The Maoist abductors of Odisha politician Jhina Hikaka have said they will release the Laxmipur MLA tomorrow. In an audio message released today, the Maoists said that they had agreed to release their hostage on an undertaking from him that he would resign as an MLA and snap all ties with his party, the ruling Biju Janata Dal.
The audio message said a "praja court" or people's court of 150 had decided yesterday that the MLA should be released. "He will be handed over to his wife Koushalya and the Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Patnaik at 10 am in Balipeta near Narayanpatna," Aruna, a Maoist spokesperson, said on the tape, adding, "Hikaka will put in his papers after his release and has given a written undertaking in this regard in the Praja Court. You can't talk to him now but I assure you he is alright and in good health."
The MLA is expected to be released at Balipeta village near Narayanpatna in the Koraput district around 10 am tomorrow.
Lok Sabha MP from BJD, Jai Panda, expressed relief after the Maoists' announcement of Mr Hikaka's release. He also said that the government is trying to expedite the trial of some of the jailed Maoists, who are facing 'less-serious' charges.
"We welcome the decision of his release, but if he is being forced to resign, then that would be an unfortunate thing," Mr Panda said.
"The government doesn't release anyone. Charges against some of them are of serious and against some of less-serious kind. The government is willing to expedite the process of hearing for the people facing less-serious charges," Mr Panda said, adding, ""The government has exercised cautious process, and has been discussing with mediators which cases can be expedited in court."
Mr Hikaka was kidnapped by Maoists in his home district of Koraput on March 24. They then demanded that 29 prisoners in Odisha jails be released in exchange for the MLA's freedom. Among the people that they wanted released was Gananath Patra, the ailing 70-year-old leader of Maoist-backed tribal organisation Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, who has been in Koraput jail for nearly two years.
The Maoists have been demanding Mr Patra's unconditional release since February last year when they had abducted the-then Collector of Malkangiri, R Vineel Krishna. Sources close to the Maoists had earlier told NDTV that the MLA could walk free whenever the state government decided to free Mr Patra and announced an expeditious trial by a fast track court of all cases pending against imprisoned CMAS members.
A senior leader of the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee Daya had last week issued a hand-written letter in Telugu holding the Odisha state government responsible for the inordinate delay in the release of Mr Hikaka. The Maoists in an audio message had also stated that Mr Hikaka will be released only after the Odisha government makes its stand clear on their demand for withdrawal of all cases against the 29 prisoners they want freed from jail.
The Odisha government had offered to facilitate the release of 25 prisoners, including 8 Maoists, and said it will withdraw prosecution against 13 of them, including 5 Maoists. The Maoists had refused to accept that.
As the negotiations between the state government and the Maoists were going on, the Supreme Court had last week today sought response from the Centre and the state government on a petition seeking to restrain the release of jailed Maoists in exchange for Mr Hikaka.