With assembly elections in Gujarat just three months away, the main political parties in the state — the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress — have chosen silence on the Naroda Patiya verdict in which sitting BJP MLA and former minister Maya Kodnani has been given a jail sentence of 28 years along with life terms for 30 others.
Ninety-seven Muslims were killed by a mob incited by Kodnani and others in retaliation against the killing of 57 kar sevaks by a Muslim mob near Godhra railway station in February 2002.
“The Congress is avoiding comment because its party leaders in the state fear that any reaction can be used by the ruling party and chief minister Narendra Modi to polarise voters ahead of the assembly polls,” Ahmedabad-based social analyst Ghanshyam Shah said.
On the BJP’s silence, Shah said it cannot defend the verdict against rioters or support them publicly. “Several RSS outfits like the VHP are not happy with the Modi administration because their supporters are getting convicted and they are not getting any support from the ruling party,” he said.
Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas, who usually defends the Modi government on major issues, refused to comment on Friday's verdict. "It's a court judgment which cannot be commented upon," is all that he said.
However Gordhan Zadaphia, former BJP leader and close associate of former chief minister and anti-Modi leader Keshubhai Patel, has been trying to create a Hindu backlash against Modi. But Zadaphia is doing all this discreetly without offering any public comment.
Zadaphia has been trying to impress upon the powerful Patels that Modi's rule saw more than 100 persons from the community being jailed for the 2002 riots but Modi did not utter a word.
Zadaphia has also conveyed that the BJP's silence is motivated by Modi's efforts to discard his hardline Hindutva image to gain acceptability in the national political arena.