Naroda Patiya case: Togadia, BJP welcome Maya Kodnani's acquittal; updates

A file photo of former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Maya Kodnani who was acquitted by the Gujarat High Court in 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case. Photo: PTI
The Gujarat High Court on Friday acquitted former BJP minister Maya Kodnani but upheld the conviction of former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case in which 97 people were killed by a mob. The high court upheld conviction of 13 people including Bajrangi, and convicted another three for the first time, while acquitting 18 of the 32 people convicted by the trial court in 2012.

In 2002, Kodnani was a BJP MLA and the trial court had said she was the "kingpin" of the Naroda Patiya killings, one of the worst incidents of violence during the Gujarat riots, and sentenced her to 28 years in jail. Kodnani went on to become a minister in then Narendra Modi government in Gujarat in 2007, before resigning when she was arrested in the case in March 2009.

Acquitting her, the high court said the statements made by witnesses regarding her role were contradictory. No prosecution witness mentioned that she talked to them at the relevant time, the high court noted. The high court said it finds it "hazardous" to rely on contradictory statements of witnesses, and therefore, no testimony of witnesses regarding Kodnani was accepted. The trial court had convicted her for a criminal conspiracy under section 120 (B) of the IPC, but the evidence didn't establish the charge, the high court said. Kodnani was also given the benefit of doubt as she was made an accused for the first time in 2008 by the Special Investigation Team (SIT), while her name did not figure in the original FIR, the high court said.

Around 58 people lost their lives when the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was allegedly torched at the Godhra Railway Station on February 27, 2002. Following the incident, on February 28, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal had declared a Gujarat Bandh. A total of 97 people were killed by rioters in Ahmedabad's Naroda Patiya area on this day. 

Here are the top ten developments around the Gujarat High Court's 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case verdict given today:

1) BJP, Togadia welcome Naroda verdict
Former VHP leader Pravin Togadia said he was delighted, and the state must not challenge the acquittals. The firebrand Hindutva leader said the state government should not challenge the acquittal of Kodnani and others in the Supreme Court. "Hindu Advocate Forum" will provide legal help to Bajrangi and others, he said. "I express delight that Maya-ben and others have been acquitted. I would also demand that the government should not go to the Supreme Court to challenge the acquittals. Bajrangi and others who have been convicted should move the SC and we will arrange free legal aid for them. I would also ask the Gujarat government to go easy on their appeals," he said.

If acquitted ones are innocent, did we kill our children, asks 2002 Naroda Patiya riot victim: "Eight members of our family were killed before our eyes. If they are innocent, did we kill our children? Maya Kodnani has been declared innocent, two years later Babu Bajrangi will be acquitted," the victim told media.

The Gujarat High Court acquitted former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Maya Kodnani in the case.

2) Did we kill our children, asks 2002 Naroda Patiya riot victim: "Eight members of our family were killed before our eyes. If they are innocent, did we kill our children? Maya Kodnani has been declared innocent, two years later Babu Bajrangi will be acquitted," the victim told media.

The Gujarat High Court acquitted former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) minister Maya Kodnani in the case.

3) Maya Kodnani acquitted in 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case: The Gujarat High Court acquitted former BJP minister Maya Kodnani in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case, in which 97 Muslims were killed following the Godhra riots. Kodnani had been sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment.  

Kodnani had been currently out on bail. In 2012, the trial court had held that she was the mastermind of the violence in Naroda area.

4) Babu Bajrangi's sentence upheld: Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi's sentence in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case was upheld by the Gujarat High Court. Bajrangi had also moved the court challenging the previous ruling. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment until death.

ALSO READ: 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case: Gujarat HC acquits Maya Kodnani  

5) Gujarat High Court acquits 17 out of 32 accused in 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case: Out of the 32 convicts in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case, the Gujarat High court on Friday acquitted 17 people, including Maya Kodnani, reported news agency ANI. The convictions of 12 were upheld by the court, including for Babu Bajrangi, the agency added. The verdict for two others was awaited at the time of reporting. One of the accused is dead.

2002 Gujarat riots case (Naroda Patiya): Out of the 32 convicts in the case, Gujarat High court acquitted 17 people including Maya Kodnani; conviction of 12 was upheld, verdict on 2 others awaited, 1 accused is dead.

