Cancelling his appointment with a visiting European parliamentary delegation, Nepal's Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula on Tuesday headed for India's Jharkhand state.
The three-day India visit by the minister, who is also the coordinator of the three-member ministerial team holding preliminary peace parleys with the Maoists, has been kept under wraps by the government.
With the top leaders of the Maoists and the seven-party ruling alliance scheduled to hold their next round of talks on Friday, Sitaula's absence from the country at this critical hour has given rise to speculation that he has gone to India with some mission.
The home ministry, however, said the minister has gone to Jharkhand on a pilgrimage and plans to offer worship at the shrine of a local saint, Thakur Baba.
Sitaula left at a time leaders of the ruling alliance are holding a meeting to discuss the agenda for Friday's negotiations.
The dissolution of parliament, forming an interim government with the Maoists as partners, deciding the date for holding a constituent assembly election when voters would choose between monarchy and a republic, and managing the arms and armies of the government as well as the Maoists would be discussed during Friday's meeting.
With several Maoists being held in Ranchi and Patna in eastern India, it is being speculated if Sitaula's visit would include meeting the Indian authorities to work on obtaining the release of the rebels.