The Centre and Chhattisgarh government have pinned hopes on the mediators of the state and Maoists to end the four-day hostage crisis involving Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon whose "critical" health condition prompted authorities to rush medicines for him.
With the Maoists' April 25 deadline ends today to Chhattisgarh government to meet its demands in exchange for the freedom of Menon, the state has named two former chief secretaries of Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh--Nirmala Buch and SK Mishra--as its nominees to hold talks with the Naxals.
"Tension is running very high at police headquarters in Raipur and in the IAS community as well. But the worst period is for the family of Menon, mainly his wife Asha who is going through a phase of mental trauma," a senior official with home department said.
The only relief, he said, was that Maoists had allowed one of the three proposed mediators - Manish Kunjam - on Tuesday to carry medicines for Menon, who is an asthma patient, to their hideout in Sukma.
Kunjam, the former Chhattisgarh legislator and well known Communist Party of India leader in troubled Bastar region, had collected medicines from Asha Menon from her official residence at Sukma and reached Chintagufa area on Tuesday evening. He then went into the jungle to hand over medicines to Menon, who reportedly needs urgent medical attention.
Maoists are demanding that Chhattisgarh's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime set free its eight key jailed colleagues - Marakam Gopannam, Nirmal Akka, Devpal Chandra Shekher Reddy, Shanti Priya Reddy, Meena Chowdhary, Korasa Sunny, Markan Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen - and had set April 25 as the deadline.
The Maoists had named Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, former National SC/ST Commission chairperson BD Sharma and president of All India Adivasi Mahasabha Manish Kunjam as their mediators.
However, Bhushan and Kunjam declined to mediate on behalf of the Maoists. It was immediately not known when and where the talks will take place.
"Menon's life is supreme. I will be going to Sukma soon to take the medicines and then proceed to Tarimetla. Thereafter, I will come back," he said.
"We have been told by the family members that he (Menon) is an asthma patient and his health is deteriorating," chief minister Raman Singh told reporters. The officer's abductors have conveyed that the condition of Menon is "critical".
Buch said his top priority will be to ensure safe release of collector of Menon.
"I hope that the crisis will be resolved soon through dialogue," Buch, who is expected to reach Chhattisgarh on Wendesday, said over phone from Bhopal.
Union home secretary RK Singh hoped that the crisis will be resolved soon with the appointment of mediators.
A worried Asha, Menon's wife, has also appealed to Maoists to send an audio/video tape of her husband, so that she can gauge his condition.
Raman Singh said since the dialogue process will be starting the Maoists should not insist on any deadline.
Earlier on Tuesday, the state government fine-tuned its strategy to deal with hostage crisis in Chhattisgarh and the way ahead to secure early release of Sukma district Collector Alex Paul Menon who was abducted by Maoists on Saturday.
A high-level meeting, chaired by home secretary RK Singh, assessed the situation and the future plan of action in Naxal-hit Chhattisgarh as the deadline set by the Maoists for release of eight of their associates in exchange for the 32-year-old IAS officer ends on Wednesday.
The meeting was attended by CRPF chief K Vjay Kumar, CRPF Special DG (Operations) P M Nair, Chhattisgarh ADGP (naxal) Ram Nivas and CRPF IG (Raipur) Pankaj Singh among others.
"The meeting was to reaffirm and coordinate our efforts with the central forces and secure an early release for Sukma collector Alex Paul Menon. We discussed all the possibilities and we were assured of all the help," ADGP Ram Niwas said after the one-hour long meeting at the home ministry.
"We have been assured of additional central forces, if the state so requires," he said.
An action plan, according to sources, to mobilise forces along the Chhattisgarh-Odisha border and ensure all steps to facilitate an early release of Menon from the clutches of the Maoists was discussed.
The CRPF, during the meeting, also briefed about taking help of technical and intelligence gathering network to detect any movement of Naxals in the jungles.
Any help from the special anti-Naxal unit CoBRA to Chhattisgarh police was also discussed, they said.
The sources termed the meeting between the central and state government officials as a "positive development" as unlike Odisha, which is also facing a similar hostage crisis following the kidnapping of a ruling MLA, Chhattisgarh government sent their officials to the capital for better coordination with the Centre.