— ANI (@ANI) April 20, 2018

6) 'Contradictory statements about Maya Kodnani's presence at Naroda Gam': The special public prosecutor in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case, Prashant Desai, told news agencies that all 12 convicts have been awarded 21 years of imprisonment without remission. He added that 11 witnesses gave different statements on Maya Kodnani's presence at the Naroda Gam location and that there were contradictions.

All 12 convicts have been awarded 21 years of imprisonment without remission. 11 witnesses gave different statements on Maya Kodnani's presence at the location but there were contradictions: Prashant Desai, Special Public Prosecutor on 2002 #NarodaPatiyaCase pic.twitter.com/3U5cBcRYtG

— ANI (@ANI) April 20, 2018
SIT(Special Investigation Team) Public prosecutor Prashant Desai interacts with the media after the Verdict on Naroda Patiya massacare case outside the Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad. Photo: PTI

7) Bench of Justices Harsha Devani and A S Supehiya gives verdict: A Division Bench of Justices Harsha Devani and A S Supehiya pronounced the verdict. In August 2012, a special court for SIT cases had sentenced 32 people, including Kodnani, to life imprisonment.    

8) Last year, Amit Shah had told the court Maya Kodnani wasn't in Naroda Gam: In September last year, BJP president Amit Shah had appeared before a special SIT court in Ahmedabad as a defence witness for Kodnani in the 2002 Naroda Gam riot case. Shah's deposition started before Judge P B Desai who had summoned him in response to an application filed by Kodnani. According to news agency ANI, Amit Shah had said, "Maya Kodnani was not present in Naroda Gam and that she was inside the state Assembly at 8.30 am." He had added that from 9:30 am to 9:45 am, he was at the Civil Hospital and he met Maya Kodnani there. The court had allowed Kodnani's plea to summon Shah and some others as witnesses in her defence in April last year.

This Week in Fascism:

- Court acquits Aseemanand, there is no "Saffron Terror", & he may now campaign for BJP.

- No one killed #JudgeLoya.Jo @AmitShah par sawaal uthaate hai, apne aap hi magically marr jaate hai.

- #MayaKodnani acquitted. No one killed 97 people in Naroda Patiya.

— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) April 20, 2018

9) Kodnani claims she was at Sola Civil Hospital at the time of the riot: Kodnani had said that on the day of the Naroda Gam riot near Ahmedabad, she had visited the Sola Civil Hospital after attending the Legislative Assembly and was not present at the spot where the violence took place. Amit Shah, then an MLA, was also present at Sola Civil Hospital where bodies of the karsevaks killed in the Sabarmati Train burning incident were brought from Godhra. Shah's testimony was meant to help prove her 'alibi' that she was present elsewhere when the crime took place, she had said. Kodnani, who was an MLA in 2002, was made a junior minister in Chief Minister Narendra Modi's government in 2007.

10) Here is a brief chronology of the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case: In August 2012, a special court for SIT cases had sentenced 32 people, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani, to life imprisonment. Kodnani was sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment. The other high-profile accused, former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, was given life imprisonment until death.   

While seven accused had been given enhanced life imprisonment of 21 years, which they were to serve after undergoing 10 years' imprisonment under IPC section 326 (causing grievous hurt), the remaining accused had been given simple life imprisonment (14 years). The trial court had also acquitted 29 others accused for lack of evidence. While the convicts had challenged the lower court's order in the high court, the SIT appealed against the acquittal of 29 people.

During the course of the hearing, the high court judges had visited the site of the incident in Naroda Patiya area in Ahmedabad -- where 97 people from the Muslim community had been killed -- to understand its topography. 

High Court judges had recused themselves for the case: A number of high court judges, including justices Akil Kureshi, M R Shah, K S Jhaveri, G B Shah, Sonia Gokani, and R H Shukla, had recused themselves from the case during the hearing on appeals.  

Naroda Patiya riot left 97 dead: The Naroda Patiya riot was one of the worst incidents that followed the Godhra train burning incident of February 27, 2002, in which 59 kar sevaks were killed. Around 58 people lost their lives when the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was allegedly torched at the Godhra Railway Station on February 27, 2002. Following the incident, on February 28, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal had declared a Gujarat Bandh. A total of 97 people were killed by rioters in Ahmedabad's Naroda Patiya area on this day.

Naroda Gam was one of the nine major 2002 communal riot cases that was investigated by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team.

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With agency inputs