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After 33-day captivity, Hikaka freed

Bhubaneswar(PTI) In a major relief to the baffled Naveen Patnaik government, Maoists who had abducted ruling BJD?MLA, Jhina Hikaka, finally released the legislator from their captivity on Thursday, ending a month-long hostage drama.

The young tribal leader was released deep inside the forests, near Balipeta village in the Koraput district on Thursday, a day after the naxals announced the date for releasing the leader. According to the naxals’ direction he was asked to walk to the Balipeta village with nearly 30 activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), a front organisation of the Maoists, where the MLA’s wife Kaushalya Hikaka and Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Patnaik were waiting for the leader desperately.

“I am fine now and feeling relieved. They (the Maoists) treated me well,” the visibly tired legislator told journalists, who were waiting to get his first reaction soon after his release from the red rebels. He then travelled to Koraput town where he met some senior officials of the district before heading towards his home in Laxmipur.

Great relief

Reacting to Hikaka’s release, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said, it was a great relief for the entire state. “I am very happy and relieved that the young tribal legislator has finally been released from the Maoists’ captivity”, he said.

Meanwhile, the Opposition parties have slammed the Patnaik administration for the entire episode. “We are happy that the kidnapped MLA has finally been released. But the incident has once again exposed the precarious law and order situation in the state”, the Pradesh Congress Committee chief Niranjan Patnaik said.

The young tribal legislator from Laxmipur in the Koraput district was abducted by Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, the naxal faction active in the southern Odisha tribal dominated districts bordering Andhra Pradesh, on the night of March 24 when he was returning home in Laxmipur after attending a party meeting in another Koraput town of Simliguda.

Already faced with the Italian hostage crisis, the Naveen Patnaik administration encountered a major hurdle to deal with the situation as the MLA’s captors refused to appoint any mediators to negotiate with the government. Instead they preferred to communicate with the administration through audio tapes released to the media.
But Hikaka’s release my turnout to be a headache headache for the BJD if the young tribal legislator from Laxmipur in tribal-dominated Koraput district decides to follow the Maoists’ dictate.

On Wednesday, Aruna, the naxal leader, said that Hikaka has agreed to resign from the state Assembly and from the BJD. He has given an undertaking at the naxals’ Praja Court which decided the MLA’s fate.

After his release on Thursday morning Hikaka indicated that he would be following the Maoists’ order. “Whatever decision has been taken at the Praja Court, I will be following that,” Hikaka said much to the discomfort of the BJD leadership in Bhubaneswar.

He, however, slightly softened his stand while speaking to the media in Koraput town a couple of hours later. “I cannot speak about that right now as my mental condition is not stable at the moment. You will come to know everything later on. But I can say this much that I freed myself”, Hikaka said when asked if he would be following the Maoists’ dictate.

What has also set the alarm bell ringing in the BJD circles is the reaction of Hikaka’s wife Koushalya just minutes before she met her husband at Balipeta village under Narayanpatna block of Koraput district where the red rebels freed the legislator.
“The government did not do enough for my husband’s release”, she observed.
While speaking to newsmen in Bhubaneswar, Chief Minister Patnaik refused to comment on the subject.

However, his senior party colleague and former minister Damodar Rout indicated that the party may not insist the tribal leader to continue if he decides to resign. “As a party we would not like one of our members to quit in these circumstances. But if somebody would insist to resign for his own safety and security then who can stop him,” the veteran politico quipped.

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