Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blow to Modi as ex-minister among 32 nailed for 2002 Naroda killings

Sentencing Likely Tomorrow


Ahmedabad: About 100 days ahead of his toughest electoral battle, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi suffered a setback when a special court in Ahmedabad on Wednesday convicted a former minister in his government of
murder in the biggest post-Godhra communal massacre at Naroda Patia.
    In all, the court held 32 people guilty for the massacre, including the ex-minister, MLA and gynaecologist Dr Maya Kodnani, and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, saying the killings were a part of a pre-planned conspiracy. This is the largest number of people convicted in a single 2002 riots case and comes as Gujarat prepares to go into the run-up for the December assembly election.
    This is also the sixth 2002 case investigated by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), which has seen convictions.
    All the convicts have been charged with murder, criminal conspiracy, rioting, arson, attempt to murder, unlawful assembly, insulting religious sentiments by targeting religious places and fanning communal hatred.
    The court also convicted three persons--Suresh Didawala, Manubhai Maruda and Mukesh Rathod alias Vakil--of gang rape. This is only the second post-Godhra case in which rape charges have been proved, the first being the Bilkis Bano case.
What happened on Feb 28, 2002:
A huge mob gathered at Naroda Patia (near Ahmedabad) a day after the Godhra carnage. The rioters targeted the Noorani Masjid before entering the bylanes. Some minority families took refuge in an SRPF campus, but many were trapped after police personnel closed the doors. The mob surrounded them near a water tank, where 58 of the 97 victims were killed. Mayhem lasted till 10pm when cops arrived
Govt distances itself from Kodnani: Dr Maya Kodnani is a BJP MLA since 1998 and was minister of state for women and child development in 2009 when arrested. Soon after the verdict, she broke down and said she was a victim of politics. The Gujarat
    government distanced itself from Kodnani saying an MLA is not a govt functionary, nor was Kodnani a
    minister when the incident took place
BJP plays down verdict:
The BJP said the party respects the judicial system and abides by it unlike the Congress 327 witnesses examined in case
Ahmedabad: A special court here on Wednesday convicted a former BJP minister in the Naroda Patia massacre.
    On February 28, 2002, 97 Muslims, including 36 children and 35 women, were killed after 59 people, mostly kar sevaks, were burned alive in the Sabarmati Express carnage at Godhra a day earlier.
    Delivering the verdict, additional principal judge Jyotsna Yagnik acquitted 29 others, giving them the benefit of doubt. The quantum of punishment is likely to be declared on Friday.
    “The maximum punishment for criminal conspiracy and murder can be death sentence,” said Shamshad Pathan, advocate of the victims. Special prosecutor Akhil Desai sought the death sentence for all 32 convicts, contending that the case met the 'rarest of rare' criteria and warrants maximum punishment. The trial began in August 2009 and charges were framed against 62 people, while one accused died during the course of trial.
    The judgment runs into 1,927 pages. The judge heard the case for 37 months and the prosecution examined 327 witnesses comprising eyewitnesses, victims, doctors, police personnel, government officials and forensic experts. Journalist Ashish Khetan, who conducted a TV sting operation on the accused, was also examined by the court.
    The Gujarat police had arrested 46 people initially, whereas 24 more people were apprehended after the probe was handed over to the SIT in 2008. The court rejected victims' plea to arraign top cops and kept its order on demand of compensation on Friday.