After holding MLA Jhina Hikaka in captivity for over a month, the Maoists released the 32-year-old Odisha politician today at around 10 am in Balipeta, near Narayanpatna. His abductors said in a message yesterday that they would release Mr Hikaka to his wife Koushalya and a Koraput-based lawyer.
The Maoists yesterday said that freedom will come dear to Mr Hikaka. They said that they have agreed to release their hostage on an undertaking from him that he will resign as an MLA and snap all ties with his party, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik yesterday appealed to the Maoists to release Mr Hikaka "unhurt."
"I appeal again as I have for many days now to the Maoists to release the young tribal MLA Sri Jhina Hikaka immediately unhurt and in good health," Mr Patnaik said.
Narayanpatna, which had been cut off by Maoists who felled trees to ensure no one access the area, is abuzz today as media people and officials have gathered for Mr Hikaka's release.
In an audio message sent yesterday, the Maoists said a "praja court" or people's court of 150 had decided 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," 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."
Law makers in Odisha say it is telling that a democratically elected leader has been subjected to "trial by a praja court". Lok Sabha MP Jai Panda, of the Biju Janata Dal, expressed relief after the Maoists' announcement. He also said that the government was trying to expedite the trial of some of the jailed Maoists, who face '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.