Rakeshwar Singh Manhas, a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) commando who went missing during a deadly encounter in Chhattisgarh last week, was released after five days in Maoist captivity, officials aware of the development said on Thursday.
“Bastar has some good news for the nation,” a police source said. He said Manhas was released in the presence of social worker Dharampal Saini and Gondwana Samaj chief Gelam Boraiya — they were in talks with Maoists — and scores of villagers. An 11-member team that went to bring Manhas back also featured seven local journalists.
Sources said Manhas was brought to a camp in Tarrem — the area where the encounter took place — and underwent health checkups. A CRPF official said Manhas did not have any “apparent injury”. He will be taken to Raipur later in the night.
Hours before he was set free, Bastar inspector general P Sundar Raj told News18 that efforts were on to secure his release, and that the government was hopeful of “positive developments”.
On Monday, a mystery caller dialled local journalists to inform that Manhas, who is from the elite anti-Naxal CoBRA unit, had been held captive by Maoists and that he will be released in two-three days.
Two days later, a photo was sent to local journalists on WhatsApp, showing Manhas resting in what appeared to be a tent. His family in Jammu, however, said the photo was an old one. They also held protests demanding his release and strict action against Maoists.
According to Raj, since Maoists acknowledged that Manhas was in their custody and released a photograph to show he was safe, it was “highly unlikely” that the CRPF constable will be harmed. “It will show them in very bad light…if they harm him now,” Raj said, hours before the release.
Manhas was found missing after a five-hour gunfight between security forces and Maoists at the borders between Bijapur and Sukma districts on Saturday — one of the worst incidents linked to Left-wing extremism in India. Twenty-two personnel were killed in the gun battle. Officials said Maoists too suffered heavy casualties, though the Naxal claimed four of their own were killed.
In a recent interview to News18, CRPF director general Kuldiep Singh said Manhas was feeling unwell during the gunfight. A jawan who was with Manhas told officials later that he “moved ahead fighting while Manhas sat down”, according to Singh, who said it could be “because of heat”.
Madvi Hidma, who is believed to be around 40 years old and originally from Sukma, is the suspected mastermind of the ambush. The People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) commander of the outlawed CPI (Maoist) is linked to several major strikes, including the one in 2013 that killed 27, including top state Congress leaders.