Collector free at last
Tadmetla Forest (South Chhattisgarh), May 3
The 32-year-old had straightaway left for Sukma to be with his pregnant wife, Asha, but an inhospitable terrain and darkness forced a change in plan. Menon decided to spend the night at the CRPF base camp at Chintalnar, 8 km from here. He will leave for Sukma, 85 km from Chintalnar, on Friday morning.
Menon’s clean-shaven face showed signs of fatigue and the trauma of living in the custody of Maoists since April 21. “I am okay… I am tired… I want to first go home,” Menon told the battery of mediapersons as soon he arrived here in a vehicle with the Maoists’ nominated representatives BD Sharma and Prof G. Hargopal.
His wife Asha expressed happiness as soon as she heard the news of Menon’s release. “I was worried about his health as he is an asthma patient,” she said.
Far away in Menon’s Chennai home, his family burst crackers and distributed sweets. Outside his home, a large number of local people and officials assembled to receive Menon, a popular figure in the area.
Menon’s release was expected before noon. The police had deployed heavy force in the surrounding areas to be ready to face any kind of situation. As the sun set over the lush green jungle horizon diminishing visibility, everyone present at Tadmetla began wondering whether they would have to wait one more day for Menon’s release or whether Maoists were having second thoughts about releasing him.
The vehicle carrying Menon emerged from the forest cover at about 6.15 pm. Five minutes later, Ram Niwas, Assistant Director General of Police (Anti-Naxal operations), officially confirmed Menon’s release. Before Menon’s car sped off, he said, “I will talk tomorrow. Just now I am tired, and eager to be back home with my family.”
Freedom for Menon came 12 days after his kidnapping by the Red Rebels from Majhipada village near Sukma where he had gone to interact with tribals about the state government’s ‘Gram Swaraj Yojna’ under which thevillagers’ grievances are heard. Menon, an IAS officer of the 2006 batch, is the second district Collector to be kidnapped by Naxalities. Some months back, the District Collector in nearby Malkangiri in Orissa was abducted and released after many days.
Tadmetla’s lush green jungles and hills are not far from the spot towards Chintalnar where Maoists had massacred 76 CRPF jawans in a gruesome incident on April 6, 2010 in the worst case of Red Violence.
It was not immediately clear whether Menon was produced in a Maoist ‘Jan Adalat’ (people’s court) before releasing him. On April 30, hours before an agreement was worked out to release him, Maoists had warned that they would produce Menon before a ‘Jan Adalat’ to face a chargesheet, listing out the alleged atrocities being committed by the police on “innocent villagers” on the ground that they were Maoists.
Jan Adalats or Maoist kangaroo courts have become the order of the day in the Red Corridor that starts from the Nepal border and goes on to Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, passing through the jungles of Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhatttisgarh and Orissa.
In the name of instant justice, tribals and police informers are beaten up indiscriminately and their houses burnt after “judgment” by the ‘Jan Adalats’. Many times, people are also lynched to death. These Jan Adalats instill a sense of fear among tribals.
In recent years, Maoists have graduated from guerilla stage to military state of war and have changed their tactics and strategies. They are armed with lethal weapons, including AK-47 rifles, and are capable of mobile warfare.
According to a confidential report of the military intelligence, India’s 230 districts in 13 states, including three in the National Capital Region of Delhi, are now being targeted by Maoists to achieve its ultimate aim -- seizing power in Delhi by 2050. Maoists have been following Mao-tse-Tung’s belief: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Menon was released following an agreement between the state government and the Maoists’ representatives on April 30. Maoists had demanded the release of 17 of their jailed cadres, including eight serving sentence after conviction. They abandoned their demand after the state government agreed to set up a high-power committee to review all cases of alleged Maoists lodged in various jails.
With Maoist negotiator BD Sharma’s right hand over Menon’s shoulder, the Collector said, “I want to thank representatives of both sides who worked out the freedom for me.” He also thanked Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, his seniors and media friends, who were constantly busy in ensuring his safe return.
Menon refused to take more questions from the media and was taken away in a car towards Chintarnar, eight km away, where he decide to stay the night. Menon is likely to be taken to Raipur on Friday for a detailed medical checkup and relief from the trauma of living in harsh jungle conditions.
A helicopter that had brought BD Sharma and Prof Hargopal from Raipur this morning went back just before sunset. The original plan was to airlift Menon and his family to the state capital today itself.