The hostage crisis in Odisha on Saturday ran into a layer of difficulty with the Maoists, who have been keeping Biju Janata Dal MLA Jhina Hikaka has hostage since March 24, toughening their stand alleging “delay” by the Odisha government to release prisoners as demanded by them.
“We demand the release of all members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) who are in jail now. If the government is interested in freeing the MLA, they must first release all of them,” Maoist leader Daya said in a new letter written in Telugu to the media.
This is a departure from the earlier Maoist demand of release of 29 persons in jail. According to sources, there are about 150 members of leftist tribal outfit CMAS in jails in Koraput and Malkangiri.
Daya, a top leader of Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of CPI (Maoist), further said the rebels condemned the government’s policy and approach, delaying the release of the prisoners. “The government has moved the Supreme Court through a retired army officer and this is designed to further delay the prospect of a solution to the hostage issue,” Daya said.
On the other hand, Odisha home secretary UN Behera here reiterated his appeal to the rebels to release Hikaka “immediately, unhurt and in good health” as the government had taken a decision to facilitate the release of 25 persons as demanded by them including withdrawal of prosecution against 13 of them. Behera did not comment on Daya’s letter.
On Wednesday, refusing to extend the deadline they set for the Odisha government to release 29 persons, the rebels had threatened to “decide Hikaka’s fate” in a “people’s court” (praja court) as they had no faith in the government.
On Friday, they issued an audiotapes to the media saying they had yet to put Hikaka on trial in the “people’s court”, which might take a final decision within the next five days.
Speaking on behalf of the AOBSZC, rebel leader Aruna said in the audiotape: “We are yet to hold the praja court. We have to take our own time when the government is taking so much time to take decisions.”
Aruna said the “people’s court” would be held on any day in the next five days and take a final decision (on Hikaka’s fate), which would be intimated to the media by April 25 (Wednesday).
The rebels earlier had demanded the release of 30 prisoners including Chenda Bhushanam alias Ghasi, who is alleged to be involved in the killings of 55 policemen in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. But they later struck Ghasi off their list and asked the release of the rest, who, they said, were mostly members of the CMAS or just apolitical people. The Maoists also gave a call for shut down on Friday and Saturday and decided to observe a protest week beginning Tuesday (April 24) to oppose ‘operation green hunt’ and recent heavy deployment of central forces in neighbouring Chhatisgarh.
On Friday, the rebels burnt down equipments like tippers, earthmover and other construction equipments in a road contractor’s camp while on Saturday they torched a BSNL mobile tower in Koraput district.