How to Catch a Bandit

A first-hand account of the capture and killing of Veerappan

Written by RK Vij | Updated: March 18, 2017 6:02 am
 Veerappan Chasing the Brigand, Veerappan, K Vijay Kumar, K Vijay Kumar writer, latest news Veerappan: Chasing The Brigand by K Vijay Kumar

Name: Veerappan: Chasing The Brigand
Author: K Vijay Kumar
Publisher: Rupa
Page: 250 pages
Price: Rs 317

The mission accomplished on the night of October 18, 2004, was not a result of luck or “divine forces” but a strategic outcome of insights gained from previous attempts to nab Veerappan. The entire game was played out on the trusted turf of the Special Task Force (STF). Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand, by former Tamil Nadu STF chief K Vijay Kumar, and currently a senior security advisor to the Ministry of Home Affairs, is a classic study on how to catch a notorious offender.

The book, which reads like a spy thriller, elaborates the endgame of Veerappan, who was responsible for the killings of “forty-four cops and foresters and no less than eighty civilians”. Though, by then, Veerappan’s gang had been reduced to “four or six”, Kumar, as the then STF head, took no chances. He constituted multiple teams of six commandoes, well equipped and trained for night operations in forests. The teams comprised those who “had spent a significant part of their career chasing Veerappan” as well as those having “their first day with the STF”.

The book confirms that Kumar analysed well his adversary’s strengths and weaknesses. His earlier “plan to infiltrate Veerappan’s gang” had little success, and so he launched Operation Boston to lure Veerappan out of the jungles for his eye operation by making an undercover policewoman befriend Veerappan’s wife, Muthulakshmi. The idea was to trap him, but the plan “flopped for whatever reasons” in its last leg.

When sources indicated that Veerappan was holed up within a 10-km radius of his village and was receiving sumptuous quantity of fresh food, the STF chief decided to inundate the area with “agile mini teams”. The area was divided into 16 squares (2 km by 2 km); each was allocated to two six-member teams— one leading the offensive and the other on standby mode.

Veerappan’s modus operandi to unleash a wave of terror was quite different from the “kangaroo courts” of the Maoists who operate in the forests of Dandakaranya. The Maoists are also known to publicly kill villagers on the suspicion of being police informers, but the brigand who operated in the forests of south India took brutality to a different plane. Veerappan chopped off Deputy Conservator of Forests P Srinivas’s head and “carried the grisly trophy back to his camp”. He did not spare even his own baby girl as her “ill-timed cry” could have alerted police patrols. She was eventually buried in the jungles. Still, the level of enthusiasm of the police officers was so high that quite a few had taken a vow not to marry till they nab Veerappan.

Interstate cooperation is crucial when the area of operation of any outfit transcends the jurisdiction of a state. Veerappan was operating in the border forests of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Though the forces of the two states did face some occasional irritants, they mostly ably supported and complemented each other. So much so that not much fuss was made even when the Karnataka STF “had almost opened fire on Tamil Nadu STF, mistaking them for Veerappan’s men”.

Kumar deserves accolades for the success of the operation. He used a police vehicle remodelled as an ambulance (code-named Cocoon) to lure Veerappan for an eye operation. Yet, as a leader, he gives full credit to his officers who displayed exemplary courage and perseverance for almost two decades, especially Srinivas, who had developed a reliable network of informers but was later brutally killed. Only four core members of his team knew about the final shootout, that too on a “need-to-know basis”.

The identity of one Mr X, believed to have some links with certain Sri Lanka-based Tamil radicals, is never revealed in the book. He was instrumental in the success of STF’s last operation. The author has also not divulged the details of the money that changed hands in lieu of the release of Kannada actor Rajkumar, who remained in Veerappan’s captivity for 108 days.

The book deftly traces Veerappan’s rise in the 1980s to his fall in 2004. It has sufficient insight on how to undertake operations in forested regions. Of course, such operations cannot be replicated in other areas. Every banned outfit has a different socio-cultural economy and needs to be dealt with accordingly. Written in felicitous prose, offering a first-hand account of a meticulously planned operation, Kumar’s work is an excellent guide for young policemen who wish to lead the forces from the front. The writer is additional director general of police in Chhattisgarh

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