12-day ordeal ends for Alex Paul Menon as Maoists hand him over to their interlocutors

A 12-day hostage crisis, which tested the nerves of the BJP government in Chhattisgarh and brought counter-insurgency operations to a grinding halt, ended after Maoists released Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon on Thursday evening.

The rebels handed him over to their interlocutors G. Haragopal and B.D. Sarma, who flew a government helicopter to Chintalnar and rode motorcycles deep inside Bastar forests.

A large media contingent, which stationed itself at Chintalnar and Sukma, was initially asked not to accompany the interlocutors but later invited to Tadmetla, where they surfaced along with Mr. Menon.

Anxiety, tension

Earlier in the day, anxiety peaked, though everyone was certain about the release of the Collector, as he was not freed in the afternoon. A helicopter was stationed at Chintalnar, the place where 76 CRPF jawans were butchered by Maoists two years ago, to fly the interlocutors and Mr. Menon to Sukma.

As the day advanced, tension built up but it was a strategic move on the part of the Maoists to ensure that the Collector came out of the rebel stronghold only in the evening which would facilitate the easy retreat of their cadres under cover of darkness. As the chopper could not fly at night, Mr. Menon went to Chintalnar and from there he was being driven to Sukma, about 45 km away, sources from Raipur explained.

The release of the 2006 batch IAS officer, who was abducted near Manjhipara village on April 21, was facilitated by discussions between Prof. Haragopal and Dr. Sharma, on one side, the government-nominated retired IAS officers Nirmala Buch and S.K. Mishra, on the other. All the four interlocutors discussed the rebel demands for three days and hammered out an agreement. Interestingly, the government did not immediately give into the demand for release of eight jailed Naxalites, though the security forces were confined to the barracks in Bastar.

As per the agreement, the government set up a high-power standing committee to ‘regularly review all cases of undertrials. These include Maoist-related cases too. “The prisoners are in distress in view of the long time taken in investigation/prosecution for various reasons and the great inconvenience caused to their near relatives/family members who come from long distances to meet them in jail,” the agreement said.

Bail moved

Meanwhile, a bail petition was moved in a Raipur court for the release of Maoist leaders Santipriya Reddy, wife of Gudsa Usendi, a member of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee; and Malati Chowdary. These two were among the eight whose release was demanded by the rebels in exchange for the abducted Collector.

Government sources refused to comment when they were asked whether the moving of a bail petition was part of the agreement. “Anyone can move a bail petition,” was their terse remark.

Panel begins work

In a related development, the high-power committee, headed by the former Chief Secretary Nirmala Buch, and consisting of Chief Secretary Sunil Kumar and DGP Anil Navaney, met in the Chhattisgarh capital, true to the promise that it would get down to work within an hour of the release of the Collector.