused the authorities of stepping up searches after high profile kidnappings, such as the abduction of film star Rajkumar, but then scaling back once the story was out of the news.

Locals gather at the scene of Veerappan's death
Locals gather at the scene of Veerappan's death

No one is sure how big his band was over the years.

Journalists and others who met him usually reported seeing him with only four or five fellow gang members.

However, our correspondent says the authorities gave the impression that Veerappan was running a big terrorist group. The police, he says, sought a mandate for ruthless forest bulldozing operations, killing and detaining many innocent tribals.

Sighs of relief?

The death of Veerappan may prove to be a mixed blessing for the inhabitants of the forest areas where he operated.

His reign of fear is over, while the police will no longer need to continue their much-criticised search operations.

On the other hand the poor may come to miss his largesse.

Locals will also be watching to see if the state authorities will continue with some development programmes that were started to try to limit Veerappan's influence.

By contrast there may be many in positions of influence in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka who will be quietly relieved at Veerappan's death.

Over the years he frequently welcomed journalists to his jungle hideouts. He would openly say that he owed much of this early career in crime to the help of local politicians, police and other power brokers who he bribed.

Moreover, at times when there was talk of him being offered an amnesty, he said he would name those he had bribed should he have to appear in court.

Now no-one has to worry about that.

How Veerappan became India's most notorious bandit

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