Chances of release of Jhina Hikaka brighten

Bhubaneswar: The prospects of BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka`s release from Maoist captivity brightened today as abductors who are demanding that their 30 jailed associates be freed extended the deadline till April 18 and withdrew the name of a hardcore Naxal from the list. The state government is hopeful that the 37-year-old tribal legislator from Laxmipur, who had been abducted on March 24 in Koraput, would be released by the Maoists soon.

In an audio message, a leader of the Maoists` Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee set the new deadline at 5 PM of April 18 for the release of 29 rebels, Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, a Koraput-based lawyer who fights cases for the Maoists, said. The Maoists, who had earlier demanded release of 30 prisoners to free the tribal MLA, have omitted the name of Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused of killing at least 55 police personnel, from the list, he said.

Opposing any move to release Ghasi, the state police force, including the Odisha Police Association, threatened to boycott anti-Naxal operations if hardcore Maoists like him were freed to secure release of the legislator. "The new message says after release of 29 detainees with the exception of one Ghasi … that after this is done the release of the MLA is possible," Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said before leaving for Delhi on a five-day visit.

"I will be in touch from Delhi continuously about the matters relating to the release of the tribal MLA," he said appealing once again to the Maoists to release Hikaka. The chief minister, who visited the MLA`s family on Friday, said, "The anguish … the agony that they are going through is inhuman. So I again appeal to those Maoists who hold him to release him immediately and in good health."

The abductors, however, stuck to their condition of a prisoner-hostage exchange. They want MLA`s wife, Kaushalya and the lawyer to accompany 29 freed rebels to Balipeta in Koraput district for freedom of Hikaka, Patnaik said. Stressing that the Maoists no longer seek the release of Ghasi, Home Secretary U N Behera said it appears from the fresh audio message that the ultras would release the MLA on April 18.