R Gopal alias Nakkeeran Gopal is an editor of biweekly Nakkeeran and is constantly under the scanner of law enforcement agencies due to his alleged links with Veerappan. A supporter of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), he was jailed for withholding information about the sandalwood smuggler by Jayalalithaa during her previous stint. He considers Veerappan a Robin Hood figure in the forest villages of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Gopal tells Nisha Ponthathil about the reason that forced the forest brigand to turn violent, the involvement of Rajinikanth in the release of Kannada star Rajkumar held captive by Veerappan and the government’s motive behind killing the bandit despite capturing him alive.
Edited Excerpts from an Interview .
You were called a villain by many for your alleged links with Veerappan. Would you throw some light on your relationship with the forest brigand?
The similarity ends with the moustache (laughs). It was in 1988 that we started Nakkeeran, a platform for investigative journalism. In the following year, Tamil Nadu was rattled by the gruesome murder of divisional forest officer (DFO) Srinivas. Newspapers reported that a forest brigand called Veerappan was responsible for the crime. He had allegedly chopped off the head of the DFO.
Nobody knew the whereabouts of Veerappan then. So, I set out to find out the same. At one point, somebody showed me a photograph of a skinny man with a moustache. In the beginning, I too did not believe that this skinny man was behind all these inhuman activities.
In 1990, a Karnataka cadre superintend of police (SP) Harikrishna went inside the forest with a battalion of policemen to nab Veerappan. In the encounter that followed, the SP was killed along with one inspector and six policemen. Then I asked all my correspondents and photographers to investigate more about the forest brigand and to get a photograph of his.
It was one of our correspondents, Sivasubrahmanyiam, who had brought a photograph without revealing the source. Soon we featured an article in our magazine about Veerappan. The article and the photograph helped the Special Task Force (STF) a lot. In one of the interviews in the Outlook magazine, the then police chief Walter Devaram had said that it was the photograph and the article that made them aware that there was a forest brigand called Veerappan. Till then, it was all hearsay. That was the beginning of our relationship.
You played the role of an emissary following the abduction of Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar by Veerappan. There were rumours that Veerappan wanted the involvement of Tamil film stars such as Rajinikanth and the late Sivaji Ganesan in the deliberations to release the Kannada actor. What was the truth?
Initially, when Veerappan kidnapped some forest officials for ransom, I was sent as an emissary. During that meeting Veerappan told me to involve both Rajinikanth and Sivaji Ganesan in the negotiations as he was a fan of both. Although I successfully rescued those hostages, many of his (Veerappan) conditions were not accepted by both the Karnataka and the Tamil Nadu governments. So, when Rajkumar was abducted, I refused to be an emissary.