Maoists killed one person and released others held hostage by them ahead of PM Narendra Modi's visit to Chhattisgarh on Saturday.
“The rebels killed one villager identified as Sadaram who used to coordinate the construction activities of a bridge. He was killed in a “Jan Adalat” (kangaroo court) held by Maoists. Around 300 tribals returned to their village at around 9 pm”, Sukma district police chief D Sharawan confirmed to Hindustan Times.
The rebels had rounded up hundreds of residents of Morenga village in Sukma district on Friday night, ahead of a visit by Modi to launch several development projects in nearby Dantewada district, another hotbed of the Maoist insurgency.
Maoists in Dantewada had called a two-day bandh and asked villagers to boycott Modi’s visit, which was aimed at boosting development in the backward region.
Following reports of abduction of villagers by Maoists, union home minister Rajnath Singh and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh had said efforts were on to free the hostages. Raman Singh said about 200 to 250 people were taken captive though some media reports had put the figure at more than 500.
Earlier in the day, addressing a rally at a location in Dantewada, Modi said: “Only the plough on shoulders and not guns can bring development…There is no future for violence. The future is only of peaceful means.
“The birthplace of the Naxal movement, Naxalbari, has already given up violent means. Don't get disheartened,” he said while speaking at a venue located about 80 km from where the villagers were taken hostage.
“The macabre drama of death will end," he said, referring to violence by Moaists in the mineral-rich state. A lot of people were killed by "mad men on the path of violence", he added.
Video: PM Modi speaks at Dantewada
Modi, who was the first Prime Minister to visit the region after Rajiv Gandhi to launch development schemes, said he was sure “humanity exists in them (Maoists) and they will change".
The Prime Minister initiated several schemes worth Rs 24,000 crore for the violence-hit Bastar region, including an ultra mega steel plant, the second phase of the Rowghat-Jagdalpur railway line, a slurry pipeline and a pellet plant.
Modi stressed the need for growth and spread of education to counter the lack of development in the region. "Development must reach the poor. Jobs for the youth are at the core of our policies," he said. "People know that employment is of prime importance. They can build a house, educate their children only if they are employed."
A multi-layered security blanket was put in place for Modi's visit to Dantewada, with Special Protection Group (SPG) officials working in coordination with state police and paramilitary officials for the arrangements. Around 10,000 paramilitary troops involved in anti-Maoist operations were part of the security measures.
After landing in Dantewada, Modi visited an education city built for underprivileged children and interacted with students. The education city spread over 100 acres and built at a cost of Rs 120 crore can provide residential and classroom facilities to 5,000 students. Modi also visited a skill development college.
Topping Modi's agenda was a MoU for setting up an ultra mega steel plant at Dilmili village that will fetch the state direct investment of more than Rs 18,000 crore and employ over 10,000 people.
A second MoU was inked for the second phase of a 140-km rail link between Rowghat and Jagdalpur that will connect Bastar with important cities of the state such as Raipur, Bilaspur and Durg. The link will also help the transportation of iron-ore.
Contradictory claims were made about the hostage situation. Sukma’s additional superintendent of police Harish Rathore initially said between 400 and 500 people were "taken away" to the jungle by rebels opposing the construction of a bridge.
Some police officials sought to downplay the incident, saying the rebels took the villagers away only to protest the construction of a bridge. They also said the incident was not linked to Modi’s visit.
“This is not like a hostage situation where ransom is demanded. It's a normal practice for Maoists to assert their domination over villagers this way. The ultras may hold a meeting where these villagers will participate and sooner or later they will be let off,” Sukma’s superintendent of police D Shrawan said.
Government spokesperson GS Mishra said there were no women, children or elderly people among those taken away by the Maoists.
Dantewada, which is part of Bastar region, is rich in minerals, especially iron ore. It has witnessed a string of Maoist attacks, with the worst being a 2010 assault that killed 76 security personnel. Seven policemen were killed and 10 injured in an ambush by extremists in Bastar region in April.
(With agency inputs)