Contestants campaign with relief after Veerappan's demise

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Chamarajanagara, Karnataka, May 5 (UNI) With the Veerappan saga coming to an end, candidates of various parties are campaigning in the forest brigand's erstwhile den along the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border in the district without fear for the first time since he spread terror here.

Veerappan, who had ruled the roost in this part of the State for more than two decades before being killed in an encounter in Dharmapuri district in neighbouring Tamil Nadu in October 2004, had posed a serious threat to those contesting elections from the bordering Hanur, Kollegal and Chamarajanagara constituencies.

The three Assembly segments have vast tracts of forests, where the sandalwood smuggler and his associates had thrived.

During the 2004 elections, campaiging was undertaken in the presence of armed security personnel. But, the scenario had completely changed this time. Candidates were moving freely in all the constituencies.

Veerappan's native village of Gopinatham and the forests of Male Mahadeshwara Hills (M M Hills), his prominent hideouts, fall under the Hanur constitutency, from where the wife of former Minister Nagappa, who was kidnapped and killed by him, Parimala Nagappa was elected in 2004 on a Janata Dal (Secular) ticket.

Ms Nagappa, after joining the Bahujan Samaj Party, regretted that the previous JD(S)-BJP coalition Government had failed to order a CBI probe into the mysterious death of her husband in the desperado's captivity.

''The fear of Veerappan during the elections was created by the police. I had actively campaigned in 2004 when Veerappan was alive. This time, I am reaching out to every village in the forest without police escort,'' Hanur Congress candidate Narendra said.

Ms Parimala Nagappa expressed happiness over the changed situation and said she moved freely and campaigned in Nagamalai, Tolasikere and Indiganthan located in the M M hills forest range.

Police sources said even though there was no fear, security measures continued to be taken in these Assembly segments.

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