In what's being viewed as a move loaded with political ramifications, Union Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, has taken up cudgels on behalf of tribals languishing in jails with three Chief Ministers, including that of Orissa.

Political circles are agog with the question if it is the Congress riposte to the tribal cause that Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has sought to identify himself with, by projecting former Lok Sabha speaker P. A. Sangma as the presidential candidate.

By bringing up the issue of tribals languishing in jails on “very flimsy grounds,” Mr. Ramesh, it was said, had sought to underscore that people living in forests were the real tribals, and that their cause needed to be addressed first.

While his letter to Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, urges him to abide by the promise he made for providing for the release of the then Sukma DM Alex Paul Menon, Mr. Ramesh, surprisingly enough, has also written to the chief ministers of Jharkhand and Orissa to release innocent adivasis languishing in jails.

Mr. Ramesh has pleaded for the release of six jailed Maoists with Mr. Singh, at the behest of G. Haragopal, who was among the negotiators who successfully arranged for the release of Mr. Menon from the captivity of the Maoists.

Quoting Prof. Haragopal, Mr. Ramesh argued with Mr. Singh, that releasing the six jailed Maoists wouldn't “amount to bowing down before the Maoists”, as it was a humanitarian, legal, and constitutional duty of any government.

The Chhattisgarh government had conceded the demands more through an understanding than in writing.

He said the jailed Maoists included a person suffering from Hepatitis B, a woman who delivered in jail and has a two-year-old kid, and an adivasi who has been acquitted in all cases by the courts, and was rearrested soon after his release. Mr. Ramesh said Prof. Haragopal had informed him that most of the cases filed against adivasi prisoners, which cases the government would be reviewing, were false.

In separate but identical letters to Arjun Munda and Mr. Patnaik, Mr. Ramesh said he had learnt that “a large number of adivasis are in jail today, for no reason whatsoever, and that, in reality, they should be freed at the earliest.”

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