On October 18, 2004, police killed Veerappan, who was a kidnapper, elephant poacher, and sandalwood smuggler. They lured him out of his forest stronghold in Tamil Nadu. It was then that Veerappan climbed into an ambulance that undercover police officers from the Tamil Nadu Special Task Force had arranged. He did not have any knowledge that the police themselves arranged for the ambulance. They had planted Mr. X, a mole, in his ranks. It was through him that they learned about Veerappan’s need to visit a hospital in Salem for his eye.
That day, Veerappan didn’t notice that the name ‘Salem’ had been misspelled as ‘Selam’ on the ambulance. The police had made the spelling mistake in their hurry. The decade-long manhunt for the country’s most notorious bandit ended in the following 20 minutes. The Special Task Force (STF) was known as Operation Cocoon. The police constituted it to nab him. The police officers in this operation fired 338 bullets at the ambulance. Among all the bullets, three of them hit the 52-year-old poacher. At about 11:10 pm that night, the police closed the file on Veerappan. Operation Cocoon was successful in its attempt to nab Veerappan.
This was how retired police officer K Vijay Kumar’s new book, Veerappan: Chasing the Brigand, ended. “File on Koose Muniswamy Veerappan closed,” he wrote with what seemed like relief at the end of a fast-paced last chapter. It described Operation Cocoon down to the last second. “If Veerappan hadn’t come on the 18th, I don’t know what would have happened. It would have just been one of our serial flops,” Kumar said. He believed that although it was unusual, he was sure that the hitherto elusive Veerappan wasn’t very alert that day.
Vijay Kumar was the head of the Tamil Nadu STF. He was the one running Operation Cocoon. In 2001, the then chief minister J Jayalalithaa gave him the job. Before that, he had been a part of the elite Special Protection Group for Rajiv Gandhi. Further before, he was in the Border Security Force in Kashmir. He admitted that his book almost read like a thriller. He also admitted that the Special Task Force got major priority in it. It closely retold the details of the hunt for Veerappan, beginning with the formation of the STF in 1990 – a joint force constituted by Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – to capture him.
After Veerappan’s death, there were a large number of people who reportedly came to see his body at the Dharmapuri hospital. They were very curious to know if he really died, despite knowing that the authorities wouldn’t allow them inside. Of course, his death didn’t end the spread of his legend. There have been at least six films and a TV serial on the man Veerappan. It included Ram Gopal Varma’s “Killing Veerappan” which producers released in 2016. Varma alone has made three films on Veerappan, one in Kannada and two in Hindi. “Killing Veerappan” was a Kannada docudrama and its protagonist was NK Senthamarai Kannan. Shiv Rajkumar, son of Veerappan’s most famous kidnap victim Rajkumar ironically played the part of the protagonist.