'Abductions are evidence of Naxal hypocrisy'
The release of Sukma District Collector Alex Paul Menon from Naxal custody brought the curtains down on the hostage drama being watched closely by the nation since the last 11 days. The Indian Administrative Service officer's safe return came as a big relief for his family members.
A year ago, one of Menon's close friends and colleague R Vineel Krishna too had faced a similar scenario.
On February 16 last year, while serving as the collector of Malkangiri district of Odisha, Krishna was abducted by Naxals. He was released nine days later.
In an interview with rediff.com's Priyanka, the IAS officer recollects his life in captivity.
What was it like being in Naxal captivity for nine days?
(Smiles) I now think of those days with mixed feelings. Of course, it was all quite traumatic, but at the same time, I was also deeply touched by the love and affection of those people (tribals) around me, and friends and officials who stood by me. I am now quite nostalgic about the experience. It (Malkangiri) was and will always be the best posting of my life.
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Image: IAS officer Vineel Kumar
'It is very difficult to provide services to all'
Why do you say so?
That was the first time I got an opportunity to do something. The job was very challenging; there is no doubt about it. Malkangiri is a difficult terrain, and it is very difficult to provide services to all.
It is very easy in the plains; you can build one school or hospital, which can attend to the needs of many. But it takes a lot of time and investment to provide such facilities in a difficult terrain where people have to walk through it to get to a school or a hospital.
What work had you undertaken as Malkangiri collector?
We had started and were working on many development-related projects. For instance, the district and a cluster of villages around it had no access to electricity. We started projects that were aimed at providing electricity to such villages.
Were you abducted while on one such project?
Yes, I was. And it had become quite symbolic. There was this huge chunk of area, which was separated by the Balimela reservoir. A cluster of villages was cut-off from the mainland and had never seen electricity. So the project was to electrify it (Siliguma), and yes, I was abducted soon after it.
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Image: A female Naxalite in Odisha
Photographs: Courtesy oriyaonline.com
'Naxals have gone so deep and far with their ideas that they just cannot come back'
Do you think the Naxals are actively using abduction, especially of government officials, to get their way? Do you think the abductions are justified?
I definitely think it is not right. Look at the recent turn of events. The Maoists have been complaining that they have been neglected for years, and there has been no development in these areas.
But the moment somebody goes there and tries to do work, which has never been done before, they abduct you. It is hypocrisy on their part. It happened with me, and now with Alex.
Why do you think the Naxals are doing so?
Actually, they have gone so deep and far with their ideas that they just cannot come back. Their leaders have spent 30-40 years of their lives chasing the ideas. Now, they just cannot chart their way back.
How do you think these Maoist leaders instigate villagers against the government? They tell them (the villagers) that the government has not done anything for them; that it cannot even provide for water, food, schools and hospitals. Then there are contractors and government officials who exploit them.
Now, if there is an administrator who is there to provide them facilities, and initiate development projects, how will the Maoists instigate the villagers? On what basis will they instigate them?
What does a tribal really want? He is peaceful person and just wants a peaceful life. If a government-appointed administrator works for the development of the region, why would a tribal pick up guns?
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Photographs: Courtesy naxalwar.wordpress.com
'The initial one or two days are the most difficult'
Do you think these abductions will play a negative role in the region?
Of course, they will. Days before Alex was abducted, the collector of Bijapur district had narrow escape. It has now become a security issue. Now if a collector wants to undertake development projects in far-flung areas, the government will have to provide proper security. It is not so easy.
These areas have been under-developed and neglected for a long time. Nobody, not even the government, is denying that. And it is also because, firstly, it is a tough terrain, and second, investments have started flowing in just a few years ago. The government did not have money to invest, say 10-15 years back.
Alex Paul Menon is a close friend of yours? How would you advice him to emerge out of this traumatic experience?
It is a traumatic experience, no doubt, and also for the family and friends. Alex is a very close friend of mine, he is very bright, active and energetic.
Such experiences change you, but for good. They strengthen the person from inside.
Did it change you?
The initial one or two days are the most difficult. There is also a sense of shock and you are yet to come in terms of what had happened.
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'I would like to get back and work, but...'
Were you treated well in captivity?
We used to stay in the open, under trees. When I was abducted, we changed location four times in nine days, and hence walked a lot. They tied my hands and I was blindfolded for the first day, but then they realised it was not possible to walk. Hence, they removed my folds. I even recognise my abductors, and one of them was arrested recently.
And there is no need for them to mistreat you. They (Maoists) do not look at abductions as a personal affair. Rather, it is a system-to-system thing for them.
Did you feel that you were going to die? Would you like to go back and work in Malkangiri again?
For the first few days, yes, I was afraid. But after they spoke to the media, I realised that they would not kill me. At least, that is what I hoped for.
I would like to get back and work, but family and friends worry too much.
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