A commando kidnapped by Maoist rebels after a deadly encounter in Chhattisgarh on Saturday, in which 22 soldiers were killed and 31 injured, has been released after more than 100 hours in captivity, the state government said on Thursday.
Rakeshwar Singh Manhas of the 210th Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) division was taken hostage by the Maoists following the gun battle that lasted almost three hours in a rebel stronghold in the Bijapur district.
He was freed in the presence of hundreds of villagers on Thursday after a team of two eminent people, including a person from the tribal community, nominated by the state government led negotiations to secure his release, officials said.
Padma Shri Dharmapal Saini, a 91-year-old freedom fighter and activist who has worked extensively for the education of girls from the region, Gondwana Samaj president Telam Boraiya, seven journalists and two officials of the Chhattisgarh government were part of the team that went to receive Mr Manhas.
First visuals Abducted #CoBRA Jawan #RakeshwarSinghManhas who has just been released by #Maoists Manhas was in captivity since Saturday after #NaxalAttack@ndtv@ndtvindia@manishndtv@hridayeshjoshi@vinodkapri@GargiRawat@alok_pandeypic.twitter.com/w74IFqvdEK— Anurag Dwary (@Anurag_Dwary) April 8, 2021
The jawan, who is from Jammu, was brought to the Tarrem camp of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) located in Bijapur and admitted to the Basaguda field hospital for a medical check up, a senior officer of the paramilitary said.
"Today is the happiest day of my life. I always remained hopeful of his return," Meenu, wife of Mr Manhas, was quoted as saying by news agency ANI. She and her 5-year-old daughter had released an emotional appeal for his release on video.
In the deadliest ambush of its kind in four years, some 2,000 security personnel were on the hunt for a Maoist rebel leader in the Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh state on Saturday when some of them were attacked.
Officials have said anywhere between 400 to 750 trained Maoists surrounded the jawans from three sides in an area devoid of vegetation and rained on them machine-gun fire as well as explosives for several hours. The survivors were rescued with helicopters in the evening.
The rebels looted weapons, ammunition, uniforms and shoes from the security forces who were killed. Around 28-30 rebels were also killed in the encounter, according to the chief of the CRPF. The Maoists have disputed the statement.
Officials have denied any intelligence failure for the encounter that was the worst for Indian security forces battling the far-left guerillas since 2017, when 25 police commandos were killed in an attack.
Seventeen police from a commando patrol were killed in an attack by more than 300 armed rebels in Chhattisgarh in March last year.
Sixteen commandos were also killed in the western state of Maharashtra in the lead-up to India's election in 2019, in a bomb attack that was blamed on the Maoists.
The Maoists - who say they are fighting for rural people and the poor - have battled government forces across eastern India since the 1960s. Thousands have been killed in the fighting.