Bhubaneswar, April 26: BJD legislator Jhina Hikaka today walked free from the custody of his Maoist captors, bringing an end to the 33-day long hostage crisis.
The rebels set the 38-year-old tribal MLA free at 10.15am on the outskirts of Balipeta village in Narayanpatna Block of Koraput district, where his wife Kaushalya and Maoist lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik waited for him.
The legislator arrived at Balipeta, accompanied by many activists of the Maoist-supported tribal outfit Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh.
Emotions ran high as Hikaka, clean-shaven and sporting a green kurta, ran into the embrace of Patnaik and then hugged Kaushalya, who stood speechless.
“They treated me well. They gave me what they ate. During my days in captivity they changed places thrice or four times. The places were new to me,” said Hikaka in his first comments to the reporters after release.
Asked about the reported undertaking he had given in the people’s court of the Maoists on April 24 that he would step down as MLA as he had failed to get the demands of his captors fulfilled, Hikaka told reporters at Balipeta that he would stick to his commitments.
However, he appeared to be taking a tactical position on the issue after reaching Koraput, where he was subjected to medical examination and rested for a while. “You will get the answer to these questions in the coming days. Right now, I am not in the right frame of mind to discuss such issues,” he said.
However, sources said the Maoists had released copies of the undertaking given by Hikaka in the people’s court to the reporters in Koraput.
“The government has not done anything for my release. It has also not fulfilled any of the Maoists’ demands. I, too, could not solve the problems of the people of Narayanpatna, despite being their MLA for the past three years. I will quit the BJD and resign as MLA and lead the life of a simple man,” read the undertaking given by the lawmaker.
Asked about the MLA’s reported resignation, Assembly Speaker Pradeep Amat said: “I am yet to receive any communication. I will look into the legal aspects when I receive such documents.”
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik hailed the release of the young legislator from Laxmipur and said he and his government was happy and relieved at the development.
In an unprecedented move the Ramdhun was played on the Assembly premises between 11am and 1.30pm to welcome the MLA’s freedom and spread the message of peace. “I am really happy that Hikaka is back. We played Ramdhun to send the message of peace,” said the Assembly Speaker.
Soon after his release at Balipeta, Hikaka was rushed in a waiting ambulance to Koraput circuit house for medical check-up.
From there, he moved on to his native village, Dumuripadar, to meet his parents before leaving for Laxmipur, where his children waited for him. All along the way, people on both sides of the road cheered him and showered him with flowers.
The release of the MLA, who was taken hostage from Toyaput near Laxmipur on March 24, was a big media event as reporters had waited at Balipeta since the morning to cover the event live.
Yesterday, spokesperson for the CPI(Maoist) Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee Aruna had made it clear that they would allow reporters to cover Hikaka’s release. She had asked them to reach Balipeta at 10am today.
The Maoists had taken the decision to release Hikaka in the people’s court on April 24 where he reportedly gave an undertaking that he would try to get their demands fulfilled and step down if he failed to keep his word. The Maoists had, among other things, demanded release of 29 of their leaders and the Sangh activists from jail. The government, however, had agreed to facilitate release of 25 of these persons, asking them to move bail.
Unlike in the case of the two Italians earlier taken hostage by another faction of the Maoists, in this case there were no negotiations as Hikaka’s captors refused to nominate mediators. They instead communicated with the state government through the media, releasing taped statements. Sometimes their lawyer, Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, also spoke to the media on their behalf.
The Maoists extended the deadline for Hikaka’s release several times in an apparent bid to gain a bargaining handle with the government.