Ending 12 days of a hostage drama, Maoists on Thursday night released four policemen they had abducted in a forested location in Chhattisgarh's restive Bastar region. The policemen were handed over to the crew of a local news channel in Bijapur district close to the Andhra Pradesh border.
"All the four policemen have been released safely," Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Dantewada S.R.P. Kalluri told IANS.
Police sources say that the Maoists handed over the policemen - Assistant Sub-Inspector Sukhram Bhagat and constables B. Toppo, Narendra Bhosle and Subhash Ratre - to the crew of a local news channel at Mader pocket of Bijapur district.
Police and intellectuals have largely credited the policemen's safe release to Varvara Rao, a Maoist ideologue and revolutionary poet, who made repeated appeals to the rebels since the hostage crisis erupted to free them as they belong to very poor families.
The exhausted jawans reached the Dantewada town around midnight after a few hours of drive through thickly forested areas along with TV newsmen and met the Dantewada SSP.
Reporters who were waiting for the freed cops at Dantewada town tossed a series of questions at them in the presence of senior police officials. The cops ducked most of the questions but informed the reporters "they were well taken care of by Maoists during a 12-day captivity". Later the freed policemen were taken for medical check-up.
The release has come as a boon for families of the four policemen as well as a major relief for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that was under tremendous pressure since Sep 19 to get them released unharmed.
Bhagwa Das Bhosle, brother of one of the abducted cops Narendra Bhosle told IANS over phone, "Today is the happiest day of my life. I thank everyone who backed my family in this most critical period. I am over the moon now."
Maoists abducted seven policemen Sep 19 from Bhopalpatnam area of Bijapur district of Bastar region, over 500 km south of Raipur, close to the Andhra Pradesh border.
Three policemen were killed a day later, while the four were held captive to bargain with the authorities.
After a week of uncertainty over the fate of the abducted cops, Maoists Sunday evening set a 48-hour deadline for releasing them. The rebels dropped a few handwritten leaflets in Bijapur district interiors stating their demands.
The deadline was extended by another 24 hours that ended Wednesday evening.