When Veerappan took to abduction for the first time, taking policemen hostage

On December 3, 1994, the bandit struck near the Sirumugai forest and abducted DSP Chidambaranathan, head constable Rajagopal, and a physical training instructor. The outlaw made “fantastic demands” to free them. But three teams, formed by the W.I. Davaram-led Special Task Force, started a combing operation and freed the hostages

Updated - May 15, 2024 11:41 am IST

Published - May 14, 2024 10:57 pm IST

The jeep, in which DSP Chidambaranathan (inset) and others travelled, was found abandoned in the Sirumugai forest range in December 1994.

The jeep, in which DSP Chidambaranathan (inset) and others travelled, was found abandoned in the Sirumugai forest range in December 1994. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

P. Nedumaran holding talks with Veerappan in the Thalavadi-Thalamalai forests during a mission in November 2000 to secure the release of Thespian Rajkumar.

P. Nedumaran holding talks with Veerappan in the Thalavadi-Thalamalai forests during a mission in November 2000 to secure the release of Thespian Rajkumar. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

December 1994. The entire machinery of the Tamil Nadu government was preoccupied with the arrangements for the Eighth World Tamil Conference to be held a month later in Thanjavur.

However, on December 3, forest bandit Veerappan struck near the Sirumugai forest, abducting Chidambaranathan, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) at the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption; Rajagopal, head constable, CID, Erode; and Sekar Raja, a physical training instructor at a private school in Coimbatore. Rajagopal was the DSP’s brother and Raja was their relative. Perhaps, it was the first and only occasion that he abducted policemen, though he was known for attacking the men in uniform and police stations in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Needless to say, by the early 1990s, he became the dreaded man for his brutal murder of officials of the Forest Departments of the two States. According to an estimate, he killed 140-odd persons.

In captivity for 27 days

The three hostages were held in captivity for 27 days before members of the Special Task Force or STF, which was formed to nab the smuggler, rescued them from the forest in the afternoon of December 30 that year. Talking of this episode, W. I. Davaram, in his memoir Munnar to Marina: The Journey, explains why Veerappan took to abduction. He contends that it was Veerappan’s “loss of revenue” from sandalwood smuggling and elephant-poaching, coupled with his “failure” to get the STF out of the forest, that made him to turn to abduction. Mr. Davaram, then STF chief and later Director-General of Police (DGP), says that “in spite of specific warning” from the STF, the hostages went to their farmhouse near the Sirumugai forest, located between the eastern slope of the Nilgiris and the Bhavanisagar Dam.

At that time, Jayalalithaa was Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister. Her administration immediately authorised Coimbatore Collector C.V. Sankar to hold negotiations with representatives of the smuggler, while Mr. Davaram and his team continued efforts to rescue the hostages. Three days after the abduction, Mr. Sankar received an audio cassette in which Veerappan made two demands — safe passage and protection for his messenger to facilitate communication with the Collector and no obstruction to food supplies for himself, his men, and the hostages. “The Collector said he had conceded both demands so that the line of communication could be maintained to know the demands of Veerappan,” said a report of The Hindu on December 7, 1994.

Then came the smuggler’s “fantastic demands”, to quote another report of this newspaper. Five days later, Veerappan made more than 10 demands. Among them were the laying down of weapons before the President of India; payment of ?1,000 crore in compensation to the victims of police firing; protection for his group members; licence for the weapons already in their possession; a licence to run a blue metal quarry; and permission to produce a film on his exploits. The Collector received the list of demands from Veerappan’s brother Arjunan.

Cabinet goes into a huddle

At one stage, DMK president M. Karunanidhi doubted the very existence of the brigand and wondered whether the government was enacting a “drama” through the episode. The Cabinet met on December 15 and discussed the demands of Veerappan. Describing the demands as “mind-boggling”, Chief Secretary N. Haribhaskar, however, told journalists that “we will have to make a cautious move”, considering the plight of the abductees.

In his book, Mr. Davaram recalls that three parties were formed and “started from Sholurmattam near Kotagiri, 6,000 feet above the Bhavani river, made our way down the jungle slope”. He writes, “It was [the then STF Commander] Sanjay Arora’s party that was first sighted by Veerappan’s gang which opened fire, injuring a constable. Sanjay Arora returned the fire effectively and rescued all the three hostages.”

Firearms seized

At a crowded press conference in Coimbatore on December 30, Mr. Sankar and Mr. Davaram announced the end of the hostage crisis. While Veerappan and four men escaped, four other members of his gang, including Ayyandurai, the third lieutenant of the outlaw carrying ?20 lakh on his head, were nabbed. Veerappan’s brother and second-in-command Arjunan, who was then undergoing treatment in Coimbatore for a knee injury, and the four, who surrendered to the STF, were arrested for various offences, including murder. The firearms they had in their possession had been confiscated.

A word of praise from the CM

Besides, “two muskets, 21 cartridges, 4 elephant tusks worth ? 2.5 lakh, and ?18 lakh in cash were seized,” Mr. Davaram writes in his book. According to a report of The Hindu on December 31, 1994, the Chief Minister conveyed her appreciation on the phone to three officers — DGP S. Sripal, Mr. Davaram and Mr. Sankar. She spurred them on in their quest to get Veerappan dead or alive.

It was only 10 years later that the STF gunned down the brigand and his associates in Dharmapuri district. In the intervening period, Veerappan’s hostages included the Thespian of the Kannada cinema, Rajkumar, in July 2000, and former Karnataka Minister H. Nagappa in August 2002.

While Rajkumar was released after he spent 108 days in captivity, the other was found dead in mysterious circumstances in December 2002. Between 1995 and 1997, several Forest Department officials of the two States, among others, were abducted and released.

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