Naveen Patnaik
Naveen PatnaikREUTERS/Jayanta Shaw

It looks like the stage is set for the release of Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MLA Jhina Hikaka, who was abducted by the Maoists on March 24, as the rebels have excluded dreaded Naxal Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi in the new demand list.

The Maoist on Sunday set a new deadline for the release of Hikaka. They have demanded the release of 29 prisoners by 5.00 pm on April 18 for the release of the MLA, who was abducted on March 24 in the Koraput district. However, the exclusion of Ghasi in the demand list has breathed in some hope into the abduction episode.

Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, a lawyer who fights cases for the Maoists, said that a leader of Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) has sent a message to release the prisoners on April 18. They have promised to release the MLA in the presence of his wife and the prisoners' lawyer if the Odisha government meets their demand.

Speculations were doing the rounds that the Odisha government might consider releasing Ghasi, who is accused of killing 38 security personnel at Malkangiri district in 2008 and masterminding a landmine blast in 2008 that killed 17 Odisha policemen, to secure the release of the MLA.

However, Home Secretary UN Behera ruled out the release of Ghasi. "There are some serious charges against Ghasi and we have not taken any decision on the release of five more prisoners including Ghasi," Behera told reporters.

The Odisha government had earlier agreed to release 23 prisoners in exchange for the release of Hikaka but the Maoists rejected the swap proposal. The rebels demanded the release of Maoists' top cadre including Ghasi.

Stepping up efforts to secure the release of Hikaka, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik attended a high-level meeting with senior police officers and administration officials on Friday, a day after the Maoists freed its Italian hostage. He also met Hikaka's family members including his mother, wife Kausaliya and children, and assured them that the government will do its best for his release.

Hikaka's wife Kausaliya had earlier appealed to the government to insure the safe release of her husband. She also requested the Maoists to free her husband.