Demands suggest Maoists looking to win over those alienated by kidnapping
Mediators working to secure the release of kidnapped Sukma Collector, Alex P. Menon, have arrived at a tentative agreement that shall be submitted to the Maoists on Saturday. “Talks have concluded for now, but the final agreement shall have to be approved by the Maoists,” said mediator B.D. Sharma.
Mr. Sharma and Professor Hargopal, who are mediating on behalf of the guerrillas, hope to travel to an interior village in Sukma on Saturday morning to discuss the proposal with cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). The rebels kidnapped Mr. Menon on April 21 while he was addressing a gathering of farmers in his district.
While Mr. Sharma refused to comment on the contours of a possible agreement, an analysis of the Maoist demands suggests that the party could be reaching out to those sympathetic to the issues raised by the Maoists, but alienated by tactics like armed struggle and kidnapping.
This gulf between Maoist motivations and methods was highlighted by Supreme Court Advocate and Team Anna activist Prashant Bhushan when he refused to mediate on the Maoist behalf. Mr. Bhushan told The Hindu that he agreed with some of the Maoist demands, but could not condone the use of Mr. Menon’s life as “a bargain chip”.
While the Maoists have demanded that the State government call off anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh and free eight prominent Maoists currently in custody, they have also demanded the release of a number of Communist Party of India workers and unaffiliated tribals, who, the Maoists say, have been falsely implicated in Maoist attacks.
The most prominent of these is Kartam Joga, the lead petitioner in a case filed in the Supreme Court that holds the State police and administration responsible for a plethora of human rights violations during the Salwa Judum, a controversial counterinsurgency campaign. Mr. Joga was arrested in September 2010 and accused of participating in a Maoist ambush in which 76 CRPF troopers were killed in a matter of hours. An investigation by The Hindu revealed that at least 2 of the ten witnesses mentioned in the case-file accused the police of fabricating their testimonies.
The Maoists have also demanded that the police release hundreds of allegedly innocent tribals who have been arrested and imprisoned on trumped up charges. While the rebels have not fixed a number to these arrests, a recent report by the Centre for Social Justice reveals that in 1,758 prisoners and 13 children are currently lodged in Jadgalpur Central Jail, a facility designed for 648 inmates. Of the 1,178 under trial, 605 adults and 7 children have been charged under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act of 2005, an act usually used against those suspected of aiding the Maoists.
A few questions
In a recent press note titled “Why did we kidnap the Collector?” South Bastar Regional Committee member Ganesh Uieke acknowledged that “some prominent intellectuals and sections of the media” have put pressure on the rebels to unconditionally release their hostage on humanitarian grounds as Mr. Menon is an asthma patient, a member of the historically oppressed Dalit community, and an apparently popular official working for the uplift of his district.
Mr. Uieke identifies Mr. Menon as a the senior most official in Sukma district where, Mr. Uieke holds the district police responsible for a series of staged encounters, custodial deaths and the torching of 300 homes in the villages of Tarmetla, Morpalli and Timapuram. “Why is Mr. Menon unable to stop these inhumane and unconstitutional practices?
“Who is this young, Dalit Collector from an impoverished background working on behalf of?” Mr. Ueike asks, before accusing him of running an administration designed to aid the exploitation of Chhattisgarh’s mineral resources by a multinational corporation, an assertion disputed by the State administration.