|A relative of a convict breaks down outside the Ahmedabad court after the Naroda Patia verdict was delivered on Wednesday; (above) a boy cries and clings to the window bars of the vehicle in which his convicted father was taken to jail. (PTI)
Ahmedabad, Aug. 29: No one could touch the doctor, until the Supreme Court appointed a special investigation team (SIT) in 2008 to probe afresh nine riots in Gujarat.
By then, Maya Kodnani was made a junior minister in the Narendra Modi government, although the chief minister was reportedly not keen to induct the three-time MLA. Modi was said to have opposed fielding her from Naroda in the 2007 election itself, apparently because word was out that the evidence against her was strong and she could eventually end up as a liability for the government.
However, it was assumed that L.K. Advani, considered her political mentor, ensured she became the first Sindhi woman to hold a minister’s berth in Gujarat. The political fortunes of Maya rose after the 2002 riots — she was made the city president of the BJP.
What eyewitnesses recounted in court was in sharp contrast to the reputation Maya enjoyed as a gynaecologist. The family runs a maternity home — Maya’s husband Surendra Kodnani, also a doctor, looks after the facility in Naroda. Their only son is studying engineering abroad.
A number of survivors said they saw her at Naroda Patia in her white Maruti car, following Naroda police inspector K.K. Mysorewala’s Gypsy.
Dildar Umrav Saiyed and Farida Khalifa, a survivor who has moved to Ektanagar where she lives with her 17-year-old son, are among the witnesses who said they saw Maya at the spot, distributing sharp-edged weapons which she brought out from her car.
Dildar said he was at work in his garage and he distinctly saw Maya bringing out a bundle of sharp weapons.
Both Dildar and Farida said they were offered inducements not to identify Maya and the then powerful Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi.
But they refused to budge and withstood threats. Dildar said he was attacked at least four times. “I was offered lakhs of rupees but I refused,” Dildar said.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad applauded the courage of the witnesses. “The raw courage of the victim-witnesses, especially the women who deposed fearlessly while still living in Naroda Patia, is a reflection of the confidence generated by the trial.”
She said: “We welcome the verdict and consider it a historic judgment. It has established that no matter how powerful and politically influential the accused might be, he/she can also get convicted.”
The eyewitness accounts, combined with call records that established Maya was at the spot, sealed her fate, although she had fielded a few officials to claim that she was present at a hospital 15-20km from Naroda Patia.
However, Maya appeared to have realised that time was running out when the SIT summoned her for questioning. She avoided facing the investigators, refusing to honour the second summons in February 2009 after which the SIT declared her an “absconder”.
High drama followed: she went into hiding along with her police security guard. Yet, the SIT, which was supposed to be assisted by local police, was unable to trace her.
Eventually, perhaps realising her options had shrunk, Maya resigned as junior minister and surrendered. The SIT arrested her but, after two months, she got bail from the high court.
For the past three years, when the trial was going on in the special court, Maya had to be present in the court every working day from 10am to 5pm. She portrayed an overtly religious picture, praying and reading the scripture in the courtroom.
Although Modi had distanced himself from her, she was still treated with importance by the BJP. Her name was on the list of leaders who were asked to remain present and join the party workers in a jail bharo agitation at Naroda Patia on June 22.
The programme was lined up ahead of the Naroda Patia case verdict, which was originally scheduled to be delivered on June 30 but was deferred for unstated reasons.
Today, when the court pronounced her guilty, Maya called herself a victim of “political conspiracy” and cried.