Veerappan aides: In death penalty politics, they are the nobodies
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With three facing the gallows for their alleged involvement in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, death penalty is an issue that has a political connect in Tamil Nadu. But as it turns out, it is not the penalty itself that is an issue but the identity of who is at the receiving end. So, as the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the execution of Simon, Gnanaprakasham, Bilavendra and Madaiah, there aren't many in the state speaking up for the four former aides of Veerappan.
The four were among the 123 accused of being part of the 1993 deadly attack on an STF party that was on the trail of the notorious forest brigand. The STF party was lured in for the attack, leaving 22 dead and 13 injured. It was Veerappan's biggest hit in terms of casualties.
Charged under TADA, the four were given the death sentence by the Supreme Court. Recently, President Pranab Mukherjee rejected their mercy petitions.
According to human rights activists, the accused belonged to villages on either side of the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border who had come under pressure from both Veerappan and the authorities chasing him. Their situation, said an activist, was the classic one of being caught in the middle of a bloody conflict. Some were accused of providing food to the bandit, saying no to whom would invite certain death.
However, unlike the Rajiv case convicts, the four have not seen any public agitations or political support, except now from the DMK and the DMDK who have come forward to demand commutation of their death penalty, nearly a week after the rejection of mercy petitions was made public.
In fact, nearly 20 years after they were held, there aren't many who are familiar even with their names.
While the ruling AIADMK moved a resolution against death penalty for the Rajiv case accused in the Assembly, which was supported by major parties in Tamil Nadu, the Veerappan aides are not likely to see such a move either. Jayalalithaa had been the chief minister when Veerappan was killed and she has always touted his slaying as one of her achievements.