S.M. Krishna on the release of Dr Raj Kumar

Of all the many bushfires the S.M. Krishna regime had to douse, none is more gripping than the kidnapping of Dr Raj Kumar. Although, to its credit, the Congress government managed to secure the matinee idol’s safe release from the clutches of Veerappan after 108 days, the circumstances surrounding his freedom have effortlessly united politics, cinema, journalism, crime, big business, and the underworld at the hip.

At one level, the common belief was that Veerappan wouldn’t have just Raj Kumar go. Ergo: a democratically elected government had paid the sandalwood smuggler turned elephant poacher turned kidnapper-killer through his intermediary, R.R. Gopal, the editor of Nakkeeran. At another level, the speculation was over how much had been paid, and where the money had come from.

If the money had come from the government coffers, it was surely not likely to make that public. If it had been raised by the star’s family and/or the film world, no one was telling.

The first stone was cast by C. Dinakar, the former director general of police. In his 318-page tell-all book Veerappan’s Prize Catch: Rajkumar, Dinakar put the ransom figure at Rs 20 crore, and alleged that “taxpayer’s money” was used to pay off Veerappan. Then, Sangram Singh, a former assistant commissioner of police, deposed before the court that he had carried the money himself to Madras, from the residence of V.G. Siddhartha, Krishna’s son-in-law who owns Cafe Coffee Day.

Krishna and then home minister Mallikarjuna Kharge were present when he was sent off on the mission with the suitcases, claimed Singh, and went on to allege that “a white person wearing white safari with gold bracelet” too had been in their midst. Several months later, when H.T. Sangliana apprehended the fake stamp paper accused, Singh says he saw the same man at High Grounds police station. It was Abdul Karim Lala Telgi. In other words, the money may have come from less-than-honourable sources for less-than-honourable reasons.

Krishna has been characteristically silent on how the release was secured, which averted a major crisis for the government. With the former chief minister being sinecured to Maharashtra as governor, there was little need to answer the pesky questions. But with his return to active politics, the old ghosts have come back to haunt Krishna. Last week, Chetan of TV9 confronted him on the face-to-face interview programme Chakravyuha, and Krishna provided his version of the events, calling the allegations “ridiculous, preposterous, obnoxious”.

“It was my dharma, my responsibility, to get Dr Raj Kumar out. In that attempt, I succeeded.”

Videograb: courtesy TV9