The fate of abducted BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka remained uncertain with Maoist leaders speaking in different voices, even as Odisha government initiated steps to withdraw cases against 13 jailed rebels to secure his release.
"All possible efforts are being made by Odisha government to secure the release of the Laxmipur MLA. Legal process is also being started for withdrawal of cases against 13 rebels," state home secretary UN Behera told reporters in Bhubaneswar.
Stating that Odisha government had long back decided to facilitate release of 25 prisoners, including eight Maoists and 17 members of Maoist-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), he said some rebels had already been granted bail while the process was on for some others.
"There are still some others who are yet to move bail petitions in the court though the state government is ready to facilitate their release from jails," Behera said.
The state government also made a fresh appeal to the Maoists to release the 37-year-old tribal legislator, abducted on March 24, as the Maoist Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) wants a 'praja court' to decide Hikaka's fate by April 25.
Meanwhile, sharp differences among Maoists have come to the fore with some demanding release of all members of Maoist-backed CMAS from jails in lieu of Hikaka's release while others want 29 rebels to be freed.
"We demand release of all members of CMAS who are in jail now. If Odisha government is interested in freeing the MLA, it must first release all of them," Srikakulam-Koraput Committee of the CPI (Maoist) leader Daya said in a letter released to a section of the media.
Maintaining that the Maoists were opposed to the government's policies and approach, the letter in Telugu said the government was "responsible" for the delay in the release of the MLA.
On the other hand, AOBSZC spokesman Jagabandhu had in an audio message sought release of 29 prisoners and said the fate of the MLA would be decided at a praja court by April 25.
Describing Daya's fresh letter as "confusing", official sources said while Jagabandhu was saying something, Daya was demanding release of all the CMAS members lodged in jails.
"We are not sure who is right."
Moreover, there was no mention about praja court in the letter purportedly released by Daya, who is considered much junior to Jagabandhu in the hierarchy of the Maoist outfit, they said.
Stating that it was difficult to ascertain whether letters and messages issued by different Maoist leaders were genuine, the sources said divergent views were issued by different Maoist leaders making the situation worse.
Besides raising demands which are different from his senior, Daya has also accused Odisha government of indirectly moving the Supreme Court through a retired army officer to delay the release of rebels in exchange of the abducted BJD MLA.
Referring to the PIL filed in the Supreme Court by a retired Major General, Daya claimed it would delay the process of release of Hikaka.
He alleged that moving the Supreme Court was a ploy of the state government to delay the process.
Rejecting the government's offer of facilitating release of 25 people, including eight Maoists, to ensure safe release of the MLA, the Maoist leader said they now made it clear that the hostage would be freed only after the state government released all the jailed CMAS members.
CMAS, a front organisation of the CPI(Maoist), is active in Naraynpatna block of Koraput district.
Daya's letter, which came after AOBSZC's message, was viewed as a sign of differences among Maoist groups. While Srikakulam-Koraput Committee had actually abducted the MLA, the hostage was later handed over to AOBSZC, the sources said.
Srikakulam-Koraput Committee has been working in Naraynpatna and Bandhugaon blocks of Koraput district while AOBSZC is the next higher set up in the organisation of the CPI(Maoist), they said.