US embassy cable - 04CHENNAI1394

VEERAPPAN'S DEATH PUTS DHARMAPURI'S FUTURE IN DOUBT

Identifier: 04CHENNAI1394
Wikileaks: View 04CHENNAI1394 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Chennai
Created: 2004-11-09 08:50:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PGOV PTER PINR PHUM IN Indian Domestic Politics Human Rights
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 CHENNAI 001394 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, PTER, PINR, PHUM, IN, Indian Domestic Politics, Human Rights 
SUBJECT: VEERAPPAN'S DEATH PUTS DHARMAPURI'S FUTURE IN 
DOUBT 
 
REF: 03 CHENNAI 1422 
 
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A seventeen-year manhunt ended with the 
shooting death of K.M. Veerappan, the famed forest 
brigand of Dharmapuri.  The shootout was the culmination 
of months of planning by the Government of Tamil Nadu 
(GoTN) and the police Special Task Force (STF).  The 
operation showcased the organizational capacity of the 
state police, but leaves questions about security in the 
region.  With Veerappan gone, the GoTN must integrate 
Dharmapuri into the rest of state or security concerns 
may persist.  END SUMMARY. 
 
--------------------------------------------- 
POLICE GUN DOWN BRIGAND AFTER 17-YEAR MANHUNT 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) After 17 years of futilely searching for the 
famed forest brigand, Veerappan, the Tamil Nadu police 
finally brought his banditry to an end.  Having 
infiltrated the Veerappan's gang, STF agents convinced 
the aging bandit to seek medical attention for an eye 
condition.  On October 18, the agents lured Veerappan 
into an ambulance, which took the brigand and three 
members of his gang to a prearranged location near 
Papparapatti, where 60 additional agents waited in 
hiding.  According to news reports, the STF agents used a 
loudspeaker to ask Veerappan to surrender.  He did not 
initially respond, and after repeated entreaties 
allegedly opened fire on the police.  The STF agents 
responded with heavy gunfire that killed the brigand and 
three accompl 
es.  The agent posing as the ambulace 
driver escaped unharmed. 
 
3. (SBU) The shooout brought an end to Veerappan's three- 
decade eign of crime in the dense Sathyamangalam forests 
of the Dharmapuri district of northern Tamil Nadu. Known 
for his uncanny knowledge of these forestareas, the 
brigand got his start as a teenager paching elephants. 
He later expanded into smuggling sandalwood, a material 
that fetches a high price in India due to its role in 
religious ceremonies.  In an effort to stave off capture, 
Veerappan allegedly killed at least 120 people, of whom 
many were forest and government officials.  He caught the 
nation's attention in 2000 when he captured Kannada film 
star Rajkumar and held him for 109 days, before releasing 
him under mysterious circumstances. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
VEERAPPAN'S END A MAJOR VICTORY FOR CM AND TOP POLICEMAN 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
4. (U) For Tamil Nadu's chief minister, J. Jayalalithaa, 
bringing Veerappan's reign to a close was a significant 
political victory.  She rose to power in 2001 partly on 
the strength of her campaign promise to hunt down the 
brigand more effectively than the opposition party had. 
After three years of frustration, she took the 
opportunity to gloat over fulfilling her promise.  At a 
public meeting organized by the Federation of Indian 
Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the ASEAN 
Secretariat on October 20, she exulted in her success, 
 
SIPDIS 
calling Veerappan's death "a dream come true."  She also 
lavished praise on the STF, granting a house site and 
$6,000 to 770 former and current agents.  In addition, 
she gave them one-step promotions in rank at a widely 
publicized public event. 
 
5. (SBU) The mission's success also vindicated STF 
Additional Director of Police, Vijay Kumar.  A no- 
nonsense approach that created trouble for him earlier in 
his career drew considerable praise from the media and 
politicians in the Veerappan incident.  Before receiving 
his current assignment, Vijay Kumar served as the Chennai 
City Police Commissioner from 2001 to 2003.  During this 
time, his "shoot first, ask questions later" approach 
cleaned up the city, but landed him in trouble, 
particularly when he shot Pannayar Venkatesan, a criminal 
with ties to the powerful Nadar community.  Vijay Kumar's 
failure to arrest five journalists from The Hindu 
(Reftel) led the Chief Minister to transfer him to the 
much less desirable STF posting. 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
OPERATION REQUIRED MONTHS OF COORDINATION AND PLANNING 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
6. (U) The success of "Operation Cocoon" also highlighted 
the intelligence and planning capabilities of the Tamil 
Nadu police.  Long considered among the most professional 
and most capable forces in India, the STF operation 
showed that the state police are now capable of sustained 
surveillance, intelligence, and infiltration campaigns. 
The shootout was the culmination of ten months of 
planning in coordination with several branches of the 
Tamil Nadu state government.  To counter the brigand's 
extensive intelligence network in nearby villages, the 
STF obtained licenses for agents to operate vans and 
taxis, in addition to installing agents in small shops 
and tea stands.  The intelligence gathered by these 
agents was crucial to coordinating the confrontation that 
led to Veerappan's death. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
FIRST INSTANCE OF INTERSTATE POLICE COOPERATION 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
7. (SBU) In addition to demonstrating the organizational 
capacities of the Tamil Nadu state police, "Operation 
Cocoon" marked the first instance of prolonged and formal 
interstate police cooperation between Tamil Nadu and 
Karnataka.  The location of the Sathyamangalam forests on 
the border between the two states had long allowed 
Veerappan to evade local police by crossing the border. 
Regular meetings between the regional police chiefs from 
each state, interoperable communication sets, and 
operations by local police forces in their neighboring 
state tightened the net around the brigand, significantly 
limiting his movement.  According to Pitchandi, Secretary 
Public in the Government of Tamil Nadu, neither state had 
ever cooperated on such a significant law enforcement 
operation.  Venkatakrishnan, Director General - 
Intelligence for Tamil Nadu agreed, noting, "There was a 
degree of interaction at the local level between the two 
states that did not exist in the past." 
 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS QUESTION AGGRESSIVE POLICE TACTICS 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
8. (SBU) While government and law enforcement officials 
celebrated Veerappan's death, human rights activists 
publicly questioned the STF's actions.  Noting that STF 
agents had sustained serious injuries in past encounters 
with Veerappan, human rights lawyers wondered how none 
were hurt in an allegedly intense shootout.  They also 
questioned the procedures followed in the postmortem 
examination.  The doctor conducted the exam with several 
police officers standing over him and hundreds more 
demanding access to the building.  Coupled with the 
initial plan by police to cremate the body (finally, he 
was buried) and refusal to allow examination of the 
ambulance, many activists doubted the claim that the 
police killed Veerappan in an "encounter."  Many implied 
instead that he had been simply ambushed with no 
opportunity to surrender. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
VEERAPPAN'S DEATH - A POWER VACUUM IN DHARMAPURI? 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 
 
