Triumph of justice

Print edition : September 21, 2012

Former Gujarat Minister Maya Kodnani and (below) Bajrang Dal convener Babu Bajrangi after their conviction in the Naroda Patiya massacre case.-PTI Former Gujarat Minister Maya Kodnani and (below) Bajrang Dal convener Babu Bajrangi after their conviction in the Naroda Patiya massacre case.

NARODA PATIYA is said to be the worst-affected area in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. Here, 97 people were killed and almost 800 families were affected by the communal violence that followed the Sabarmati Express fire in Godhra on February 28, 2002. When the riots ended, the death toll across the State was said to have been close to 1,200.

On August 29, a special trial court in Ahmedabad convicted 32 of the accused in the Naroda Patiya case, while acquitting 29 others. It convicted Maya Kodnani, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Minister in the Narendra Modi government, to 28 years imprisonment, former Bajrang Dal convener Babu Bajrangi to imprisonment until death. Of the 30 others, the court awarded 31 years imprisonment to seven accused and 24 years imprisonment to 22; it did not pronounce sentence against one accused.

Special court judge Jyotsana Yagnik convicted Maya Kodnani and Bajrangi on charges of conspiracy and murder. The duo were held guilty under sections 120(b) (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code. The prosecution sought the maximum punishment of the death sentence for all the convicts.

Maya Kodnani will serve 10 years in jail for her conviction under Section 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), after which her imprisonment under Section 302 and other sections, which is for 18 years, will begin.

Maya Kodnani, a three-time MLA from the Naroda area, had allegedly distributed weapons and had twice surveyed the area before the riots broke out. Evidence of her involvement includes phone records and eyewitness accounts of her leading rioters to the area. Bajrangi was also seen leading the rioters, and was captured on camera boasting about his involvement in the Naroda Patiya massacre.

Naroda Patiya is largely a poor Muslim neighbourhood, which was systematically targeted. Many of its residents were later rehabilitated in an area called Citizens Nagar, a miserable shanty near the citys dumping ground. Some families returned to Naroda Patiya but numerous houses there still bear evidence of the massacre. Many look like bombed-out structures, some have collapsed and others have a lock on the door.

An eyewitness told Frontline that the mob had blocked all the exits. We heard them coming but before we could run, they had begun killing. They were throwing burning rags and lit bottles into our houses. Women were dragged out. I saw a pregnant women being stabbed in the belly. We made desperate attempts to reach the police, but nobody came to help us.

SAM PANTHAKY/AFP

The Naroda Patiya case is among the nine that were investigated by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) and went for trial. Maya Kodnani was first arrested in March 2009 by the SIT in connection with the case. She resigned her post as Minister subsequently. This May, she was released on bail.

Implications for Modi

The implications of the judgment are serious. To begin with, the conviction of a former Minister is a harsh blow to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is gearing up for State Assembly elections in another three months and is an aspirant for the post of Prime Minister. Modi has tried hard to distance himself from Maya Kodnanis actions and the riots in general. When she was arrested, he reportedly said she was only an MLA and that did not necessarily make her a State government functionary. Modi has denied any involvement in what he calls a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra carnage.

The significance of this verdict should not be underemphasised. This is the highest number convicted ever in the past 65 years in any case of communal violence. Even more significantly, for the first time, criminal responsibility has been fixed at the level of the political conspirator and instigator. This is a first for Indian jurisprudence and will have a tremendous impact on Zakia Jafris case against Modi and 61 others. Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi are co-accused in that case too, said Teesta Setalvad, who as part of the Citizens for Peace and Justice has been fighting a protracted battle to nail the culprits.

Modi, who has seen three successful Assembly elections, is billed to face his toughest test this time. Observers say though the opposition is not strong enough to beat the champion of Hindutva, he has a tough fight ahead, which will probably scuttle his chances in New Delhi.

Anupama Katakam

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