The Maoists holding ruling Biju Janata Dal MLA Jhina Hikaka hostage since March 24 have asked the Odisha government to clearly spell out by 5 pm on Tuesday the steps being taken by it to free 29 prisoners to pave way for the legislator's release on Wednesday.
In a fresh message to the media, the Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee said the state government must make its stand clear by 5 pm whether it was interested in getting the 37-year-old Laxmipur MLA freed.
"If the state government makes an official announcement about steps being taken to free 29 prisoners by 5 pm today and if it is to our satisfaction, the MLA would be released by the deadline of 5 pm tomorrow," the message said.
If the government was insisting on bail route for release of the jailed rebels, it should take steps to expedite the process instead of buying time, it said.
"If the state government dithers on this issue, it will be held responsible for the consequences," the message said adding that the MLA is safe as of now.
Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, who fights cases of Maoists and Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha members backed by them, said the government should give a clear message.
"The new message from Maoists should be considered as an ultimatum as I feel they would not wait further," he said.
"I spoke to the MLA. He is all right but worried over his captivity. Though they have not harmed him so far, I don't know what will happen after the deadline is over," he said.
The abductors had earlier fixed 5 pm tomorrow as the deadline for fulfilment of their demands while dropping the name of Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, accused of killing 55 policemen, from the list of rebels sought to be freed.
The Maoists want the lawyer and the MLA's wife to accompany 29 freed prisoners to Balipeta in Narayanpatna of Koraput district by the deadline to secure Hikaka's release.
The Odisha government, which has decided to facilitate release of 25 prisoners -- 17 CMAS members and eight Maoists, against the demand to free 29, was now studying the fresh message from the ultras, a senior official said.
The government has asked the jailed rebels to file a bail plea in court, but the Maoists and CMAS refused to listen demanding complete withdrawal of cases against them.
"We will not file bail petitions in the court as the government may again arrest our members after MLA's hostage crisis is over. The government should instead withdraw cases," said CMAS president Nachika Linga.
The state government was, however, hopeful that the rebels would apply for bail in order to get released from jail by 5 pm tomorrow, the deadline set by abductors of the MLA, an official said.
Chief Secretary B K Patnaik yesterday claimed four of the
25 people whose release government has decided to facilitate have so far submitted their bail applications.
Lawyer Nihar Patnaik said unless the state government took immediate steps to withdraw cases against them under section 321 of CrPC, they could not be released.
Stating that the Maoists have extended deadline four times, Patnaik felt this time they might not give more time.