Naroda riots: Ex-BJP minister Maya Kodnani among 32 convicted

Maya Kodnan
Maya Kodnan

AHMEDABAD: Former minister in the Narendra Modi government, Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi were among 32 people convicted by a special court today on charges of conspiracy and murder in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riots case in which 97 people from the minority community were killed.

Kodnani, a three-time MLA from Naroda area, who was considered to be close to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and Bajrangi were held guilty under sections 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of IPC in the post-Godhra riots case.

Additional principal judge Jyotsna Yagnik in her verdict acquitted 29 other accused. The court, which heard arguments on the quantum of sentence, will decide on the punishment on August 31.

“The maximum punishment for criminal conspiracy and murder can be death sentence,” advocate Shamshad Pathan, representing the victims, said.

One of the accused, Suresh alias alias Richard Chara was also convicted for rape. The court also convicted several of the accused on charges of rioting, arson, unlawful assembly and causing hurt with weapons.

The massacre had taken place a day after the Godhra train burning incident of February 27, 2002.

On February 28, 2002 when a bandh call was given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a large crowd gathered in the Naroda Patiya area and attacked people belonging to minority community that resulted in the death of 97 people while 33 others were injured in the violence.

Kodnani was arrested in March 2009 when she was the minister and had to resign from the post. She became an MLA for the first time in 1998 and won elections twice later from that constituency. She was made Minister of State for Women and Child Development in the Modi government in 2007.

BJP state leadership had wasted no time taking her into the Cabinet, widely believed to be at the behest of L K Advani. She was the first Sindhi leader to become a minister in Gujarat since the state was founded in 1960. Welcoming the verdict, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said in Delhi that the judgment enhances faith of the people in the legal system.

Playing down the court’s order, BJP spokesperson Tarun Vijay said, “We have full trust in the judicial system of the country”.

During the arguments on the quantum of sentence in the special court today, Special Public Prosecutor Akhil Desai sought death sentence for all the convicts. After hearing all the sides, judge Yagnik reserved the order on quantum of punishment for August 31, a lawyer said.

Desai argued that it is a fit case to be termed as “rarest of rare” and the court should award capital punishment to the convicts.

If the court takes another view, then it should at least award a minimum of 20 years of imprisonment to each of the convicts, he submitted.

Opposing his contention, defense advocate Niranjan Tikani appealed to the court to show leniency towards the convicts, keeping in mind their family background and financial condition.

Tikani also opposed the demand of capital punishment for Kodnani and submitted that her husband has been operated upon recently and is not keeping good health, while her son is studying in the US, so the court should consider this aspect as well.

The trial in the case began in August 2009 and charges were framed against 62 accused. One of the accused, Vijay Shetty died during the course of trial.

As many as 327 witnesses, comprising eye witnesses, victims, doctors, police personnel, government officials, forensic experts and journalists including Ashish Khetan, who conducted a TV sting operation on the accused, had been examined by the court.

Initially, 46 people were arrested by the Gujarat Police, whereas 24 more people were apprehended after the probe was handed over to the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) in 2008. In all, 70 people were arrested in the case.

Six persons died before the charges could be framed, while two others identified as Mohan Nepali and Tejas Pathak jumped bail and are still absconding. Kodnani was arrested by the SIT.

The Naroda Patiya case was probed by eight investigating officers over the last decade with the latest being Himanshu Shukla on behalf of SIT. It was one of the nine cases of Gujarat riots being probed by the SIT, including the Godhra train burning case. -PTI

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