Naveen courts controversy, calls CMAS

In a sudden turn of events, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday invited the controversial Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh for talks to secure the release of BJD lawmaker Jhina Hikaka.

Patnaik’s stance of inviting CMAS is viewed as rejection of the Maoist-nominated negotiators. While CMAS is yet to reply, Patnaik seems to be buying time to explore other possibilities for the release of Hikaka.

“As the demands by the abductors seem related to the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha, the State Government is open to dialogue with the Sangh members. Therefore, we invite the Sangh to nominate their representatives for talks,” Patnaik informed the State Assembly in the evening.

However, Patnaik, who again appealed to the captors to release Hikaka immediately, unharmed and in good health, offered no comments about how the CMAS could manage the freedom of the Laxmipur MLA when the abductors belonged to the Srikakulam-Koraput Divisional Committee of the Andhra-Odisha-Border Special Zonal Committee (ADBSZC) of the CPI(Maoist).

Meanwhile, talks to release the lone Italian national Paolo Bosusco are hanging fire for the last two days with highly-placed sources insisting that the Government is supposedly relying on back channels trying to seek release of the Italian, keeping the two Maoists-nominated mediators at bay. Patnaik, who, on the plea of further examination of the demands of the Maoists, sought more time to find another way out.

Stating that the State has seen the recent demands of the two negotiators in the matter of the abduction of the Italian national, the Chief Minister, in his statement to the Assembly, said, “Since these demands involve further examination, a little more time is required by the Government.”

However, the Maoists’ mediator seemed to be worried over the attitude of the Government in delaying the talks. “This is too much. The Government is not responding to our communication forwarded to the Chief Minister to convey his decision on the demands in question over principle to secure the release of the Italian national,” rued Dandapani Mohanty, one of the two negotiators.

Mohanty had virtually threatened the Government to withdraw from the ongoing negotiation if the Government did not concede the short-listed demands out of the 13 points in response to the good will gesture shown in releasing Colangelo. And he had also warned that the Government would be held responsible for the consequences in the event of breaking up of the negotiations. The three demands include release of around 25 people already declared innocent by various courts but later booked in several false cases, release of tribals booked in false cases and implementation of court order to prosecute the policemen responsible for custodial deaths.

According to highly-placed sources, the Maoist nominated negotiators were vexed as the three Government-nominated officials acting as negotiators had no authority to take decisions during the talks and for everything they used to seek the approval of the Chief Minister.

Meanwhile, the opposition Congress members on Friday expressed serious concern over the abduction of a fellow member of the House who has been in the captivity of Maoists since March 24.

Slamming the Government for its apathetic attitude in taking suitable steps to ensure the safe release of Hikaka, the Opposition members said the Government, particularly the Chief Minister had no sincerity for the release of the BJD member. Stating that even after a week of the abduction of the MLA there was no trace of Hikaka, they demanded the Chief Minister inform the House about the whereabouts of the MLA and the steps taken to ensure his release.

They lamented that the Government was not as serious as it was during the abduction of the then Malkangiri Collector R Vineel Krishna in February last year. However, the Treasury bench members urged the Opposition not to make politial capital out of the sensitive issue of abduction of a member of the House. They appealed that members cutting across party lines should take initiative for safe release of their fellow MLA and urged the abductors to release Hikaka as well as the lone Italian national on humanitarian ground.

Meanwhile, as the Government kept buying time and hanging the Maoists’ negotiators, there were reports of four Maoists being arrested near Bisra in Sundargarh district and explosives being seized from their possession while the while the security forces embarked on a massive combing operation on the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border. The Maoists burnt a jeep and a motorcycle in Koraput district while posters were found pasted near a village in Titilagarh of Sambalpur district threatening the BDO of dire consequences if he did not work for the tribals.

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