FOREST bandit Veerappan, who continues to hold hostage the former Karnataka Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader H. Nagappa, whom he kidnapped on August 25, sent yet another audio cassette to the Karnataka government on October 6, setting an eight-day deadline to send the jailed Kolathur Mani to negotiate Nagappa's release. In the cassette, which was found wrapped in a dhoti in Nagappa's garden, the brigand addresses Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna, who he accuses of not responding to the demands made immediately after the abduction.
But with the Karnataka government disinclined to send Mani to the forests, the hostage drama is likely to continue. The development has led to much disappointment in the Minister's family and among his friends and colleagues in the party, and leaders of the Lingayat community, to which he belongs. While they have been able to convince and pressure the Karnataka government to go slow on the operations to apprehend the brigand, they have not got any assurances from the government that it will secure Nagappa's safe release.
Nagappa's family dismissed as "baseless" newspaper reports that Veerappan was paid a huge sum in order to secure the Minister's release. But sources close to the family admitted that efforts had been made to enlist the help of religious heads of the Lingayat sect, politicians, including Union Defence Minister George Fernandes, and persons who had successfully helped in securing the release of Kannada actor Rajkumar, who was abducted by Veerappan two years ago. But with the government unprepared to assure the emissaries that no action will be taken against them once they return from the forests after meeting Veerappan, they have so far been reluctant to make any efforts.
The Karnataka government, which is preoccupied with the Cauvery dispute, does not want to do anything that could result in legal embarrassment, as had happened during the Rajkumar kidnap episode, when at the behest of Veerappan the government tried to free over 100 Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act detenus.
According to Nagappa's son-in-law Kiran Patil, Krishna has assured the Nagappa family that the Karnataka Special Task Force (STF), which has been pursuing the brigand, will be withdrawn from the operations. This is one of the demands of Veerappan. However, the Tamil Nadu government's stand is that it will not negotiate with the bandit nor withdraw the Tamil Nadu STF. Patil also said that Krishna had assured the family that the government would explore the legal aspects of getting Kolathur Mani released from jail. Patil denied that the family had paid any money to Veerappan.Ravi Sharma