Maya Kodnani on Friday became the first minister to be arrested in connection with the Gujarat communal carnage of 2002.
Kodnani,53,minister for women and child development in the Narendra Modi cabinet,now faces charges of murder,abetment to murder and arson in the Naroda Gam and Naroda Patiya massacres. As many as 98 Muslims were killed in Naroda Patiya and 11 in Naroda Gam.
The Gujarat High Court on Friday struck down the anticipatory bail that a lower court had given to Kodnani,an Ahmedabad gynaecologist,and VHP leader Jaideep Patel,accused in the Naroda Gam case,leaving them no choice but to surrender before the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigative Team (SIT).
Kodnani resigned from the Modi cabinet earlier on Friday.
Religious fanatics do not belong to any religion, they are no better than terrorists who kill innocent people for no rhyme or reason, Justice DH Waghela,who struck down the bail,said. Communal harmony is the hallmark of democracy¿ If in the name of religion people are killed,that is absolutely a slur and a blot on a society governed by the rule of law.
Justice Waghela,referring to the call records of Kodnanis cellphone on February 28,2002,said Kodnani could have been present in Naroda area for at least 40 minutes in the morning and also in the afternoon. In November 2004,The Indian Express had reported,based on cellphone records,Kodnani and Patels movements and conversations on February 28.
The judgement said that the activities of Kodnani (who was then an MLA) at the scene of offence where violent mobs with weapons had gathered in an atmosphere surcharged with anger and hatred,showed nothing to claim that she made a bid to quell or control the mobs. Nor is it believable that they visited the scenes of offences for any personal or private purpose.
In such circumstances, prima facie,allegations of inciting or encouraging the mobs into wanton display of hatred,destruction of properties and killing of innocent men,women and children produce a chilling picture of communal violence on an unprecedented scale,leaving on the psyche of ordinary citizens scars which might take decades to fade, the judgement said. Therefore,the offences which are alleged to have been committed by faceless mobs of thousands of persons led by a few have to be treated as very heinous and having far-reaching implications, Justice Waghela said.
In a severe indictment of the role of the ruling party politicians, Justice Waghela said: A murder committed due to deep-seated mutual and personal rivalry may not call for penalty of death. But an organized crime for mass murders of innocent people would call for imposition of death sentence as deterrence.
Coming down heavily on the Ahmedabad Sessions court that granted anticipatory bail to the minister,he said: The exercise of judicial discretion in favour of the minister ascribed a leadership role,on irrelevant grounds of them not having tampered with the evidence or being unlikely to commit other offences,was highly improper and perverse,and calls for interference,particularly when the investigation is still underway and the respondent still holds the status from where (she) can influence the witnesses.
The distance in time from the date of the alleged offences to the present stage of investigation is unfortunate and attributable to the failure of law enforcement agencies,but it cannot derogate from the requirements of bringing to book all the persons who might have had a role in rudely disrupting the lives of millions of citizens eking out their living in harmony in a progressive state of secular democratic Republic of India, he said.
After going through the arguments put by the defence and prosecution counsels,Justice Waghela noted that there were no less that 40 statements of witnesses that directly named the minister in the Naroda Patia and Naroda Gam mass murder cases. Kodnani is wanted by the SIT in connection the twin massacres on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on February 28,2002 and March 1,2002. Both the areas are parts of Naroda assembly constituency represented by Kodnani.
In fact,some of the statements of witnesses like that of Habib Mirza indicated some prior planning and preparation for carrying out the riots even as police force was approached by the victims for help and it was present at the scene of the offence, Justice Waghela said.
Stating that some of the police personnel on duty were now being implicated in SIT investigation,he observed that it puts the earlier investigation by local officers in a shade and under the cloud of serious doubt.