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Hikaka misses his freedom

- MLA’s regular link to his constituency is KISS

Bhubaneswar, March 24: This day last year, Maoists had kidnapped BJD MLA Jhina Hikaka from his constituency, Laxmipur.

He spent 33 days in the rebels’ custody, each day an ordeal he is unlikely to forget for the rest of his life.

“That is an experience I will never forget. I still shudder to think of those days,” said the 37-year-old MLA, who now spends most of his time here with his family. His wife, Kaushalaya, an employee of Odisha Primary Education Programme Authority, has also moved to Bhubaneswar while his two children are studying at a school here.

Hikaka admits that his visits to his constituency have been greatly curtailed. “My movement has been restricted. I don’t venture into my constituency in the evening,” he said.

Nonetheless, he asserts, he has not deserted his constituency or its people. “Their welfare is my prime concern,” he said.

But he has lost the freedom of movement. Every time he plans a visit to Laxmipur, he has to keep the district administration in the loop and ensure that he does not travel at night.

Even in Bhubaneswar, he has been provided round-the-clock security. Though he sometimes ducks security within the city, he cannot avoid it once he goes out of Bhubaneswar, especially on visits to his constituency. Two armed security men shadow him all the time.

In Bhubaneswar, his link with his constituency is Kalinga Institute of Social Science (KISS) on the city outskirts, which has 1,200 students from Laxmipur enrolled there. “I visit the KISS campus every Sunday to meet them. I know the families of each of them personally,” said Hikaka.

His 32-year-old wife Kaushlaya is slowly adjusting to life in Bhubaneswar. “I try to keep myself busy with my work but I miss my life in Laxmipur. Things have changed,” said Kaushalaya, who remembers each day of the kidnapping episode.

“I only pray to God that the nightmare does not recur,” she said.

The rebels had freed the tribal leader on April 26 last year after 33 days in captivity. Before the release, they had forced him to sign an undertaking saying he would quit his party and his Assembly membership.

Hikaka had been made to give an undertaking to this effect at a “people’s court” held by the rebels at Narayanpatna in Koraput district. The decision to free the Laxmipur MLA was taken at this kangaroo court.

The Maoists also released copies of the undertaking to try and ensure that Hikaka did not go back on his pledge.

However, senior BJD leaders backed Hikaka after his release saying he need not keep a promise made under duress at a kangaroo court.

Maoist arrested

Top Maoist leader Srinivas Sriramulu was arrested early yesterday on the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border while he was heading to Khammam district in the neighbouring state from Malkangiri.

Sriramulu, who carries a reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head in Andhra Pradesh, had been released on bail from an Odisha jail in April 2011 in exchange for the freedom of the then Malkangiri collector R. Vineel Krishna.