The name once struck terror across two states and an entire forest range in the Western Ghats. It was said to be behind the deaths of over 150 people, including police and forest officers, and the poaching of over 100 elephants. It was also a buzzword for the smuggling of sandalwood.
Today, it’s a surname that signals a new future. “Vidhya Veerappan,” she says over the phone.
The daughter of forest brigand Veerappan, who was killed by police in 2004, is now a 29-year-old law graduate who runs a “school for kids” in Krishnagiri — and the new vice-president of the BJP’s Tamil Nadu youth wing.
For the party, which is struggling to stay afloat in the state, the name is a catchy addition. For Vidhya, it’s about “social service”. “I don’t relate to any particular community, I believe in humanity,” she says.
Vidhya came to know about her appointment through a Facebook post by the state party leadership. And almost immediately, the talk was all about her father.
“I had seen him only once, during a school vacation, when I was at my grandfather’s village Gopinatham, near Hanur in Karnataka. There was a forest nearby, I was hardly six or seven years old. He came to where we were playing, spent a few minutes talking to me, and left. I remember him asking me to ‘do good, study well to become a doctor and serve people’,” says Vidhya.
“But by the time I started knowing the world, he had lived his life…I believe it was the situation around him that made him choose a problematic path. But some of the stories I heard about him motivated me to do social service,” she says.
Veerappan made national headlines in 2000 with the kidnapping, and release weeks later, of Kannada movie legend Rajkumar. He made it to the front pages once again, four years later, when he was killed in a shootout with the Tamil Nadu Police Special Task Force (STF) headed by K Vijay Kumar, who went on to become a security advisor in the Union Home Ministry.
In his book Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand, Kumar wrote about how Vidhya was born in a Chennai hospital after her mother surrendered to police, and was lodged in a women’s hostel where she was named “Vidhya Rani” by an STF officer.
The popular narrative about Veerappan also includes a sub-text: his image as a “Robin Hood” for the Vanniyars, an influential OBC community to which he belonged.
“He was never into politics but his approach and actions were based on his understanding of the world around him. There are many interpretations about his work for the Vanniyar community,” says Vidhya.
In fact, her mother Muthulakshmi is still affiliated with the Tamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi (TVK), an offshoot of the PMK, a Vanniyar party and NDA ally.
Vidhya, however, joined the BJP in February, about a couple of years after a local leader first introduced her to the then Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan. “I was interested in social service, and Radhakrishnan suggested that I do the same work for the party,” she says.
Today, despite her new appointment, Vidhya admits that politics is an unknown arena. But then, she is known to put up a fight — like in 2011, when she defied her mother and her community to marry the man she loved.
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