Chhattisgarh police have begun efforts to secure the safe and early release of abducted CRPF CoBRA personnel Rajeshwar Singh Manhas and are said to have finalised a list of intermediaries for opening a channel of communication with the Maoists for the purpose.

A source told TOI that the security agencies are “very hopeful” about Maoists handing over the abducted commando unharmed as they are purportedly keen to project a “human” face in the local media, after having justified the recent killing of 22 security personnel as a “retaliatory strike” they were forced to carry out to neutralise the massive anti-Naxal operation launched by the security forces in Bijapur area.

TOI has learnt from reliable sources that the Chhattisgarh police have roped in a set of ‘independent’ emissaries to open a dialogue with the Maoists holding Manhas in their custody. On Wednesday, the CPI(Maoist) put out a photograph of Manhas in which he was looking fine.

The emissaries, who are said to have worked with the CPI(Maoist) in similar situations in the past, are likely to travel to the interiors to talk to the Maoist leaders and convince them for his unconditional release.

“We believe that Maoists are keen to show their ‘human’ side to the locals as well as in the media. Past precedents indicate that Maoists may well agree to free the hostage without putting forth any demands. So far they have not communicated any conditions. It is possible that he may be handed over to the emissaries on Thursday itself. We need to wait and watch,” a police official said while pointing to the press release put out by CPI(Maoist) spokesperson Vikalp on Tuesday, assuring that Manhas would be in safe custody of ‘Janatana Sarkar’ until his release upon appointment of ‘emissaries’ by the government.

The official cited the case of Canadian national John Salazak who was detained by the Maoists in Sukma area of Chhattisgarh in 2017 for allegedly “inadvertently” entering “their area” while on a cycling expedition. The Chhattisgarh Police, which was urged by then external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj as well as the Canadian embassy to ensure his safe return, had at that point of time engaged emissaries who managed to convince the Maoists to hand him over to the government without any conditions.

While the energies of the counter-Naxal forces including the Chhattisgarh police are focused on securing the early and safe release of the abducted CoBRA personnel, a source indicated that the abduction may have given a time breather to the Maoist attackers behind Saturday’s encounter, from an immediate retaliatory strike. “The PLGA-1 attackers led by Hidma may have bought time to cross inter-state junctions and CPI(Maoist) to review its strategies to pre-empt an imminent retaliatory strike by the security forces,” said a senior IPS officer.