‘B’ indicates the village of Samathanapuram on the map.
When travelling from Tirunelveli to Nagercoil on State Highway 177, about 1.7 km from the town of Panagudi, there is a small village called Samathanapuram. This is the native village of the 32 year old Alex Paul Menon who was appointed as the First Collector of the newly formed Sukma District which was created by carving out the Maoist-infested Dantewada, in the South Bastar Region of the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh.
Alex Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma District, Chhattisgarh.
On Saturday April 21, at about 4:30 pm, cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) abducted Alex Paul Menon. He is being held as a hostage by the insurgents who are demanding the release of 17 jailed cadres, and a halt to “Operation Green Hunt” – the anti-Maoist drive.
The Maoists rebels named B.D. Sharma, former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and Professor G. Hargopal of Hyderabad as mediators acceptable to them to negotiate the release of Alex Paul Menon.
The Chhattisgarh government, in turn, has named Suyogya Kumar Mishra, former Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh, and Nirmala Buch, former Union Secretary and Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh as the government representatives.
Mr. B.D. Sharma, and Professor G. Hargopal met the rebels on Saturday, April 28, in the Tadmetla forest.
They returned on Sunday, April 29, morning from the forest area with a reply from the Maoists, but refused to divulge what transpired during their meeting. The two mediators said: “Collector Menon is safe, we will share our discussion with Maoists only with the government-mediators in Raipur.”
Finally the form of an agreement between the two mediators named by the Maoists and the mediators of the Chhattisgarh government, at their fourth round of talks, was reached today (Monday April, 30) evening. A two-page agreement was initialed by the mediators in the presence of Principal Secretary (Home) N.K. Aswal. Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters: “I hope Alex Paul Menon will be released within 48 hours.”
To read the breakthrough to ensure the safe return of the 32-year-old collector click on these two links:
The Maoist rebels who abducted Alex Paul Menon, the District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh on April 21, did not allow the two mediators selected by them – B.D. Sharma, former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and Professor G. Hargopal of Hyderabad – to meet him.
The two mediators met the rebels on Saturday (yesterday) in the Tadmetla forest. They stayed overnight and briefed the Maoists on their talks with the government elected mediators, Mr. S.K. Mishra, former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh and Ms. Nirmala Buch, former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary.
They returned yesterday (Sunday) morning from the forest area with a reply from the Maoists, but refused to divulge what transpired during their meeting. The two mediators said: “Collector Menon is safe, we will share our discussion with Maoists only with the government-mediators in Raipur.”
“As someone who has served in the Tamil Nadu cadre of the Indian Administrative Service, I feel worse than miserable reading and hearing of Collector Alex Paul Menon’s ordeal. But unlike Alex, who has put his life on the line, I have never had to face personal or physical danger in the course of official duty,” said Gopalkrishna Gandhi.
On April 21, Maoists rebels disguised as villagers took Alex Paul Menon, the District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh as hostage at gunpoint from a forested location in Sukma district, some 500 km south of Raipur. When the Collector’s two security guards resisted his abduction, the Maoists shot them dead.
According to Official sources the Maoists have in the meantime upped their demand. They now want the release of 17 jailed cadres, instead of the eight named by them earlier, and a halt to “Operation Green Hunt” – the anti-Maoist drive.
Official sources said the Chhattisgarh government, desperate to ensure the safe release of Alex PaulMenon, has positively responded to the wo demands placed by Maoists.
The two mediators – B.D. Sharma, former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer and Professor G. Hargopal of Hyderabad met the rebels on Saturday (yesterday) with a message from the Chhattisgarh government. Today (Sunday) morning they came out from the rebels infested area with a reply from the Maoists.
However, the two mediators refused to divulge any details of the Maoists’ reply. They said: “Collector Menon is safe, we will share our discussion with Maoists only with the government-mediators in Raipur.”
Earlier, before visiting the Maoist hideout, Mr. Sharma and Prof. Hargopal had several rounds of closed-door meetings at Raipur’s state guest house with Mr. S.K. Mishra, former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh and Ms. Nirmala Buch, former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary – the two mediators appointed by the government.
Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh, abducted by the Maoist on 21 rebels is an asthma patient, and the abductors informed the Chhattisgarh government that their hostage was critically ill.
The Maoist insurgents wanted Mr. Manish Kunjam, a Communist Party of India leader and President of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, and a former MLA from Konta district as one of the mediators acceptable to them to negotiate the release of Alex Paul Menon who was held hostage by them.
But Manish Kunjam was reluctant to act as a mediator.
“Some reporters had suggested that I should take medicines for Menon after I declined to mediate on behalf of the Maoists. The chief minister of Chhattisgarh also asked me if I could go with the medicines. It was important as the Maoists had said in a statement that he was critical,” said Kunjam.
Kunjam said he rode about 150-175 km on a motorcycle to the jungles and back to deliver the medicines. The Maoists met him beyond Tadmetla village.
When reporters questioned him these were some of his replies:
“He got the medicines on Wednesday afternoon.”
“I did what I was asked to do — I went and gave the medicines.”
