Ahmedabad, Aug. 31: Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Narendra Modi government, was today sentenced to 28 years in jail by a court that described her as the “kingpin” of the Naroda Patia massacre in which 97 people were killed.
The judge described the pogrom as “horrendous”, a “blot on democracy” and a “rarest of rare” crime and said she had not invoked the death sentence because 139 countries have passed a resolution against capital punishment.
“28/02/2002 became the day of cyclone of violence, one of the black chapters in the history of democratic India…” additional principal judge Jyotsna Yagnik said, handing prison sentences from 24 years to life to 31 of the 32 people she had convicted on Wednesday. One is absconding.
Babu Bajrangi, a former Bajrang Dal leader and prime accused, has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Bajrangi, 55, will remain in jail till death, the court underlined.
It is not unusual for courts now to specify that a life term is for life, because governments often grant remission for good conduct after 14 years.
What is unusual is the consecutive sentences that Kodnani, 57, and the others received. The three-time BJP MLA and known L.K. Advani loyalist, who is a gynaecologist by profession, will serve 10 years under Section 326 IPC (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means) and then 18 years for criminal conspiracy and murder. In India, multiple sentences usually run concurrently.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad, who has been fighting for victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots, said they are “completely satisfied” with the “exemplary punishment”.
“It is the first time that a politician’s involvement in communal violence has been recognised,” she said.
The judge dismissed as “baseless” Kodnani’s argument that “she was a victim of politics” and said “she was tremendously favoured by Gujarat police. All care… was taken to see to it that her involvement does not come on the books.”
She pointed out that the MLA held a “dignified and reputed position” and yet she incited the mob that killed 97 innocents, most of them “children, women and the disabled”. Even a 20-day-old baby was not spared, the judge noted.
“India is a secular state and such offence by the elected member of the constitutional body needs to be viewed by the courts very seriously,” the judge said.
Kodnani’s conviction on the charge of “criminal conspiracy” is a blow to Narendra Modi and the BJP who have always claimed that the “riots were a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra carnage and the state government had nothing to do with it”.