Former BJP minister Maya Kodnani was on Wednesday held guilty along with 31 others in the Naroda Patiya massacre case,becoming the first MLA to be convicted for the 2002 Gujarat riots. The special riot court also convicted Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi in what was the worst massacre of the riots,leaving 97 dead.
The court let off 29 of the 61 accused,giving them the benefit of doubt. The quantum of sentence is expected to be announced on Friday. The Supreme Court-appointed SIT that investigated the case has sought the death penalty.
Kodnani and Bajrangi were convicted for murder,conspiracy and for provoking a riot and other charges. For the first time after the 2002 Bilqis Bano case,three people were convicted for gangrape. The total of 32 convicted is the largest number for any of the cases associated with the riots. In the Godhra carnage case,31 had been convicted.
Dismissing demand for Chief Minister Narendra Modis resignation,the Gujarat government distanced itself from Kodnani,saying she had not been a minister when the incident occurred. Let me be very clear that the MLA is not a state government functionary as you are trying to make out. Secondly,Maya Kodnani was not a minister when this incident took place, government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said.
He added that Gujarat was not the first state to have seen such a judgment against an MLA or a minister. In Delhi,the BJP said the party respects the judicial system. To question the judicial verdict on the streets is a culture of the Congress, party spokesperson Tarun Vijay said.
Kodnani,who is possibly also the first woman to be held guilty for the riots,broke down in court on hearing the verdict and cried through the proceedings. Her assistant Kirpalsingh Chhabda was among those convicted.
Additional Principal District Judge Jyotsana Yagnik,who delivered the verdict amid heavy security,upheld the conspiracy theory and convicted Kodnani and Bajrangi under Sections 302 (murder) and 120 (b) (conspiracy) of the IPC.
The 32 accused were also convicted for hurting religious feelings,promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and for attempted murder,arson etc. Several of them were facing charges of gangrape.
Of the three convicted for gangrape was Suresh alias Richard alias Suresh Langdo Dedawala,who has a Muslim wife. He took this as his line of defence,saying he couldnt indulge in such massacre being married to a Muslim. The others held guilty of rape were Manubhai Maruda and Mukesh Rathod.
Kodnani had pleaded that she was being made a political victim. According to the public prosecutor,Bajrangi also told the court he had been framed. He reportedly told the court he had never killed even an ant in my life. Another convict,Kishan Korani,pleaded he had cancer since 2002.
Kodnani and Bajrangi are facing trial in another 2002 riots case,the Naroda Gaam massacre,where 11 people were killed.
Only the accused,concerned lawyers and SIT officers were allowed inside the court room for the hearing. One of the convicts in the case,Suresh alias Sehjad Netalkar,was not present and the court has issued a non-bailable warrant against him.
Ninety-seven Muslims had been killed and many injured when a mob of thousands had attacked Naroda Patiya on February 28,2002. While the case had been investigated by the Ahmedabad City Detection of Crime Branch initially,the Supreme Court had later handed over investigation to the SIT. Out of the 61 accused,24 were arrested by the SIT.