With the deadline set by the Maoists holding Biju Janata Dal MLA Jhina Hikaka hostage ending on Wednesday, his fate still remained unknown despite the Odisha government's decision to seriously consider withdrawal of prosecution in "suitable cases" involving jailed rebels if the ultras free the legislator.
There has been no response so far from the CPI (Maoist)'s Andhra-Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, which abducted the 37-year-old tribal MLA from Laxmipur on March 24, after the state government announced its decision on Tuesday evening.
The state government was, however, hopeful that the MLA would be set free by the Maoists in view of the steps taken by it for the release of prisoners on bail and its promise to consider withdrawal of prosecution.
Fresh appeals were, in the meantime, made from various quarters including the government and family members of the MLA for his immediate release unharmed and in good health before the deadline on Wednesday evening.
The announcement came hours after the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) in a message on Tuesday pressed the state government to make its stand clear on the release of jailed rebels sought by it in exchange for the freedom of the MLA.
"If release of the tribal MLA takes place by 5 pm, the deadline set by the Maoists, the government will seriously consider withdrawal of prosecution in suitable cases," Panchayati Raj Secretary P K Jena told reporters.
"The government has already declared that it would facilitate release of 25 persons including 17 members of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha and eight of the CPI (Maoist)," said Jena, one of the three state government representatives, who negotiated with Maoist mediators in resolving the Italian hostage crisis.
For the sake of clarity, the senior officer once again announced the names of 25 persons to be freed from jails and said the bail process for the prisoners had also gained momentum.
In a positive development, Hikaka spoke to Chief Secretary B K Patnaik and Koraput district Collector J S Ramachandra yesterday and informed them that he was in good health.
There was also a telephonic conversation between the ruling BJD MP from Koraput, Jayaram Pangi, and Hikaka.
Having made its stand known, the state government is now waiting for a response from the Maoists who have been insisting on complete withdrawal of cases against the rebels.
In view of the steps taken by the government and bails already granted to some prisoners, the abductors should release Hikaka immediately and unharmed, said a senior official.
He said that two persons whom the Maoists want freed have been granted bail. While the Odisha high court has allowed bail to Rupana Hulaka, a fast track court of Jeypore in Koraput district granted bail to Argu Sirika.
Similarly, bail had been granted to three persons in one case each, he said adding the abductors should not have any doubt over the government's intentions.
However, uncertainty prevailed over the release of the BJD legislator as members of both the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) and CPI (Maoist) still seemed to be rigid in their demand for withdrawal of charges slapped against them instead of opting for the bail route.
"I don't know how the Maoists and CMAS members will react to the proposal of the state government. They have been very particular about withdrawal of cases," said Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, who pleads cases for the rebels.
Meanwhile, the abducted MLA's wife Kaushalya expressed hope that the state government would take necessary steps to implement the announcement made by it regarding the release of prisoners in return for her husband's freedom.
She also made a fresh appeal to the Maoists to free Hikaka without causing any harm.
The abductors had fixed 5 PM on Wednesday as the deadline for fulfillment of their demands while dropping the name of Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused in the killing of 55 policemen, from the list of rebels sought to be freed.