Three days after being freed, Odisha's Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA from Laxmipur, Jhina Hikaka today said the Maoists are likely to release a fresh audio message which could clear the air over his possible resignation as a legislator.
The 37-year-old ruling BJD MLA from Laxmipur said "a new audio tape is likely to be released by the Maoists shortly. It will remove all confusion relating to my resignation. Everything will be clear."
Earlier, after accusing the Odisha government of not doing enough to secure his release from the Maoists, Mr Hikaka had, in a U-turn of sorts, said he had no idea about the efforts undertaken by the authorities. He is also undecided about quitting his post and the party, a promise he made to the Maoists in exchange of his release.
Before his release on April 26 Mr Hikaka wrote a letter of undertaking he drafted, wherein he had accused the Odisha government of sheer apathy towards his plight and failure in protecting the rights of the tribals. It also promised that he would quit as the MLA of Laxmipur constituency, as well as snap all ties with his party. But now he says, "I was inside...I had no way of knowing what the government was doing for my release."
Soon after his release, there were strong rumours that a chopper was kept ready to fly the 37-year old tribal MLA to the state capital, Bhubaneswar, for a one-to-one interaction with the Chief Minister and the BJD President Naveen Patnaik over his written undertaking to Praja Court in exchange for his freedom. But instead, he went back to his village, Dumuripadar in Koraput's Laxmipur block to meet his ailing mother, two sons and other relatives.
Since his release, a number of his party colleagues have called on Mr Hikaka and apparently done their best to dissuade him from resigning as MLA. There are reports that he also had a telephonic chat with the Chief Minister. But even now, there is no word from him on whether he is willing to stick his neck out and defy the Praja Court or stick to his promise to the Maoists and resign.
Moments after he was freed, the MLA had parried all questions in regard to his possible resignation and merely said, "whatever you have heard is correct."
Sources have told NDTV that the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) members, who had escorted him from the jungle camp to Balipeta, were enraged to find the MLA going back on his words and not announcing his resignation before the media. Sources say, some of them have decided to recapture him and send him back to the Maoist camp. But the presence of media on the spot held them back.
It appears that it was the CMAS leadership and not the Maoists who were pressing for the MLA's resignation. Some believe the CMAS leader Nachika Linga, who has gone underground since 2009, is harbouring the dream of becoming the MLA of Laxmipur to gain legitimacy and ensure the 30-odd 'false cases' against him are dropped.
However, sources close to the Maoists strongly deny such 'rumours' and insist Nachika Linga is completely against the so-called 'democratic elections' and will never participate in it unless he chooses to severe his ties with the CMAS. Earlier, during the 2009 general elections, the CMAS had responded to the Maoists'call for poll boycott and refused to take part in the process. However, interestingly, the CMAS went out of its way to take part in the 3-tier Panchayat polls held in February this year and won a number of seats without any contest, and even entered into a written agreement with the ruling BJD before offering to support the party candidate for the Zilla Parishad Chairman's post.
People close to Mr Hikaka's family say he is very upset with the 'indifferent' manner in which the BJD government dealt with his abduction and does not want to invite further trouble for himself and his family by openly defying the Praja Court.
"The Maoists may have released him physically unhurt, but he is deeply hurt from within and he is yet to recover from the mental shock," said one of his close associates.
Mr Hikaka's dilemma has hit both the state government and the ruling party very hard. And for the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, nothing could have been worse-timed. For the last several weeks he is struggling to cope with a strong challenge from within his party and he would surely avoid making any move that can erode his position in the party or affect the image of his 12-year old government. The state government and the ruling BJD are now working overtime to make sure the MLA does not resign- because that would be sending a wrong signal to the tribal people who account for over 23 per cent of the state's population while showing the government in very poor light both within Odisha and outside.
Some BJD leaders believe the Speaker of the state assembly will not accept Hikaka's resignation because his decision to resign was taken when he was held hostage by the Maoists. In fact, the Speaker had refused to accept the resignation of a former MLA after he felt that his decision was 'forced' and not 'voluntary'.
Several possibilities and options are being discussed at the highest levels of the administration and the ruling party. Some are in favour of offering Mr Hikaka a ministerial berth in the imminent reshuffle of the cabinet, which can then ensure a strong security cover and grant him the authority to take a number of welfare measures and programmes in the Laxmipur constituency. Some are suggesting that in case Mr Hikaka resigns he should be immediately placed as the chairman of an important state-run corporation and provided security cover.