Under pressure from Maoists who today claimed to have killed one of the four policemen kidnapped from Lakhisarai district, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said his government was ready for talks with the ultras and assured them safe passage for the negotiations.
"Who says that we are not ready for talks? We are ready for talks for securing the release of the policemen beind held hostages by the Maoists," Kumar said on the sidelines of a function here.
"We are ready to give full protection to anyone from their side (Maoists) coming for talks ... we will bear the expenses that they incur to and from here," he said while stating that it should be kept in minds that talks could be held on the subject which was within the domain of the state.
Avinash, a self-proclaimed Maoist spokesman, telephoned media offices here, claiming that one of the hostages, sub-inspector, Abhay Yadav, had been killed after the expiry of the deadline for freeing eight ultras in jail in exchange for the release of the hostages.
Director General of Bihar Police Neelmani, however, said there was no evidence of the ultras taking the extreme step.
"Search operations have been intensified for the hostages," he said.
In New Delhi, the Union Home Ministry said it was fully with state government in dealing with the problem and fully supported what it was doing.
Avinash also threatened to kill the three other policemen held captive by 10:00 am tomorrow if the state government failed to comply with the Maoists' demand.
The Maoists had kidnapped sub-inspectors Rupesh Kumar and Abhay Prasad Yadav, BMP havildar Ehtesham Khan and BMP ASI Lucas Tete after the encounter in Kajra police station area on Sunday, which had left eight policemen dead.
Seeking to reach out to Maoists, Kumar said Maoists in jails or apprehended during anti-Naxal operations were being looked after properly by the state government and "we expect similar treatment with the policemen.
"In a democratic set-up, we respect the human rights of any person arrested and we well take care of their health," he said.
"The Naxalites are part of society ... they should do no harm to policemen who are also part of society. They hold four policemen captive and it is their duty to protect them," Kumar said, adding he had raised the issue of Maoists being treated properly during a recent meeting in New Delhi.
"Had they (Maoists) killed them in course of the encounter, it would have been a different matter," he said, recalling that he had taken personal initiative for the treatment of a Maoist who was critically wounded in an encounter and sent him to New Delhi.
He said "holding hostages for the sake of bargain is highlighly objectionable in democracy ... after all policemen are doing their duty.
"As long as my government is here it will continue to pay due respect to human rights and implement the guidelines in toto ... there is a system in democracy ... people enjoy the right to fight elections to defeat a set up if it is inimical to them.
"Democracy mein janata ki ahmiyat hai (in a democracy, the people decide who will rule as their decision is supreme)," Kumar said.
"We are a democracy, independence and freedom is the beauty of it ... democracy is governed by laws and system and we have to follow it," he said.
Relatives of those held hostages had met him in the past couple of days, he said, "we know their trauma and we care for human rights as well.
"Violence rasta nahin ho sakta (violence cannot be the way) ... those who believe in democracy will have to come forward and sit across the table for resolution of any problem," he said.
Asking Kumar to start talks with the Maoists, social activist Swami Agnivesh offered to facilitate the negotiations between the Maoists and the government so that the life of the policemen taken hostage could be saved.
Neelmani earlier denied negotiations were being held with Maoists.
"It is absolutely wrong. Neither the state government nor any one from among the police at any level is negotiating with the Maoists for the release of the four kidnapped policemen. We are doing what we have to do,"Neelmani told PTI here and referred to the massive search operations in the hills in Munger, Jamui and Lakhisarai districts.
Inspector-General of Police (Operations) K S Dwivedi told PTI from Lakhisarai that the CRPF, SAP, BMP and Special Task Force of the Bihar police were continuing the search for the abducted policemen.
"We have specific information about where the policemen are being held captive. The people are cooperating in the drive against Maoists," Dwivedi said.
In New Delhi, Union Home Secretary G K Pillai said "the state government is now negotiating with the Maoists and, therefore, we are extending full cooperation and we hope that there would be a successful outcome."
Highly placed sources in the state government said a top state official had apprised the Union Home Ministry of the situation.