Rebels may wait to ensure government keeps its side of deal

The banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) on Wednesday released junior engineer Pabitra Majhi on the banks of the Balimela reservoir at Jal Bai village in Orissa's Malkangiri district, but Collector R. Vineel Krishna is still in its custody.

The two men were kidnapped from the Papermetla panchayat in Malkangiri on February 16.

After a week of hectic negotiations, the State government issued a statement on February 22 indicating that the two would be released in 48 hours.

About 1 p.m. on Wednesday, an overloaded motorboat arrived at the Jal Bai ghat near Chitrakonda. In it sat a man wearing a red helmet that covered most of his face. Mr. Majhi was immediately recognised by the waiting crowd of journalists and villagers, but he was rushed to the district headquarters on a motorcycle.

In a short interaction with the press, Mr. Majhi said the Maoists had treated him and the Collector well and reports of Mr. Krishna's ill health were untrue. However, he could not provide a firm date for Mr. Krishna's release.

There is little information why he is still in Maoist hands. Late Tuesday night, a large crowd gathered outside his residence and waited in vain until daybreak. Conflicting reports emanating from Bhubaneswar and Malkangiri gave the impression that Mr. Krishna had already been released. Based on these reports, several newspapers, including The Hindu, reported that Mr. Krishna was handed over to the government by the Maoists.

However, on Wednesday morning, a source close to the Maoists said the release was delayed owing to a “communication problem” and the party leadership was trying to communicate with its cadre in the forest.

Now that Mr. Majhi was released, sources said, the Maoists could be waiting to ensure that the State government kept its side of the bargain. Among the demands put forward by the Maoists was the release of senior party leaders Sriramalu Srinivalasalu and Ganti Prasadam. While Prasadam was granted bail by the Orissa High Court on Wednesday, Srinivasalu's bail application will come up for hearing at Malkangiri on Thursday.

Warrants pending

Even if Srinivasalu is granted bail, he may still remain in police custody. “There are currently two warrants pending against Mr. Srinivasalu in Andhra Pradesh,” said his lawyer Ravindranath. “If the Andhra Pradesh police execute these warrants, he will have to go back to jail and seek bail once more.”

Mr. Ravindranath said the police had filed several false cases against his client and Srinivasalu had been acquitted in more than 20 cases.

Ganti Prasadam, too, may have to spend some time in jail in Andhra Pradesh. “Mr. Prasadam is implicated in one case for an attack on the Superintendent of Police of Ongole district,” said his lawyer. While Ganti Prasadam was out on bail, his bail was cancelled when he was arrested in Orissa in November last for supporting the Maoists.