A decade and six months after the Naroda Patiya killings that left 97 people burnt to death during the 2002 Gujarat riots, the special trial court convicted 32 persons, including Naroda BJP MLA and former minister Dr Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, for murder and criminal conspiracy.
The prosecution has sought death sentence for Kodnani and Bajrangi. But the quantum of punishment will be pronounced on August 31.
On February 28, 2002, the day after the Godhra train burning episode, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called a bandh, a mob attacked Naroda Patiya, a lower middle-class Muslim locality in north Ahmedabad. Eyewitnesses said Kodnani and Bajrangi, who were leading the procession, incited the mob.
Naroda Patiya was one of the nine cases reinvestigated by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT. Trial in the case had begun in 2009 after the SIT filed its additional charge sheet in the case.
With the assembly elections round the corner, the timing could not have been worse for the Narendra Modi government. While victims’ families welcomed the verdict, the BJP government tried its best to distance itself from the whole affair.
Gujarat government spokesperson and health minister Jaynarayan Vyas said, “Let me tell you that Dr Mayaben Kodnani was not a minister in the government (in 2002). And so far as the judgment is concerned, we will study it to see how the court arrived at the conclusion.”
He said, “But it’s not a final judgment. It’s a trial court judgment which can be challenged before the HC and SC.” But this is for the first time that a sitting MLA and a former minister has been found guilty in the 2002 post-Godhra riot cases.
Meanwhile, in an interview to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Tuesday, Modi said he had “nothing to apologise for regarding the 2002 violence”. But then he argued that asking for forgiveness was inappropriate “given the seriousness of the allegations … If you think it's such a big crime, why should the culprit be forgiven?"
Shakeela Banu, the aunt of an infant who was burnt to death in the Naroda Patiya killing, welcomed the verdict. “It’s justice to us after a long and torturous trial during which we were threatened when we deposed in the court.”
Kodnani, who was named as an accused in the case only in 2009, failed to appear before the SIT despite several summons. Thereafter, she was declared an absconder in the case and forced to resign from the cabinet as junior minister of women and child development. Later, she surrendered before the SIT.