A month after the abduction of Odisha MLA Jhina Hikaka, there is still no sign of his release. His Maoist abductors have, in fact, upped the ante and made a fresh demand - they now want 70 people released from jail in exchange for Mr Hikaka.
The Maoists had earlier sought that 29 prisoners be released. All the 70 people that they now want released from jail are members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS), a Maoist-backed tribal organisation. Sources have told NDTV that the Maoists are under severe pressure from the CMAS to ensure the release of their jailed members before the Biju Janata Dal MLA is set free.
Mr Hikaka, aged 32, who represents the Laxmipur constituency, was kidnapped by the Andhra-Odisha border special zonal committee of the Communist Party of India-Maoist in his home district of Koraput on March 24.
The Maoists have said Mr Hikaka's release will be decided at a Praja Court or people's court, where the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS) is expected to press for the release of their jailed members. The abductors have said they would convey by April 25, through the media, what the decision of the praja court was.
A senior leader of the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee Daya had on Saturday also issued a hand-written letter in Telugu holding the state government responsible for the inordinate delay in the release of Mr Hikaka.
The Odisha government has 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 have refused to accept that. A senior government official also said that the state government will welcome any proposal by any eminent person or civil society leader willing to talk to the Maoists or help resolve the hostage crisis.