9. (SBU) So complete was Veerappan's hold on the 
Sathyamangalam forests that his death leaves the future 
of the region in doubt.  Acknowledged to be one of the 
least developed districts in Tamil Nadu, Dharmapuri has 
been effectively unserved by the state government for 
many years.  Its poverty and remoteness make it an ideal 
breeding ground for discontent.  According to Pitchandi, 
"The terrain is ideally suited for a Veerappan Junior." 
Veerappan reportedly had links to Tamil nationalist 
groups like the Tamil Nadu Liberation Army (TNLA) and the 
Tamil Nadu Retrieval Troops (TNRT), but K.P. Sunil, Vice 
President - News at Jaya TV, discounted any shared 
ideology.  He said that these groups have long been 
active in the area, due to their subtle links to the 
majority caste in the area, the Vanniars.  Veerappan was 
simply using these groups for weapons and support, and 
was not interested in furthering their cause.  Post 
sources believed increased support for Tamil nationalist 
groups would be unlikely, as the mainstream Pattali 
Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam 
(DMK) draw considerable support from Vanniar youth 
groups, leaving little room for the TNLA and TNRT. 
According to K. Chandru, a lawyer and human rights 
activist, "Even if the Government of Tamil Nadu does 
nothing, the PMK and DMK will keep [the TNLA and TNRT] at 
bay." 
 
10. (SBU) Despite the brigand's link to the predominant 
caste in Dharmapuri, local political parties are not 
attempting to turn Veerappan into a hero.  According to 
Dr. Jeyaranjan, Director of the Institute of Development 
Alternatives, "There is no attempt to iconize (sic) 
Veerappan."  Both the PMK and the DMK have refrained from 
condemning his killing, passing up the chance to turn his 
death into a political rallying point.  According to A.K. 
Moorthy, PMK Member of Parliament, Veerappan belonged to 
a very small subcaste within the Vanniar community, 
further dampening the political response to his death. 
 
11. (SBU) In addition to Tamil ultra groups, the People's 
War has also been active in Dharmapuri.  While this 
Maoist group has found success and support in Andhra 
Pradesh, the high urbanization of Tamil Nadu has limited 
the group's opportunities.  Dharmapuri's lack of 
infrastructure has allowed the People's War to gain a 
small foothold in the region.  However, according to 
Jeyaranjan, the People's War is not indigenous to 
Dharmapuri and does not have Veerappan's knowledge of the 
forests, limiting their activities to the plains. 
Jeyaranjan speculated that the STF would remain in 
Dharmapuri for at least a year, making expansion 
difficult for the People's War. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
GOTN RECOGIZES NEED FOR DEVELOPMENT, BUT PLANS VAGUE 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
12. (U) With Veerappan no longer terrorizing government 
and police officials in Dharmapuri, the way is clear for 
the GoTN to integrate Tamil Nadu's "Wild West" into the 
rest of the state.  According to Professor K. Nagaraj of 
the Madras Institute for Development Studies, "The state 
government has invested heavily in the area," promoting 
mango cultivation and floriculture.  However, the forests 
remain isolated and cut off from the rest of the state's 
infrastructure.  The Chief Minister has talked of an 
integrated development plan, but her Home Secretary, 
Sheela Rani Chunkath, was not able to elaborate on the 
details of the plan.  "No money has been allocated yet," 
she said. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
GOTN'S TASK: DEVELOP REGION OR FACE NEW SECURITY THREATS 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
13. (SBU) Comment: While Veerappan's death removed the 
main security threat in Dharmapuri, the conditions that 
spawned his power remain.  Its poverty, isolation, and 
lack of infrastructure leave the area ripe for further 
security threats.  The current contenders for power lack 
either knowledge of the local terrain or local political 
support, giving the GoTN time to bring this comparatively 
lawless region back into its reach.  However, if the 
Chief Minister fails to deliver the development she 
promises, the region could remain the "Wild West" of 
Tamil Nadu and pose future security concerns for the 
state.  END COMMENT. 
 
HAYNES 

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