The CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) jawan who is missing after the ambush on the Sukma-Bijapur border on Saturday is allegedly being held captive by the Maoists.
In the aftermath of the ambush in Teklagudam on Saturday,. In a statement on Sunday, Inspector General of Police P Sundarraj had said that one constable, Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, of the elite CoBRA unit of the CRPF, was missing. Manhas is originally a resident of Jammu.
When asked if the CoBRA jawan was being held captive by the Maoists, Bijapur SP Kamlochan Kashyap toldon Monday, “We have received information that he is alive and was taken by them (Maoists). We are investigating further,” he said.
Sources told The Indian Express that immediately after security forces returned to the site of the ambush, and other bodies were recovered, it was clear that Manhas was not there, and there was little evidence to suggest he had been killed. The security agencies, including the CRPF and the district police, began making urgent phone calls to sources within Bijapur from Sunday afternoon, including local journalists to make enquiries.
“From last evening itself, we got confirmation from some sources that he was alive, and had been taken by the Maoists. Exactly where, we do not know at this point. How he was taken will come later, the immediate concern is to bring him back unharmed,” a source said.
Meanwhile, Commandant PC Gupta from CRPF headquarters at Bantalab visited the family at Nethar Kothey in Jammu Monday afternoon. He assured them that “they (CRPF) were trying to contact him on his phone, but have been unable to talk to him on ground”. He told Rakeshwar Singh Manhas’s wife Meenu Manhas that the “Department and the Government are with you and making all out efforts (to bring him safe)”, according to family members.
On Monday morning, the Maoists made calls to two local journalists at the very least, one in Sukma and the other in Bijapur. One of the journalists claimed that Vikalp, the Dandakaranya spokesperson of the Maoists, had called. “Vikalp asked about the casualties on the security forces side. He also said that constable Manhas was alive and in their custody. He said that he had been injured but the Maoists had tended to him, and was healthy. He added that they did not intend to harm him, and would let him go soon, maybe within three days,” the journalist said.
The other journalist said it was a short conversation. “They said only two lines, that he was with them and that he was fine. We will have to wait for further information,” the second journalists said.
There was another development on Monday morning when the south sub zonal bureau of the CPI (Maoist) issued a press release addressed as an appeal to “paramilitary, Chhattisgarh police personnel and Indian jawans”, asking them to not be part of “exploitation of the poor” that leaves them “mentally stressed”, “so far away from home” and be included in the “jan andolan”.
One line of the press note reads, “We know that you will be well read, from the poor and the middle class, and would have joined the police forces out of unemployment. So please leave the slave-like and dangerous police work, and join the peoples movement with self respect.”
While the press note is printed, and dated “April 2021”, raising doubts whether it could have been written so quickly after the attack, security officials said it could not be a coincidence that this was released at this point.
Another press note dated April 5 was released by the CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Abhay declared that 28 Maoists died between January 2021 and April 3, 2021. Expressing sympathy with the jawans “who have joined the forces because of lack of jobs”, it addressed them “as Comrades” asking them to be careful and follow “technical rules” while carrying out their activities. “We are communists and a loss of life is painful for us… Our fight is not against the police personnel. But when we are attacked we need to retaliate,” it said.
“All our focus is on getting our man safe and sound. There are two ways this can go, if they do intend to release him. The first is a classic hostage crisis, like we saw with the IAS officers Vineel Krishna and Alex Paul Menon, with them making demands. At this point, from our information, that is unlikely. The second is that they will soon release him, maybe within a few days, after calling local journalists or someone local to a point and handing him over. They believe this will paint them in good light, releasing a constable, and earn them respect. The tenor of the press note indicates this, as does our information so far,” a senior officer said.
Security officials though said that in a broader sense, the taking of a CoBRA constable alive after a gunfight was “unprecedented”. An officer said, “In Bastar, there have been many cases where a local policeman has gone to his village inside, got captured and then got released out of so called benevolence. But this, where a jawan has been captured alive after a gunfight has never happened before, and that too from the CoBRA. This must raise serious questions. Because not only did the Maoists have time to strip all the weapons and equipment from the jawans, they had the time to take away one of our men alive. This is a sensitive time, and the entire focus has to be to get him back. But after that, some serious introspection is in order.” —(With inputs from Arun Sharma in Jammu)