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Zealots no less than terrorists: Court
- Riot-accused Gujarat minister resigns

Ahmedabad, March 27: Gujarat High court today equated religious fanatics with terrorists and cancelled the anticipatory bail granted to state minister Maya Kodanani, an accused in the riot cases of 2002.

Kodanani, the junior minister for higher education, resigned soon after and surrendered before the Special Investigation Team, which has been doggedly probing afresh 10-odd cases at the behest of the Supreme Court. She has been arrested.

“Religious fanatics really do not belong to any religion. They are no better than terrorists who kill innocent people for no rhyme or reason. It is unfortunate that so much time has lapsed since the incident took place but that doesn’t take away the gravity of the crime,” Justice D.H. Waghela said in his order, noting that communal harmony was a hallmark of democracy.

Kodanani, a gynaecologist by profession, is accused of leading a mob, instigating the frenzied people to kill and distributing weapons at Naroda Patia and Naroda village — on the outskirts of Ahmedabad — on February 28, 2002, leaving at least 106 people dead. Kodanani, then the MLA from Naroda, was aided by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Jaideep Patel, whose anticipatory bail was also cancelled by the court.

The court rejected their plea seeking time for further appeal and staying the operation of the judgment for six weeks. “There is no justification for grant of such relief,” Waghela said while cancelling the bail granted by the sessions court last month. He said that considering “the gravity of the offence… the accused still hold the position from where they can influence the witnesses”.

The arrest comes a month after the Modi government, in a turnaround, accepted that Kodanani was involved in the rioting, a charge she had denied until then claiming she was not at the site of the massacre.

“She was the leader of a mob and was an MLA and the allegation against her is she was instigating the mob to commit crime and therefore she was playing the main role,” the Gujarat government had said in the affidavit.

Kodanani’s arrest, on the eve of the Sindhi new year, could be seen as a setback for BJP prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani, who launched his campaign from Gandhinagar this evening. It was apparently at Advani’s behest that Kodanani, a Sindhi like the BJP patriarch, was inducted into Narendra Modi’s ministry.

The parallel drawn between fanaticism and terrorism could also help the Opposition further dent the BJP’s terror card that in any case was not being seen as a game-changer. However, the BJP leadership feels that the ruling could polarise voters in some areas to the benefit of the party.

On record, the BJP sought to distance itself from the legal wrangles over the riots cases, arguing that “it was entirely between the judiciary and Mayaben”.

“After the verdict, it became clear that the court has found her guilty and she was asked to resign. She is no longer a minister,” party spokesperson Balbir Punj said in Delhi.

The BJP leadership is not unduly worried as it feels the order could help Modi once again polarise voters on communal lines. Even in the 2007 Assembly elections, Modi’s campaign did not pick up till Sonia Gandhi described him as “maut ka saudagar (merchant of death)”.

The party has adopted a similar line on Varun Gandhi over his alleged inflammatory speech. The young Gandhi is expected to surrender before the court in Pilibhit tomorrow.

The Gujarat government chose not to comment on the court order, which described the mob attacks of 2002 as “heinous and having far reaching implications”.

Justice Waghela held that the presence of Kodanani and Patel at the scene of offence is prima facie established from the evidence produced by the SIT.

“The attitude and activities of these two leaders were not even claimed to be towards quelling or controlling the mobs nor is it believed that they visited the scene of offence for any personal purpose,” he said.

Kodanani is accused in both cases while Patel is charged for the Naroda village carnage.

During the course of argument, lawyers appearing for Kodanani had submitted that there was a conspiracy to frame her in the run-up to the elections. They had also submitted that statements given by the witnesses were contradictory and had no credentials.

Riot victims said they were happy with today’s order. Abdul Majid Shaikh of Naroda Patia, whose entire family was killed in 2002, said: “Today I’m at peace. I never believed Kodanani and Patel could be ever arrested.”

Shaikh lost his six children — three daughters and three sons — and his wife, expecting their seventh child, in the massacre.

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