The two interlocutors, who held talks with Maoists in the Bastar forests to free Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon, returned to Raipur, Chhattisgarh capital, on Sunday afternoon, but the suspense over his fate continued. The negotiators, B.D. Sarma and Prof. Haragopal, held talks with top Maoist leaders at an undisclosed location deep inside the forests in the southern parts of the State. They returned to Chintalnar, from where a government helicopter flew them back to Raipur.
They refused to disclose anything on the Maoist response to the government’s proposals, but affirmed that Mr. Menon was “doing well,” government sources told The Hindu on the phone from Raipur. They drove to the Pahuna guesthouse, where the government-nominated negotiators, Nirmala Buch and S.K. Mishra, were waiting for them.
“The negotiators have come back. Discussions are going on,” was the terse response from the Chief Minister’s office, while top police officers maintained that “things are progressing.”
“We are hopeful [of positive developments],” was how Additional Director-General Ramniwas responded to questions. With the government spokespersons, police officers and interlocutors maintaining total secrecy, it’s turning out to be an exasperating experience for journalists covering the eight-day-old crisis.
Sources said the Maoists had scaled up the number of jailed naxalites they want freed for the release of the Collector. Initially, they had demanded the release of eight and then increased the number to 17. Now, the militants want 75 people released, saying they were implicated in false cases. Their other major demand is a halt to ‘Operation Green Hunt.’
The government has responded that it cannot order the release of the naxalite leaders as they were under judicial custody. All it could do is not oppose the bail petitions in courts.