Odisha's police force on Monday threatened to boycott anti-Naxal operations if hardcore Maoists are freed by the state government in a bid to end the twin hostage crisis which escalated with the abductors setting new demands before their deadline expires on Monday.
Adding to the woes of the government, the Odisha Police Association warned it will skip duties in Naxal affected areas while making it clear it will oppose "tooth and nail" any move to set free hardcore Maoists like Chenda Bhusanam alias Ghasi, an accused in the killing of at least 55 security personnel.
With the abductors of MLA Jhina Hikaka and Italian Paolo Bosusco placing new demands, an early release of the duo also appeared uncertain.
While the release of the Laxmipur Biju Janata Dal MLA became uncertain with the Maoists demanding immediate swap with 30 prisoners, another group of Naxals holding the Italian tour guide asked the state government to clarify how many ultras it would free.
As the deadline set by both the groups for meeting their demands ends on Monday, the state government sought opinion of the police on the release of hardcore Maoists, including Bhusanam, as sought by the abductors.
"We will oppose tooth and nail any move to free hardcore Maoists. If necessary, we will launch a vigorous agitation to prevent their release," OPA President Sawarmal Sharma told reporters.
If the situation warrants, the police personnel would be forced to pull out of anti-Maoist operations and boycott duty in the Naxal-affected areas, Sharma said, adding sacrifices made by police would go in vain if hardcore ultras are freed.
The state government is weighing various options on any release of the ultras.
"We have sought opinion of the police on whether the fresh demands made by abductors of the MLA can be met," Chief Secretary B K Patnaik told reporters, adding the legal aspects need to be verified before taking any decision.
A day after the Maoists holding the 37-year-old MLA hostage asked his wife to reach a village in Koraput district along with 30 freed prisoners for release of Hikaka, the state government remained tight-lipped on the issue.
In a letter to the media last night, Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee of Maoists not only sought immediate release of more prisoners, but also their physical presence for the MLA's release.
The ultras wanted Hikaka's wife Kaushalya to reach Balipeta in the Naxal-hit Narayanpatna area tomorrow along with 30 rebels, including 23 people whose release the Odisha government had decided to facilitate and seven more rebels.
The letter said the MLA's wife should also be accompanied by two Naxal-nominated mediators -- B D Sharma and Dandapani Mohanty -- engaged in the Italian hostage crisis and Koraput-based lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik.
One of the Maoist-nominated mediators B D Sharma had, meanwhile, left the state capital for Delhi.
The Maoists said they would hand over the abducted MLA to them, provided they do not bring along any police or intelligence official.
The letter came a day after the Maoists extended the deadline for fulfillment of their demands till April 10. They had initially fixed April 5 as deadline and then extended it till April 7.
As the twin-hostage crises turned murkier, Opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party hit out at the BJD government accusing it of failing to resolve the issue.
While Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee president Niranjan Patnaik dubbed the government as "ineffective and weak", BJP leader B B Harichandan accused it of failing to work in the larger interest of the people.
Apart from OPA, Odisha Havildar, Constable and Sepoy Mahasangh also opposed any move to free hardcore ultras from jails and threatened to withdraw from anti-Naxal operations if any such prisoner was released.
Meanwhile, Prabhati Mishra, widow of police inspector Sarat Mishra, who was gunned down by Maoists in Malkangiri district, said the government was forced to bow to the ultras as the lives of two hostages were in danger.
Though Hikaka's abductors had on April 7 demanded release of five more persons in addition to the 23 agreed by the state government, two more names were added on Sunday night.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had earlier said the government was examining the demand of the MLA's abductors for release of five more persons.
The state government has agreed to facilitate release of 23 prisoners, including 15 members of the Naxal-backed Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, and eight Maoists in a swap deal for securing the release of the BJD MLA.
Hikaka had been abducted in Koraput district while he was returning home after attending a meeting in Koraput on March 24.
Meanwhile, the release of Paolo Bosusco, abducted on March 14, hit roadblocks yesterday with the Maoists asking the state government to first "clarify" how many ultras would be set free and how many of its 13 demands would be met.
Odisha State Organising Committee secretary Sabyasachi Panda, in an audio message to the media, said they had demanded release of seven persons and the government had earlier agreed to release six, but finally said it would free only five.
"This has created suspicion and the government should make it clear how many are going to be released along with their names," Panda said and demanded that the government clarify how many of his group's 13 demands were accepted.
Panda's wife Subhashree Das is among the five persons whose release the government is ready to facilitate. The deadline fixed by Panda also coincides with the day when a court in Gunuupur in Rayagada district is to pronounce its verdict in a case involving Subhashree.
"There seems to be some confusion. Government negotiators and Maoist-appointed mediators had come to a clear conclusion on April 7. I do hope these will be cleared by them soon," Patnaik said after holding an emergency meeting on Sunday.