With hours to go for the Maoist deadline, the Chhattisgarh government Tuesday named two former chief secretaries to negotiate with the guerrillas after two of the three mediators named by the left-wing extremists refused to join the talks.
Meanwhile, medicines and clothes were rushed to Menon who is being held in a forested hideout in Chintagufa close to National Highway 221, close to the Andhra Pradesh district of Khamam, tribal leader Manish Kunjam told IANS.
Chintagufa is the area where Maoists had massacred 76 security personnel, including 75 of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), on April 6, 2010.
Medicines for asthma, dehydration and eyedrops were collected from Menon's wife Asha by Kunjam and taken to the forested hideout.
According Kunjam, Asha Menon requested him to urge the Maoists to send back some "electronic evidence" like a video clip of her husband, to indicate his well-being.
The way the medicines are being rushed for Menon shows he has "serious health problems", a source told IANS. The medicines were taken in the evening.
In a blow to talks for Menon's release, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushant said he could not mediate while the officer was still in Maoist custody and Manish Kunjam, also named as mediator, cited political reasons to drop out.
Maoists late Monday named Bhushan, former National Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Commission chairperson B.D. Sharma and All India Adivasi Mahasabha president Kunjam as mediators.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh has named two officials to mediate on behalf of the government.
"Former chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh Nirmala Buch and former chief secretary of Chhattisgarh S.K. Mishra will negotiate with Maoists on behalf of the Chhattisgarh government for the early and safe release of Menon," Raman Singh told reporters.
"The talk should not be held in context of any deadline," he said.
Soon after being named, Mishra said he would do the best to manage Menon's release.
"I am in touch with the Chhattisgarh government regarding the demands put forth by Maoists but it's not possible to do everything in a deadline period," Mishra remarked.
Bhushan, explaining his reasons to decline being mediator, told IANS that he "cannot mediate using an innocent person's life as a pawn" and said the Maoists "should unconditionally release Menon."
Maoists are demanding that Chhattisgarh's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime must free its eight key jailed colleagues- Marakam Gopannam, Nirmal Akka, Devpal Chandra Shekher Reddy, Shanti Priya Reddy, Meena Chowdhary, Korasa Sunny, Markan Sunny and Asit Kumar Sen - and have set April 25 as deadline.
The other demand is that government should freeze operation Green Hunt against them.
Bhushan said he considered the Maoists' demands for release of innocent tribals and ending operation Green Hunt "completely justified".
The Congress reacted sharply.
"If he thinks (Maoists' demands) are justified, he should go and talk with them. He should understand the plight of the families of those who have been abducted. But who can talk sense with such a senseless person," Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said.
She asked the media not to publicise Bhushan's comments.
The 32-year-old Menon, a 2006 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who belongs to Tamil Nadu, was abducted at gunpoint Saturday by rebels from a forested location in Sukma district, around 500 km south of Raipur, when he was interacting with tribals. The Maoists shot dead his two guards who resisted his abduction.
Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar added that Menon was "completely safe".