Sunday, November 25, 2012

Justice Delivered

TOI 31AUG2012

The Naroda Patia judgement has political ramifications the BJP can scarcely ignore

    It’s been a long wait. But some of the victims of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat are finally seeing justice delivered. In a key judgement, a special court in Ahmedabad convicted BJP legislator and former minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 30 others, for their role in the infamous Naroda Patia massacre. Over 90 Muslims, many among them women and children, were killed by mobs in Naroda, a minority locality in Ahmedabad. While in consonance with other court verdicts as in the Ode and Dipda Darwaja massacre cases, this is the first time a powerful political functionary has been convicted in a riot-related case on triple charges of murder, conspiracy and spreading hatred. That’s why the Naroda Patia judgement stands out.
    The verdict cannot but deepen apprehensions about long-standing allegations that the state administration and political leadership were complicit in the violence that followed the February 2002 Godhra carnage. