“Veerappan was a bloated figure. He was too blown up like a balloon and had to be punctured”, says Vijaykumar who was Chief of the Special Task Force (STF) that was behind the encounter of the dreaded bandit Veerappan during Operation Cocoon in 2004. Vijaykumar has written a book titled ‘Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand’ where he talks in detail about the hunt for Veerappan. Kanwaljit Deol, another IPS officer talks to Vijaykumar about the book and Operation Cocoon in a session titled, ‘Tailing Veerappan’.
Veerappan began hunting and poaching when he was 12 years old. So, he was 40 years ahead on the Special Task Force (STF) in understanding the jungle terrain. He understood the birds, bees, their movements, and sound. He knew the water resources of the jungle. He was far more resourceful than the STF.
The jungle is a blind democracy and if you walked in with your stars on your uniform you would be shot down first, says Vijaya Kumar. He says Veerappan also had better intelligence than the STF almost always. Even the forest officials would be in favour of him out of fear of being killed. All these factors made the task of the STF challenging.
Vijaykumar says the STF had to be trained in the art of doing nothing. The men had to lie down with their guns in position for hours together without disturbing the birds and bees of the jungle. Although they made their own share of mistakes, the team had learned from their lessons and made changes to the operation accordingly. They were not to wear bright colored clothes but pick something that goes with the palette of the jungle. No glistening materials were allowed. No plastic, no water bottles were allowed. All these because in the jungle, even the slightest of the sound produced travelled much farther than one anticipated and that was enough for someone like Veerappan to stay safe.
Speaking of the Joint Forces of neighboring states, Vijaykumar says there have been instances of misunderstandings and miscommunication which have resulted in crossfire. But eventually the teams did get together and partnered to develop trust amongst each other. They ran parallel operations and exchanged men to collaborate better.
When Rajkumar was kidnapped, Nakkeeran Gopal, a journalist from Tamilnadu and one police officer from Tamil Nadu voiced concerns about the safety of Tamil population living in Bangalore. Their statements did sow the seeds of tension between the people in the states. Although Cauvery has been political bone of contention between Tamilnadu and Karnataka, after the kidnapping of Kannada actor Rajkumar, the forces on either side of Cauvery stood together. If not me, the Karnataka state forces would have eventually had him. It was like a football match, says Vijaykumar.
When asked about Veerappan’s wife trying to commemorate him recently and some media trying to change narrative of the whole episode, Vijaykumar says they had always treated her with dignity. Only once did they come close to use her as a ploy in this chase which he feels a little guilty about. But otherwise it is alright if she wants to commemorate. It wasn’t personal for him, but he also cautions than this should not become a big movement. In conclusion, he adds that Veerappan had helped people he wanted to but only those who he wanted to. He wasn’t really a Robin Hood. He was someone who strangled his own child to stay alive and that should say all about him.