The VHP said on Tuesday it was disappointed by a special trial court’s decision to send only 11 of the 31 convicted in the 2002 Godhra train carnage case to the gallows, while giving life imprisonment to the rest.
“This is disappointing because all the accused should have been given death sentence...,” VHP international general secretary Pravin Togadia said in a statement.
He demanded that the prosecuting agency seek death for the 20 convicts who have been awarded life term, as well as challenge the acquittal of 63 others in the case.
Togadia described the burning of the coach as an “act of Islamic jihad” and therefore an “act of terrorism”. The court accepted the conspiracy angle but ruled out terrorism.
The kar sevaks were returning from a ceremony organised by the VHP at the disputed Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi site in Ayodhya when the incident occurred. It led to communal riots across Gujarat in which hundreds of people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
Jaynarayan Vyas, spokesperson of Gujarat's ruling BJP, said the court’s verdict must be respected. “It’s a judicial process and the verdict has been be accepted by all. The judicial system provides higher forum for appeal to those who are not satisfied with the trial court's judgment,” he said.
Congress party leaders refused to comment.
Meanwhile, social and human rights activists expressed shock over the judgment.
“The decision of the session’s court is simply outrageous and shocking,” said eminent human rights activist Fr Cedric Prakash.
He said the court has upheld the charge of criminal conspiracy when there was no evidence. Even the so-called key conspirator, Maulavi Hussain Umarji, had to be let off for want of evidence.
“Going by logic, will an even more serious punishment await those who were responsible for the bloodbath that followed the burning of the train?” he asked.