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Politics of an eviction

Print edition : Feb 16, 2002 T+T-

ON February 5, in a move that can only be construed as political vendetta, personnel of the Directorate of Estates, Ministry of Urban Development attempted to evict the Delhi unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from its 14 Vithalbhai Patel House office located on Rafi Marg. The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) was also told to vacate its office, located on the same premises, the same day. No eviction order or notice had been served to either party and the entire operation was conducted in the presence of a posse of policemen. The CPI(M) has been strongly critical of the policies of the present government. The Delhi unit had been functioning from the Rafi Marg office since 1970. The rooms had been allotted to the party. Recently the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government issued an order stipulating that offices in residential areas, such as V.P. House, could be allotted only to political parties that had more than 50 Members of Parliament. It was clear that only two parties would qualify in that category.

Pushpinder Grewal, the State secretary of CPI(M), told Frontline that on February 1, officials of the party's State unit met Achala Sinha, Director, Estates, and explained that the quarter Number 14 and 8, which comprised three rooms, could be allotted against the entitlement of Rajya Sabha Member S. Ramachandran Pillai. The Director agreed and told the delegation to make a request in writing. The letter was given on February 4 and the next day the eviction team appeared, claiming that the letter bore no government order or formal noting. Grewal tried to contact the Director and her office, but to no avail. Finally, it was after prolonged deliberations between Union Minister Ananth Kumar and CPI(M) MPs A. Vijayaraghavan, S. Ramachandran Pillai and Nilotpal Basu that the matter was resolved. "I can only see a political motive behind this move. If they want to fight the CPI(M), they should do it politically," observed Grewal.

As news of the attempted eviction spread, support poured in from groups and individuals from various parts of the country. Led by Communalism Combat, a journal based in Mumbai, a statement was issued denouncing the "hasty and intemperate move" to evict SAHMAT from its "small space within the V.P. House premises." Rajendra Prasad, the spokesperson of SAHMAT, said in the statement that it was not simply a bullying or threatening act but a warning to small groups not to dare challenge the dictatorial policies of the government. Others who signed the statement included Shubha Mudgal, classical Indian vocalist; Farookh Shaikh, actor; Javed Akhtar, poet and lyricist; Shabana Azmi, Member of Parliament; Nikhil Wagle, Editor, Mahanagar; and Javed Anand and Teesta Setalvad, editors, Communalism Combat.

T.K. RajalakshmiThe search for Veerappan

MEDIA reports that sandalwood smuggler and poacher Veerappan has been surrounded by the Special Task Forces (STFs) of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and that his henchman Sethukuli Govindan has been arrested have turned out to be speculation. The bandit remains holed up in the forests and the police are unaware of his whereabouts.

Veerappan and his gang were last sighted in Chemanthimalai (in the Western Ghats near the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border) in January 2001 when a tribal person, who was asked by the bandits to cook food for them, informed the police (Frontline, March 2, 2001). However STF sources said that there had been an intelligence tip-off in early January that the brigand was holed up in the vicinity of the Bargur, Malai Mahadeshwara Hills (M.M. Hills) and Satyamangalam forests. Combing by both STFs on either side of the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border, including an attempt to block the exit and entry points to these forests, has been unproductive. As an STF source pointed out, there was no foolproof system to sanitise the vast forests, which together occupy 4,000 square kilometres.

The operations involve sustained combing and gathering of intelligence. While combing has had some success - the teams split up and spend up to a fortnight in the forests looking for the gang - intelligence is certainly at a premium. Groups of STF personnel and informers move about in the forests posing as labourers in a bid to gather information about the gang's movements. Ironically, it would seem that Veerappan continues to have a better intelligence gathering network than the security forces.

Senior STF officers, including the chief of the Karnataka STF, Additional Director-General of Police Subash Bharani, and its commander, Inspector-General of Police Kempaiah, are non-committal about the success of the present operations. While Bharani said that the forces were "persistently and consistently looking for Veerappan", that combing was going on and that the "end for Veerappan would come" (but did not say when), Kempaiah preferred to avoid the media.

The STFs have fallen back on the only tangible lead that they have had in recent times - the emissaries who secured the release of Kannada film actor Rajkumar and three others from the custody of the gang in 2000. A Tamil Nadu STF party is expected to visit Bangalore to question Dr. Bhanu, Ram Kumar and A.P. Shanmugasundaram again. Rajkumar and the other former hostages are also expected to be questioned. Police sources pointed out that Kolathur T.S. Mani, another emissary who was recently released from judicial custody, will also be questioned.

Mani told Frontline that he was prepared to undertake a journey into the forests to try and persuade the brigand to surrender. He said: "If the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments say yes, I will go in. But all that the two governments have so far been saying is that if Veerappan wants to surrender he could do so at the nearest police station." Mani was unsure whether Veerappan, who has reportedly made the granting of a general amnesty for him and his gang a precondition for surrender, would do so.

But both the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments are firm that the brigand, who according to police records has killed 138 people (including 32 police and 10 forest personnel), would not be given a general amnesty. Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna reiterated the two governments' stand when he said: "The question of granting amnesty to Veerappan is ruled out."

Ravi Sharma