Chhattisgarh ambush: Maoists release image of missing commando
A photograph of a commando from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)’s elite CoBRA unit -- missing after a deadly April 2 ambush by Maoist ultras in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma-Bijapur region -- was released on Wednesday by Maoists, who have demanded that a mediator be appointed by the government to negotiate his release.
This photograph, which was circulating on social media, surfaced on a day the soldier’s family protested in Jammu, demanding that the government facilitate his swift return.
The photograph showed Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, 35, a commando with the 210th CoBRA battalion, sitting alone in what appeared to be a hut. According to local journalists in the region, the photo was sent on WhatsApp. “At 11.27am, a photograph of the missing jawan was sent on a WhatsApp number by Maoist leader Vikalp,” said Sukma-based journalist Raja Rathore.
When asked about Manhas’s photograph, inspector general of police (Bastar range), Sundarraj P, said the situation was being closely monitored.“All best possible efforts are being made to secure the safe return of the jawan,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.
On Tuesday evening, the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) issued a press release, signed by its spokesperson Vikalp, asking the government to decide on a mediator to discuss Manhas’s release. The note, issued by the Maoist Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee said: “The state government should appoint interlocutor, we will then handover the jawan to them. Until then, the jawan will be safe in the custody of Jantana Sarkar.”
Though no interlocutor has been named, tribal activist Soni Sori left for the encounter site on Wednesday to appeal to Maoists to release the abducted jawan. “The government should have taken steps to secure the release of the jawan. I just want that the jawan be freed safely, for which I am going to the incident site,” Sori told reporters.
Meanwhile, in Manhas’s home town in Jammu, hundreds of protesters, including the commando’s family, staged a sit-in at Barnai Chowk on Wednesday, and demanded that the government show the same urgency to facilitate his release that was shown in bringing back wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was taken hostage by Pakistan after the 2019 Balakot strike.
Manhas’s wife, Meenu, who learnt of his abduction from a local reporter in Chhattisgarh on the day of the ambush, said: “It’s been four days since my husband was abducted by Maoists but the government is doing nothing to ensure his release from captivity... If a jawan is late to report to duty by just one day after leave, action is taken against him, but here, he is missing since Saturday and nobody is bothered.”
She added that the family has not heard either from the government or the CRPF, and whatever information they had was through the media. Manhas is the family’s sole breadwinner, and has a five-year-old daughter.
Twenty-two soldiers from the CRPF’s CoBRA unit, District Reserve Guard, and the Special Task Force lost their lives in a five-hour-long clash with Maoists. This was the deadliest Maoist attack in the region in the last four years, and prompted Union home minister Amit Shah to describe it as a “decisive turn” in the fight against Maoist ultras. Shah also said this week that the issue would reach its “logical end”.
Officials said that several Maoists -- HT reported that officials estimated the number to be between 12 and 20 -- were also killed in the gunfight. The Maoists, however, claimed in a statement on Tuesday that only four of their cadre were killed.
“The Maoists are showing definite interest for talks in each of their press notes after this sad incident. Possible negotiation to release the CRPF jawan can be a very good beginning in an otherwise very grim situation if followed through creatively,” Shubhranshu Chaudhary, a peace activist working in Bastar, said.