Other States

Maoists free police hostages in the presence of Swami Agnivesh

On Friday, an unlikely convoy bounced along the dusty forest tracks of Chhattisgarh's Narayanpur district. In the front seat of the lead car, sat interfaith activist Swami Agnivesh; in the tail car, Amravati Dubey sat in the back seat, holding back her tears.

The bulk of the convoy comprised a motley crew of print and television journalists who, after 18 days of intermittent reportage, awaited the dramatic denouement of Chhattisgarh's most recent hostage crisis. Somewhere in this jungle, cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) would release Ms. Dubey's son and four other policemen in the presence of Swami Agnivesh and four other rights activists.

Ranjan Dubey, Tarsus Ekka, Manishankar Dubey, Raghunandan Dhruv and Ramadhar Patel were abducted on January 25 when Maoist cadres stopped and searched a public transport bus on the Orcha-Narayanpur Road. On February 3, the Maoists put forward 11 demands including withdrawal of the Army from a proposed 900-sq.km training site in Narayanpur and removal of Central paramilitary forces from public schools in accordance with a recent Supreme Court order.

Last week, the Maoists backed down and offered to release the men in the presence of Swami Agnivesh, V. Suresh and Kavita Srivastav of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, and Gautam Navlakha and Harish Dhawan of the People's Union for Democratic Rights.

“In the name of humanity, on admitting to their mistakes and renouncing their jobs, a people's court has decided to free the five policemen,” read a red banner hung between two trees in a forest clearing, a 90-minute walk from the closest road. Swami Agnivesh stood serenely before a microphone draped in red cloth as the Maoists led the policemen up to their families. Ms. Dubey ran up to her son Ranjan and burst into tears.

“There is a lot of one-sided reporting about the Maoists…that they only believe in violence,” said Swami Agnivesh, addressing a gathering of villagers, “But by releasing these five policemen they have proved that wrong.”

“Had we abducted a Minister's son, the administration would have immediately agreed to all our demands,” said Prabhat, a member of the East Bastar Regional Committee of the CPI (Maoist), “But these [the policemen] are poor people, no one cares about them. So we decided to let them go.”

People's court

Mr. Prabhat showed this correspondent footage from the people's court, in which the hostages sat blindfolded before a crowd of more than a thousand villagers. “Lal Salaam to my brothers and sisters,” says a policeman, “Forgive me for any mistakes I have committed…I come from a poor family.”

“It is true that the police force has a lot of ‘shaitani' people,” said another. “A few policemen are giving the whole force a bad name.”

Humane treatment

Speaking to this correspondent, the policemen offered few details of their captivity. “We were blindfolded from the moment we were taken off the bus to the moment we were released,” said a policeman, adding they were fed regularly and treated humanely.

“The Maoists no longer kill their hostages.., releasing them is more effective,” said a senior intelligence officer. “It isn't about fulfilling demands. Taking hostages and releasing them are a classic guerilla strategy.”

The release of the hostages has prompted speculation that the forest meeting between the Maoists and activists could rekindle the possibility of peace talks between the State and the Central government and the banned party with Swami Agnivesh acting as a mediator.

At a press conference held in Raipur in the presence of Chief Minister Raman Singh, he actively pushed for dialogue. “The Chief Minister has agreed that talks are the only way forward, and is willing to consider the possibility of dialogue,” said Swami Agnivesh in a telephone conversation, “I will hold another press conference in Delhi asking the Central government for talks and a possible peace formula.”

Senior Maoist leaders downplayed the significance of talks. “The Chief Minister cannot talk of a ceasefire while allowing the Army to enter Abujmard,” said a senior Maoist, referring to the proposed training centre on the edge of Maoist territories in Chhattisgarh.

Last year, a similar peace initiative was derailed when a senior Maoist leader Cherukuri Rajumar alias Azad was killed by the Andhra Pradesh police while he was allegedly involved in ceasefire negotiations mediated by Swami Agnivesh.



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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 11:31:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/Maoists-free-police-hostages-in-the-presence-of-Swami-Agnivesh/article15411852.ece

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