West Bengal: Maoists free cop in prisoner swap

Caesar Mandal, TNN 23 October 2009

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LALGARH (WEST MIDNAPORE): In what appeared to be a clear prisoner swap agreed to by the West Bengal government, Maoists on Thursday released Atindranath Dutta, officer-in-charge of Sankrail police station in West Midnapore, in exchange for the freedom of 24 tribal women arrested for aiding Naxalites. Dutta was abducted on Tuesday afternoon by armed guerrillas who stormed the police station, killed two policemen and looted weapons.

Immediately after his abduction, demands were made by his captors for the release of tribal women and a man arrested from Lalgarh on charges or aiding the Maoists.

The state government — which had initially taken a tough stand — gave in on Wednesday evening and began parleys with the Maoists. It was decided that the state prosecutor would not oppose the bail pleas of the group of tribals when they were produced before the court on Thursday. They were granted bail duly after which Dutta was released in the presence of journalists. A large contingent of security personnel waited a short distance away under strict instructions not to start operations till further orders.

There was jubilation at Dutta’s residence (his in-laws’) in Kolkata’s Ahiritolla as news of his release came in. “We are relieved and would like to thank both the government and Maoist leader Kishanji for keeping their word,” Dutta’s mother said.

The state government, however, officially maintained that it had not negotiated with the Maoists regarding release of the tribals. Officials said the 24 accused were allowed to get bail as the authorities did not require them to be detained any further.

The developments since Wednesday evening have been nothing short of a fast paced-Hollywood flick. After the government decided to negotiate with the Maoists on specific terms on Wednesday afternoon, a senior administrative officer was deputed to establish contact as Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Kishanji insisted on a single pointsman. A senior police officer posted at Writers’ Building was given the task and by Wednesday night, he had spoken to Kishanji a number of times. It was finally decided around midnight that the government would do the needful to grant bail to the tribal group.

Around 2am on Thursday, Dutta was brought close to Lalgarh. A taped message of his was played over the telephone to assure authorities that he was alive. The signals from mobile phones revealed that the Maoists — comprising People’s Liberation Group (PLG) cadre — were moving around near Purnapani and Lakshmanpur between Dharampur and Lalgarh.

On Thursday morning, two groups — one consisting of 14 women and a man and the other of nine women — were produced before a sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court in Jhargram. They were granted bail after the public prosecutor did not oppose their plea. Kishanji seemed satisfied with this and agreed to release Dutta once the group was led out by their advocate. He made it clear that security forces should ceasefire while the transfer was in progress. Security forces – which have not taken too kindly to the government’s negotiation bid – seemed to have other ideas.

By early morning, two large contingents had crept in and surrounded the area where Kishanji was expected to be present with the hostage. Firing between the two sides started around 5am. Realizing that he had been cornered, Kishanji sent a desperate SOS to the negotiator around 7am. The Maoist leader made it clear that if the firing did not stop, the government would be responsible for Dutta’s death.

The SP immediately received orders from Kolkata to stop firing. The police contingent was not withdrawn though. Around 9.20am, Kishanji again called up the negotiator and asked for forces to be withdrawn. While one group moved out, a fresh one created a wider radius around the area. The Maoists also demanded that all movement of security personnel stop in the area for the next half hour. Officials believe that this was when Dutta was escorted in by PLG cadres.

Courtesy: The Times of India

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