Almost twenty-four hours after the Sukma collector was abducted, the Maoists have set forward their demands and have asked the government to release eight rebels and halt Operation Green Hunt in Bastar.
They have set a deadline till April 25 for the government to comply with their terms and conditions in return for the safe release of the officer.
Alex Paul Menon, a 2006-batch IAS officer, was taken away by red brigade from the villagers meet organised at Majhipara near Kerlapal at gun point on Saturday. He is the first collector to be abducted by guerillas in Chhattisgarh.
The additional director general of police (anti-Maoist operation) Ramniwas told Hindustan Times that the set of demands needs to be verified.
“The police so far has not received it. We came to know from the media,” he said.
The state government called an emergency meeting after the terms and conditions were issued to the BBC correspondent in Raipur on his mobile as the pre-recorded statement by Maoist leader Vijay, the secretary of south Bastar divisional committee.
“It would be too early to react to such demands. We need to check the veracity of the recorded message,” N Baijendra Kumar, principal secretary to the chief minister, told HT.
“We are evaluating various options. The government is closely monitoring the situation and working on various fronts to ensure safe and early release of the abducted officer,” he said.
The Maoists also demanded withdrawal of cases against those arrested in connection with the attack on Congress leader Hungaram Markam in Konta block of Dantewada about four years ago. They also asked for an immediate withdrawal of paramilitary forces and end to combing and search operations by the police.
However Vijay didn’t mention how the Maoists are willing to negotiate with the government and through whom.
Earlier on Sunday, Chattisgarh police claimed that the collector in Maoists custody is safe.
There are parallels between this incident and the abduction of the then Malkangiri collector, Vineel Krishna, in February 2011 – both in Maoist-infested districts having common borders.
Krishna and Menon had been to the interior areas on motorbike to meet villagers. And in both the cases, villagers registered their unhappiness by taking out peace marches.
The people of Sukma observed shutdown on Sunday. Last respects were paid to the two security personnel who were killed in the Maoists attack while defending the collector.
A top police officer in state police headquarters informed HT that a strategy has been devised during the meeting to tackle the crisis but refused to divulge anything else. He ruled out the use of chopper or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to trace the collector.
Asha Menon, wife of the collector has again appealed the Maoists for his early release.
“He should be released on humanitarian ground as he is not keeping well and is asthmatic”, she said.