“I could not meet Mr Menon. I delivered the medicines to the Naxal leaders, who said the district magistrate is fine. I have accomplished the task assigned to me by the Chhattisgarh government “
“I was there to deliver medicines for Menon, not to act as a messenger. Also I have been kept out of the dialogue process and hence cannot comment on this matter.”
“The Chhattisgarh government has also taken some positive steps. I hope he will be freed soon.”
After delivering the medicine, Manish Kunjam went to his his native village Ramaram.
Negotiations under way
On April 22 the Maoists sent an anonymous taped message to media outlets in the state. The message asked the Chhattisgarh government to free eight key leaders: Marakam Gopannam, Nirmal Akka, Devpal Chandra Shekher Reddy, Shanti Priya Reddy, Meena Chowdhary, Korasa Sunny, Markan Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen who are in jail now.
To negotiate the release of of Alex Paul Menon the Maoists named the following three as acceptable to them:
Manish Kunjam,a Communist Party of India leader and President of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, and a former MLA from Konta district.
Prashant Bhushan, a noted Supreme Court lawyer and a core committee member of Team Anna.
B.D. Sharma, former commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, one of India’s foremost experts on tribal issues and a former Collector of undivided Bastar.
The Chhattisgarh government, in turn named the following two as the government representatives:
Suyogya Kumar Mishra, former Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh
Nirmala Buch, former Union Secretary and Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh
Out of the three named by the Moists only B.D. Sharma agreed to get involved in the mediation. The Maoists then proposed the name of Professor G. Hargopal, based in Hyderabad as another mediator they were willing to talk to.
The first round of talks between the Maoists and the four negotiators – the two mediators named by Maoists and two former bureaucrats appointed by the Chhattisgarh government, for the release of Alex Paul Menon was held on Thursday.
During the meeting, the two sides discussed all aspects related to the Maoists’ two demands:
the release of eight jailed rebels
a freeze on “Operation Green Hunt” against them.
Official sources said the closed door meeting on Thursday held at the government guest house went on for more than three hours and the talks are proceeding in a positive direction.
“It was a very constructive and positive talk,” Nirmala Buch told reporters on Thursday.
The second round of talks of talks began at 9 am on Friday.
Alex Paul Menon, District Collector of Sukma, Chhattisgarh and his entourage were ambushed by Maoist insurgents disguised as villagers when they were returning to their bas after attending the Gram Suraj Abhiyaan – a state government-run programme meant to promote greater coordination and connect between the villagers and administration. The rebels killed two security personnel of the Collector and took him as hostage.
The Collector, is an asthma patient, and the abductors informed the Chhattisgarh government that their hostage was critically ill.
Their statement said, “It’s our appeal to Mrs Asha Paul Menon, his friends, family and IAS officers that Mr Alex Paul Menon’s health is very critical. It’s our request to please send his medicines from the mediators. The delay being caused by the officials is responsible for his bad health and if something happens, it will be the government’s responsibility,” (sic)
On Sunday, the day after the Maoists demanded the release of eight of their leaders jailed in Chhattisgarh and a halt to “Operation Green Hunt” in exchange for freeing Alex Paul Menon. They set the deadlinefor the government to meet their demands to 5 pm yesterday.
Tension prevails in Chhattisgarh, and government officials are in a quandary since the deadline set by the Maoists has expired. The government has not received any communication from the abductors about the fate of the young official who hails from Tirunelveli District of Tamilnadu.
Reports say that the staff in Chief Minister Raman Singh’s office was constantly interacting with officials in the district for updates about a possible extension to the deadline by the rebels.
Hours after the statement was released, Mr Kunjam was rushed by the state government with urgent medicines for Mr Menon. Mr Kunjam delivered the medicines today to Mr Menon. Mr Kunjam is one of the three mediators named by the Maoists, who they would be willing to negotiate through. Prashant Bhushan, another mediator named by the Maoists, has however refused to take part in the negotiation process.
Yesterday, Manish Kunjam, a Communist Party of India leader and President of All India Adivasi Mahasabha, and a former MLA from Konta district, one of the three mediators named by the Maoists collected the medicines from Menon’s wife and delivered it to the critically ill Collector.
Prashant Bhushan, a noted Supreme Court lawyer and a core committee member of Team Anna, the second person named by the Maoists as a mediator refused to accept the theirproposal saying that the Collector should be released unconditionally.
After Prashant Bhushan and Manish Kunjam refused the offer to act as mediators, yesterday, in a message sent to media houses, the Maoists proposed the name of Professor G. Hargopal, based in Hyderabad as another mediator they were willing to talk to .
“I have participated earlier in two hostage crises. I believe that it should happen without any loss of life. I am thinking about going with B D Sharma. We will have to see both the government’s and the Maoists’ point of views. Why the poor tribals are fighting today. This is not just about the abduction; we will have to work to stop this. The government will have to accept the rights of the tribals,” Professor Hargopal said yesterday.
Professor Haragopal is said to be the man who played a crucial role in February 2011 in the release of Malkangiri district collector R. Vineel Krishna held hostage by the Maoists in neighboring Orissa.