Maya Kodnani acquitted in Naroda Patiya massacre case: How BJP leader went from 'kingpin of riot' to acquittal
The Gujarat High Court acquitted Maya Kodnani of all charges, following witnesses turning hostile, judges recusing themselves, and the SIT choosing not to seek an enhancement of Kodnani's sentence
Maya Kodnani, a doctor by profession and a strong BJP leader from the Naroda Patiya area, was initially convicted in the 2002 riots case by a trial court in which over 90 persons were murdered. She was sentenced to 28 years in prison by the trial court which also called her the chief instigator in the case. The Gujarat High Court, however, acquitted her of all charges. The acquittal came following witnesses turning hostile, judges recusing themselves, and the Special Investigation Team (SIT) choosing not to seek an enhancement of Kodnani's sentence, saying it didn't have the necessary sanction to do so from the state government.
As reported by The Economic Times, this was the first case probed and prosecuted by the SIT in which it didn't demand the death penalty for the accused. In fact, the report added, the SIT ddin't even seen an enhancement of the 28-year sentencing given to Kodnani, saying it didn't have the state government's sanction for the same.
In 2012, the SIT court held that the riots "wouldn't have spread at Naroda Patiya at such a large scale" had Kodnani not been involved and had she not abetted the violence, holding her as "one of the kingpins" of the riot. "She (Kodnani) has played a role of instigating the Hindu mobs, thereby abetting the commission of offences by the co-conspirators. She has abetted formation of unlawful assembly to execute the conspiracy," the court had said.
Apart from Kodnani, 30 others were also convicted by the court. Appeals were filed by all of them against the trial court's order. After the appeals were filed, however, six judges recused themselves from hearing the case, as reported in The Economic Times article. It added that Justice RR Tripathi decided to expedite the hearing of Kodnani's appeal despite resistance from the SIT and the victims.
Tripathi also delinked this from the other appeals, which meant the issue went to the Supreme Court, which stayed proceedings for a while, before resuming after Tripathi's retirement.
As reported by News18, the Naroda Patiya massacre was considered the single largest case of mass murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots, accounting for the largest number of deaths in a single event.
Kodnani, a BJP leader at the time the riots took place, was made minister for woman and child development by then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi after the riots ended, a report on NDTV said. It added that a number of high court judges, including justices Akil Kureshi, MR Shah, KS Jhaveri, GB Shah, Sonia Gokani and RH Shukla, recused themselves from the case during the hearing on appeals.
Amit Shah's testimony
In September last year, BJP president Amit Shah testified before the court that he saw Maya Kodnani in the Gujarat Assembly on 28 February, 2002, first at 8.30 am and then again at 11 am. The Gujarat Assembly is located in Gandhinagar, and Shah's testimony was to be the alibi Kodnani needed — that she couldn't have been at Naroda Patiya on the day of the riots.
"I, Amit Anilchandra Shah, 53, national president of BJP, was a member of Sarkhej Assembly constituency. On 28 February, 2002, at around 7.30-7.45 am, I left for the Assembly, where a condolence for the victims of Godhra carnage was held at around 8.30 am, where I saw Mayaben Kodnani," he told the court, as reported by The Indian Express on 19 September.
Interestingly enough, however, the trial court had earlier debunked the same alibi. "This court is of the opinion that Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad are twin cities, hardly at a distance of 30km from each other. Therefore, if the accused was relieved at 8.40 am, it is not difficult for her to reach at Naroda Patiya site after 9 am," the court has observed.
"In the record of this case, the witnesses have stated that all the disturbances were started and in fact reached its peak after the arrival of Kodnani. It stands proved beyond all reasonable doubt that she was present and has participated in the crime on that day," the court had further held.
With inputs from agencies
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