Every micro-second stretched out like a film in slow motion, when Vijay Kumar stood in front of his target — Koose Muniswamy Veerappan — on October 18, 2004.
"Memory is a funny thing," says 63-year-old Kumar, then additional director general of police, who led a 35-member Special Task Force team on the Cocoon operation into the Sathyamangalam Forest that led to the encounter of the notorious dacoit and sandalwood smuggler, who operated his empire for 20 years in the forests of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Vijay Kumar. Pic/Abhishek Sharma
Their mission was simple, to catch Veerappan dead or alive. "In our everyday moments, we never really pay attention to intricate details. But, I remember that day as if it were yesterday — my colleagues faces, and the bullets hitting Veerappan’s body. It is a vivid image in my mind," the retired officer tells us over the phone from Delhi in a crisp voice, typical of a disciplined officer. "I have been part of many such encounters and it has always been this strange experience. My peers too have confessed to feeling something similar," he adds.
Time to pen
In the past, films based on the dacoit, infamous for his handlebar moustache, have been made. The most recent being Ram Gopal Verma’s movie, Veerappan. But it’s now, 11 years later, that Kumar has decided to pen it down in a book. "Usually, a movie follows a book. The films have captured most of the nuances in Veerappan’s character well, but I find the need to bring out a few points," says Kumar, adding that when the encounter was reported, many magazines and newspapers came close to the truth. "But an overall finer perspective is needed," says Kumar, now advisor to Ministry of Home on Left Wing Extremism since he retired in 2012.
Some claims, though, only make him laugh. "Theories like he was sedated and then captured, were not worth offering a retort. I want to clarify the facts. Many things in the operation didn’t fall into place, and we had some narrow misses too," he confesses.
"It was the first time that a mole had been set up in Veerapan’s army," he explains.
According to media reports, the mole, who had gained Veerappan’s confidence led him into a trap set up at Paparapatti village in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district.
The operation which took 10 months of planning and three weeks of meticulous preparation, was over in 45 minutes. In the end, he was shot dead, along with three of his associates — Sethukuli Govinda, Chandre Gowda and Sethumani.
Work in progress
A lifetime habit, Kumar is used to joting down notes of all important and relevant experiences. "Even during our patrols, I found the time to make records," says Kumar.
The notes now add up to 1,000 pages. This material will be the reference for my 300-page book, which he is co-authoring with Vikas Singh, will release by September.
Recalling the dacoit that earned Kumar his Presidents Police Medal for Gallantry, "Veerapan was a normal human being, who had a psychotic streak," says Kumar, adding that he moved up the ranks of a gang of dacoits very quickly, and exercised his power ruthlessly.
Some of his comrades, says Kumar, were smarter but were nabbed too soon, which brought him into power. "It was the aura of terror that he created that kept him going."