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Hikaka: No light at the end of the tunnel

Bhubaneswar: After three weeks, the fate of abducted tribal MLA Jhina Hikaka still hangs in balance. The Andhra-Odisha Special Zonal Committee, which has claimed responsibility for Hikaka’s abduction, is in no hurry to set him free. Already, the young MLA’s kids in folded hands have appealed to their father’s tormentors to release him promptly. The MLA’s terrified wife with moist eyes has also pleaded umpteen times for her husband’s freedom. But all such appeals have so far fallen on deaf ears.  The Naxals may be fighting an ideological battle against the government. But neither has the kidnapping done any good to the image of Naxals nor has it helped the Reds to increase their support base in the tribal pockets of the state. The images of the inconsolable Hikaka family members on television have already sparked off widespread revulsion against the Maoist methods.

It was initially thought that MLA Hikaka was taken hostage because of a festering feud within the Red fraternity and the first set of demands made by AOBSZC’s Chandramouli was largely perceived to be paving the way for a prompt quid pro quo. Chandramouli only asked for release of CMAS activists jailed in Malkangiri and Koraput jails. It didn’t appear to be a daunting challenge for the government to accede to Chandramouli’s demands and it looked imminent that a deal would be brokered soon facilitating the release of the MLA.

But the Red Brigade gradually bargained very hard by shifting their goalposts midway. Did the government err in chalking out its strategy properly on the Hikaka issue? It’s plausible that the AOBSZC adopted an overtly aggressive posture only after it saw the government acquiescing to their demands to release twenty-seven prisoners including five demanded by Sabyasachi Panda  (who has taken two Italian nationals hostages before the tribal MLA was taken captive). After the Maoists initially set a deadline of April 5 to meet their demands, the government offered to release twenty-seven prisoners promptly. Did this quick Government response to offer the release of 27 prisoners, rather than untying the Gordian knot, embolden the Naxals to ramp up their demands further? There are no definite answers why the Maoists shifted their goalposts midway. But it’s certain that the Red Brigade sought the release of dreaded Maoist Chenda Bhushanam alias Ghasi as an afterthought either to extract the maximum from the government or as a dilatory tactic so that they could sort out their internal differences over the kidnapping of the MLA.

The AOBSZC is possibly bargaining hard to dispel the notion that the entire kidnapping has not been orchestrated at the behest of the government as alleged by certain quarters. In an audio statement released to the media before the Italian hostage crisis could get resolved, Sabyasachi Panda alleged that the government is hand-in-glove with the abductors of the MLA to defame him. The complicity of the government was also alleged by certain Congress legislators. In this backdrop, the AOBSZC wants to play hardball so that any hint of a possible government-Maoist linkage is laid to rest forever.

The state government can never release Ghasi who was carrying a reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head. At this juncture, the Maoists appear in no mood to relent. For the young tribal MLA, there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet.

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