Ahmedabad: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could face an awkward situation following the conviction of sitting Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA from Naroda, Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 30 others in the February 28, 2002 massacre of 97 people at Naroda Patiya by a trial court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
Maya Kodnani, who was the sitting MLA of Naroda when the massacre took place in 2002, is the first BJP leader to be convicted in a case related to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
The trial court convicted 32 people and acquitted 29 others in the Naroda Patiya massacre case which took place during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The quantum of sentence will be pronounced on Monday on Friday.
Maya Kodnani was the sitting MLA of Naroda when the massacre took place resulting in the death of 97 people on February 28, 2002.
Kodnani and Bajrangi have been convicted under Indian Penal Code Section 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 302 (murder). The sections under which Kodnani and Bajrangi have been convicted carry the minimum sentence of life term and the maximum is death.
Her conviction could prove to be an albatross around Modi's neck as social activists and his opponents are likely to pounce upon the judgement and claim that Gujarat riots took place because of active support from the state government.
However, BJP leader Yatin Oza claimed that Kodnani's conviction cannot be seen as an indictment of Modi. "We will contest the next election on the good governance of Narendra Modi," said Oza.
The Narendra Modi government also defended itself in the Naroda Patiya case saying Kodnani was not a member of the party at the time of the 2002 riots. "Maya Kodnani was not a minister when the incident happened. We are not denying that she is an MLA from the party now. But an MLA is not a state government functionary," Gujarat government spokesperson Jai Narayan Vyas said.
Vyas also said that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi won't resign due to the verdict. He also said the party will go through the judgement and take appropriate legal advice. "We will read the judgement and take appropriate legal advise, can't link everything to the party," Vyas said.
Kodnani was the minister of women and child development in the Narendra Modi government but was forced to resign after a case was lodged against her in the Naroda Patiya massacre of 2002.
The Naroda Patiya massacre is the largest single case of mass murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots that broke out following the Sabarmati Express train carnage near Godhra station. The case has been probed by a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigating Team (SIT).
As many as 327 witnesses, comprising eye witnesses, victims, doctors, police personnel, government officials, forensic experts and journalists including Ashish Khetan, who conducted a TV sting operation on the accused, were examined by the court.
Initially, 46 people were arrested by the Gujarat Police, whereas 24 more people were apprehended after the probe was handed over to the SIT in 2008. In all, 70 people were arrested in the case.
Six persons died before the charges could be framed and trial started, while two others identified as Mohan Nepali and Tejas Pathak jumped bail and are still absconding.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad called it a landmark judgement, pointing out that for the first time political leaders have been convicted. "This is important that Babu Bajrangiand Maya Kodnani have been convicted. This is the first time that some judgement has implicated the political class. The testimony of the eyewitnesses helped in Kodnani's conviction and phone calls proved that she was at the locality," said Teesta.
Naroda Patiya massacre case trail started in August 2009 with 62 people being charged by the SIT. However, one of the accused, Vijay Shetty, died during the trial.