As more than 100 hours have passed with CRPF commando Rakeshwar Singh Manhas still in Maoist “custody”, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in close coordination with the Chhattisgarh government, has been scrutinising names of independent interlocutors whom the ultras will trust to arrange his release.
Among the names under discussion include a few journalists, who have deep approach to the rebels, some NGO members involved in civic operations in Bastar region for years and some former government officials who have worked in the region and helped in safe surrenders of ultras before the government.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and the Chhattisgarh Police, as well as other stakeholders having reach in the Maoist-affected region, have so far suggested over a dozen such names as interlocutors.
The MHA may announce names of more than one interlocutor anytime so that the Maoist could select the person of their choice to give their message to the Central as well as Chhattisgarh government and release Manhas — a constable of the 210th CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), an elite wing of the CRPF.
The hunt for the interlocutor began soon after the Maoists on Tuesday issued a two-page communique in Hindi announcing that the missing CRPF commando is in their “safe custody” and they are ready to release him only after an interlocutor is appointed.
“As the Maoists have so far not raised any formal demands for the release of the commando, it seems they want to project their act as a ‘retaliation’, and that their fight is against the system, not the forces,” an official, requesting anonymity, told IANS.
The official has been working in Bastar region for over three years and heading a team of key security personnel involved in anti-Maoist operations.
The Maoists’ letter says that “as many as 2,000 police personnel had reached near Jiragudem village to execute a major attack (on Saturday). To thwart them, PLGA (Peoples’ Liberation Guerrilla Army) retaliated during which 24 security personnel were killed and 31 others injured. We have caught a policeman (CoBRA commando) at the spot while others escaped”.
Asked when the government will announce the name of the interlocutors, the official indicated: “Ministry of Home Affairs is closely monitoring the situation. Names of various people are in the list of interlocutors and the final decision may be announced by Thursday evening or Friday.”
In the letter issued in the name of ‘Vikalp’, spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of Maoists — the group instrumental in executing various deadly attacks in the region, the rebels made it clear that the CoBRA commando, who went missing after the April 3 attack, will be in safe custody till the process of appointing an interlocutor is completed.
Manhas had gone missing during the fierce gun battle with over 300 PLGAs ultras in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district in which 22 security personnel were killed and 31 were injured. Over 1,000 security personnel of the CRPF and Chhattisgarh’s District Reserve Guard (DRG) and Special Task Force (STF) took part in the operation. The gun battle took place on Saturday noon near Tekulgudem village under Tarrem police station.
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at email@example.com)