Saw Maya Kodnani in assembly building, hospital: Amit Shah testifies in Naroda Gam riots case

BJP chief Amit Shah was summoned to court based on a request by former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani who sought he appear as her defence witness in the Naroda Gam riots case.

india Updated: Sep 19, 2017 00:32 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Gujarat riot case,2002 Gujarat riots,Amit Shah
Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah leaves after appearing before a special sessions court in Ahmedabad on Monday.(AP Photo)

BJP president Amit Shah told a special court on Monday that he had seen former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani in the state assembly and later at a government hospital the day deadly riots broke out in parts of the city in February 2002.

Deposing as a defence witness for Kodnani, who is accused of inciting a mob that killed 11 people in the city’s Naroda Gam area, Shah testified that he saw her in the assembly building in Gandhinagar between 8.30–8.40 am on February 28, 2002.

Shah said he saw her again later the same morning at the civil hospital in Sola, Ahmedabad. “I reached there between 9.30 and 9.45 am,” he told the court. HT has a copy of his deposition and subsequent cross examination.

Shah testified that he saw Kodnani at the hospital but did not specify when. “There was chaos. There were many leaders present. I tried to go inside the post-mortem room but I was not allowed,” Shah told the court.

“I was talking to the relatives of the deceased. I saw… Mayaben there.”

Shah said he left the hospital between 11.15 and 11.30 am. Shah and Kodnani were escorted out by police together.

The BJP chief told the court he did not know where Kodnani was between the time he first saw her in the assembly building and again at the hospital, or where she went after being escorted out of the hospital, defence lawyer Amit Patel told Hindustan Times.

The state assembly and the hospital are about 23 km apart. The prosecution accuses Kodnani of leading the rioters at Naroda Gam between 9 am and 10am.

Riots broke out across Gujarat after a bogie of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra on February 27, 2002. The blaze killed 59 Hindus, mostly Karsevaks or volunteers returning from Ayodhya, where rival Hindu and Muslim groups are locked in a decades-old dispute over a religious site.

The train fire sparked three days of reprisal attacks across the state that left about 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead. Both leaders had visited the hospital where the bodies of the victims of the train fire had been brought.

After Shah’s hour-long testimony, the defence and prosecution lawyers differed on its interpretation.

“Amit Shah has testified in favour of Kodnani,” said a second defence lawyer Chetan Shah.

But prosecution lawyer Shamsad Pathan contended that Kodnani’s presence in the assembly and later at the hospital didn’t necessarily absolve her.

“Amit Shah told the court Maya Kodnani was in the assembly in the morning and then was seen leaving the hospital around 11.30am. This proves she was present at Naroda Gam when the violence happened,” said Pathan.

Kodnani, the women and child welfare minister in the then Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, has already been sentenced to life in prison for a separate case of rioting in Ahmedabad’s Naroda Patiya area, a verdict she has challenged. She’s been on bail since 2014.

Asked why he did not depose earlier in the Naroda Patiya riots trial, Shah said he wasn’t called to testify. The prosecution had argued that Shah did not turn up despite the special court asking anyone with knowledge of the case to depose.

Defence lawyer Shah said 57 witnesses had deposed for the defence side and no more witness is required to appear in the court.

For the prosecution, 187 witnesses deposed. Pathan said the final arguments are expected to begin from September 25.

Last week, the court summoned Shah as a witness following a request by Kodnani to prove that she was not present at Naroda Gam when riots broke out there.

In 2009, the Supreme Court set up six special courts to speed up trials in cases related to the 2002 Gujarat riots, among the country’s worst religious violence.

Reacting to Shah’s testimony, the opposition said the issue should be left to courts. “There is a legal procedure. It does not matter what a person says about another. Witnesses give statements on affidavits... On such serious issues, we are of the view that action should be taken with utmost care and caution,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

(With input from agencies)

First Published: Sep 18, 2017 12:26 IST