Almost a month after Odisha MLA Jhina Hikaka was abducted by naxals and is still being held hostage, the rebels struck neighbouring Chhattisgarh on Saturday and kidnapped the collector of Sukma district.
Alex Paul Menon, a 2006-batch IAS officer, was abducted while in the middle of a meeting with villagers at Kerlapal, around 400km south of Raipur. The meeting was part of the state government’s Gram Suraj campaign aimed at weaning away locals from naxalism.
Menon, 32, is the first collector of the newly created Sukma district, which used to be part of the insurgency-hit Dantewada district.
Eyewitnesses said around 15 naxals were present at the meeting venue — barely 8km from a CRPF camp — and disguised as farmers. They asked Menon to visit the nearby Manjhipara village to look into the people’s problems. When Menon reportedly agreed to go, the naxals tried to force him onto their motorbike.
Menon’s security guards opened fire, resulting in a gunbattle. The guards and one rebel were killed. The naxals fled, taking the collector with them.
No demands have been issued so far. “A special team has been constituted for the rescue efforts. We have also sought help from the Andhra Pradesh and Odisha police,” said Anil M Navaney, director general of police.
Sources in Delhi said the recent escalation in naxal violence could be a coordinated diversionary tactic ahead of the naxals’ party congress this year.
Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh said efforts were on to free Menon. Union home minister P Chidambaram spoke to him and assured all help.
“Menon was the most development-orientated collector in the entire naxal-affected region. His abduction is a terrorist act by naxals opposed to his work,” said a home ministry official.
Menon’s wife Asha Alex said he was unwell and appealed for his release.