Bhubaneswar, Feb 17 (IANS) A worried Orissa government halted anti-Maoist operations Thursday, a day after the guerrillas abducted Malkangiri Collector R. Veenel Krishna and a junior engineer in their most audacious act in the state.
The 30-year-old collector, widely seen as a down-to-earth official, was going to inspect development projects apparently without any guards after attending a meeting in Badapada village early Wednesday when half a dozen armed Maoists surprised him and his aides.
According to Additional District Magistrate S.L. Seal, in no time more than 50 Maoists joined the group and took the collector and junior engineer Pabitra Mohan Majhi hostage.
Two others junior officials were freed, after the collector — an Indian Administrative Officer (IAS) official from Andhra Pradesh — was reportedly made to write a note setting conditions for his release, police said.
The Maoists then retreated into a forested area with their victims.
One of the conditions put forward was halting anti-Maoist operations all over Orissa, and the government, fearing for the life of the collector, capitulated in no time.
The Maoists also called for the release of all their jailed colleagues, giving a 48-hour ultimatum to the administration.
“We are not doing any operations. It has been suspended across the state,” a senior police officer told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
In New Delhi, Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said the state government was “fully competent to decide whether the (anti-Maoist) operations are to be stopped in a limited area” or not.
The daring abduction sent shockwaves in Orissa with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik appealing for the immediate release “of the young collector who is known for his hard work for the poor and tribals”.
The collector’s popularity was evident as tribal dominated Malkangiri, 615 km from the state capital, shut down in protest against the kidnapping.
A massive rally was held in the town demanding his safe release.
Most government offices, businesses and educational institutions were closed in Malkangiri, Seal told IANS. Private traffic and public transport went off the roads.
Many students and residents marched carrying placards that read: “Release our beloved collector” and “We want safe release of our collector”.
Road traffic was also hit in the district headquarter town, he said.
Protests also took place in Chitrakonda and other places in neighbouring Koraput district.
The abduction happened two days before Home Minister P. Chidambaram had scheduled a video conference with the district magistrates of 60 districts affected by Maoist violence.
Krishna joined IAS in August 2005 after graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He moved to Malkangiri around 16 months ago.
Engineer Majhi, from Bhubaneswar, came to the district four months back.
Orissa Chief Secretary B.K. Patnaik told reporters: “They are asking for a halt on combing operations and the release of Maoists.”
Police and local officials began looking for the collector when he failed to return to Malkangiri town even by Wednesday evening.