Balipeta (Odisha)/Raipur, April 26 (IANS) Freedom for one, continuing captivity for the other. Maoist guerrillas Thursday released Odisha legislator Jhina Hikaka more than a month after they kidnapped him but their comrades in neighbouring Chhattisgarh continued to hold collector Alex Paul Menon hostage amid fears for the asthma patient's health.
While the curtains came down on one of the high profile kidnappings when Maoists freed Odisha's ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) legislator Hikaka in Koraput's Balipeta area, about 500 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar, there was no clarity over Menon's fate.
Efforts for the release of Menon, the Sukma collector, picked up pace with the mediators appointed by the Maoists reaching Raipur to meet the government's negotiators. Some of the tension was relieved after Left leader Manish Kunjam, who delivered the urgently needed asthma medicines to him, said he was 'fine and safe'.
Menon, a 2006 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, was abducted at gunpoint April 21 by rebels from a forested location, while he was interacting with tribals. The Maoists shot dead his two guards who resisted his abduction.
Returning from the hideout where Menon is being held hostage, Kunjam said he could not meet the district collector but the medicines had reached him.
Kunjam, a Communist Party of India leader who had been appointed as mediator but had turned the offer down, had also met Menon's wife Asha at the collector's official residence in Sukma and briefed her about his health.
The Maoists then named former Bastar collector B.D. Sharma and Hyderabad professor G. Hargopal, who are expected to meet Nirmala Buch, former Madhya Pradesh chief secretary, and S.K. Mishra, former Chhattisgarh chief secretary, appointed as mediators by the Chhattisgarh government to negotiate the way forward.
The Maoists have essentially two demands - the release of eight jailed leaders and a freeze on Operation Green Hunt against them.
Across the border in Odisha, there was palpable relief as Hikaka was freed around 10.30 a.m. and walked into a crowd of people amid tears and jostling camera crews.
Emotions ran high as the 37-year-old, wearing a green kurta, hugged his wife Kaushalya and, seconds later, both broke down. He said he was in good condition and the rebels had treated him well.
Replying to a question from a reporter at the site on whether he had given an undertaking to the rebels that he would resign from the assembly and from the BJD, Hikaka said, 'You will come to know about it.' Hikaka also said he was at this moment mentally upset.
'I am very glad they have released Hikaka. Two weeks ago I met his old mother. The family was in great distress. His mother was ill. The entire state is now relieved,' said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
The leftwing extremists, who kidnapped Hikaka from Laxmipur in Koraput March 24, had Wednesday announced that a people's court had decided to release him after he apologised to the rebels and local villagers.
A Maoist leader calling herself Aruna said in a message that the decision to release him was taken after he promised to resign from the assembly and the primary membership of the ruling BJD.
The rebels had been demanding the release of 29 prisoners, mostly members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh (CMAS), which works mainly in the southern parts of the state, including Malkangiri and Koraput districts, on tribal-related issues.
The state government had agreed to release 25 of them but the guerrillas had rejected the offer.
The leftwing extremists did not specify how many members of their outfit have been jailed in the state. The government also was reluctant to disclose the figure.
Read More: Raipur Jattan | Raipur Rani | Raipur Kalan | Raipur Rasulpur | Raipur Palda | Raipur Kukhat | Raipur Garhi (m) | Raipur Muwari | Raipur Bhasraul | Laxmipur Mishra | Sukma | Raipur-mirpur | Tenka Raipur | Dakshin Raipur | Dakshin Raipur No. 3 | Gheri Raipur | Uttar Raipur Edso | Kunjam | Korap | Raipur Buzurg | Chhattisgarh