The abduction of an Assamese engineer by militants in Nigeria has put the focus back on the "kidnapping industry" at home.
The Assam government has sought New Delhi’s intervention for the release of Debasish Kakoty, who along with colleague Sunil Dave of Maharashtra was abducted from Port Harcourt (Niger Basin) by armed Nigerian militants for ransom on Saturday. It is, ironically, silent about the whereabouts of senior FCI officer Phulchand Ram, who was kidnapped by the outlawed Ulfa on April 17.
While Indorama, Kakoty and Dave’s Indonesian employers, have started paying ransom in installments for the duo’s release, the Ulfa is believed to have been in touch with Ram’s family in Ghaziabad for a ransom of Rs 21 crore.
"There’s no doubt that the Ulfa is behind Ram’s abduction, and we are leaving no stone unturned to rescue him," chief minister Tarun Gogoi said after the FCI executive director’s abduction last month. The efforts, however, have only translated into conjectures on the possible locations Ram’s abductors could have taken him to.
According to additional DGP (law and order) SB Kakati, the Ulfa has kept Ram hostage in Bagsa district of western Assam bordering Bhutan. But the militants have been shifting him frequently to dodge the police as well as SSB personnel manning the Indo-Bhutan border.
The police zeroed in on Bagsa district, some 150 km from the State capital, after Ram’s driver Rabiram Basumatary was released by the abductors on April 21 in that area. "We are going about the search operation carefully in order to offset any harm the abductors might cause the abducted FCI offer," Kakati said last week.
Rabiram’s release had given rise to conspiracy theories. So did the fact that Ram’s adopted daughter Junu Murmu had come to stay at his rented apartment in Srinagar locality of the city barely a week before his abduction. Junu is an Adivasi girl from Baganpara village in Bagsa district.
Meanwhile, FCI officers and employees have renewed their appeal for Ram’s release, maintaining that the fear factor could hamper the corporation’s functioning in Assam and elsewhere in militancy-prone northeast. "We appeal to the chief minister to take a personal interest in the case so that we can discharge our duties without fear," said Seema Kakar, working president of the FCI Officers’ Association.
Over the years, Ulfa and other extremist groups have been abducting 45-60 persons, many of them tea executives, every year for ransom. Some like NRI teacher-turned-businessman Pratul Deb were killed in captivity despite part-payment of ransom while others were released after negotiated settlement.