Almost 13 years after his elimination, the senior police officer who spearheaded the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force (STF) that planned and executed bandit Veerappan's killing during Operation Cocoon, has said that the dreaded outlaw had a strange "sixth sense".
"On one occasion, a lizard fell on his left shoulder from a tree and this man believed it was a sign of bad luck. So he turned around and left immediately, avoiding a reception team waiting with an LMG (light machine gun).
"He had also rolled cowrie shells while the fate of his victim hung in balance. He even killed a person as a police informer as the number on cowrie shells was odd," K. Vijay Kumar told IANS in an interview.
Kumar's upcoming book, "Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand", is a lucid and incisive account of the rise and fall of India's most dreaded forest brigand. It will be released on Wednesday by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
The decorated retired IPS officer further said that Veerapan's lucky escapes and 11th hour U-turns are a galore.
Citing one example, he said a barber who gave Veerapan a close shave had an equally close save with the STF.
"He threw away his kit and the two young officers could not identify him. Only if they had smelt his hands, which was smelling of soap, the bandit's CV would have been shorter," said Kumar.
Kumar, a 1975 batch IPS officer from the Tamil Nadu cadre, headed the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad in 2008 and served as the Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) from 2010 to 2012. He is currently Senior Security Adviser in the Home Ministry.
Revealing more about Operation Cocoon, Kumar said the STF was tipped off by an influential businessman who had links with the radicals in Sri Lanka. This businessman was helping Veerapan with information and other logistical support.
"He was worried about his image. His crime was not exactly sedition, but came within a whisker. Such fringe elements fluently inhabit the underground. The axiom is 'a third class guy with first class intel is higher up in protocol than a first class guy with a third class intel'. So our doing business with him was fine," Kumar contended.
Veerapan's eyesight was failing and the businessman was supposed to arrange for a cataract operation. The STF then tutored the businessman about the plan, which led to the final encounter with Veerapan.
The details of this encounter are set to be unveiled in "Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand".
The book traces his dramatic rise from a small-time poacher and sandalwood smuggler to a brutal fugitive who held three states to ransom for two decades.
But how does Kumar look at Veerapan?
"Not contemptuously.There was no animus. I had a job to do: to fix him. I tried to be as detached as is practically possible but this does not mean I ever erased from my mind the toxicity of his presence and heavy attrition he caused.
"I never diminished him -- except for the morale of my force, just so he was not seen as '10-feet tall'. There's nothing STF can't do, such good men it had, but deep down I worried about his next darshan and Houdini trick," he shared.
The ruthless killings and high-profile kidnappings masterminded by Veerappan, including the 108-day ordeal involving Kannada cinema superstar Rajkumar, are described in fascinating detail in Kumar's book.
"As a standard practice, his caricature adorned our shooting targets. I can't say if it improved our marksmanship or was just cathartic. Secretly, I kept a picture of him in my table drawer -- probably mimicking General (later Field Marshal Bernard Law) Montgomery who kept on his table a picture of his adversary (German Field Marshal Ervin) Rommel, the Desert Fox -- till he defeated him," added Kumar.
One question remains: What took Kumar 13 long years to pen this book?
"Why not? I got stuck with things. If I had wanted to stir up a sensation, the very next year would have been the best. But I guess time and distance also lend objectivity, clarity and hopefully, enchantment," he said.
Despite the time lag, there are a lot of insights into the encounter that only a handful can share. The book, in all probability, would not lack in adrenaline-triggering moments.