Now, nab him

THERE IS AN overwhelming sense of relief over the freeing of Mr. Rajkumar, the Kannada film icon. The immensely popular actor has suffered as a captive of Veerappan for over 100 days and his release will gladden many hearts not only in Karnataka, where he is revered, but also all over the country. But the end of the drama in the Satyamangalam forests also engenders another and probably just as important feeling. Namely, that the time for shabby alibis, unconvincing explanations, half-hearted attempts, insincere conduct and conciliatory postures are well and truly over. The Governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka must realise that skirting the dangerous implications of Veerappan's continuing his homicidal and criminal activities with impunity can no longer be tolerated. The people are tired, indeed deeply ashamed, of seeing those who rule them being repeatedly blackmailed by a serial killer and his rag-tag band of scummy villains. The task is clear and, arguably, not very difficult either: go out and get him. The Supreme Court's observation has never rung more true. If you cannot apprehend this man, you probably don't deserve to govern either.

There will be a round of self-congratulation over Mr. Rajkumar's freeing, but it is important to take note of the fact that his release is a triumph for no political quarter. The two State Governments may want to take credit for `skillfully' arranging the filmstar's release, but all they did was to meekly yield to every demand of Veerappan's that was possible to satisfy. Sadly, they excelled more in the art of capitulation than the craft of negotiation. The Governments' ill-chosen emissary, the pro-LTTE Tamil nationalist leader, Mr. P. Nedumaran, who brought Mr. Rajkumar back from the forests, does not deserve much applause either. Anyone who has followed the Rajkumar abduction will know that his release came about only when it became clear that the judicial door had been firmly slammed on Veerappan's last and arguably most important demand: freeing his associates detained under the TADA. If anything, it is the Supreme Court, which resisted pleas that the TADA detenus be bartered for Mr. Rajkumar, that has emerged victorious from this whole episode. By adopting a tough-minded posture and demanding that the rule of law be upheld, it succeeded in forcing Veerappan to free Mr. Rajkumar and another hostage without the quid pro quo.

What now? Once the rounds of celebration and self-congratulation are over, the two Governments must demonstrate - in a concrete and unmistakable fashion - that they are serious about apprehending the brigand and his extremist friends. In particular, the Tamil Nadu Government under Mr. M. Karunanidhi needs to demonstrate good faith. Over the past four years, it has most irresponsibly scaled down the Special Task Force's (STF) operations against Veerappan. Not surprisingly, the DMK Government's attitude has raised suspicions that it is soft on Veerappan and this go-easy attitude has had a direct bearing on the revival of the fortunes of his gang, which was on the verge of being obliterated five years ago. To deter another abduction, the two State Governments would do well to formally declare they will no longer negotiate with Veerappan on illegal demands (the tactic of blackmail after all is predicated on the expectation that demands will eventually be met). They would also do well to consider seeking the assistance of the Centre in establishing a trained and sophisticated commando unit, which is far better equipped to carry out a stealthy operation in the forests than the STF. Mr. Rajkumar is free but the problem is not over. Mr. Karunanidhi and Mr. S.M. Krishna need to be told that enough has been heard about `attempts' to nab Veerappan. The time for talk is over. Just do it.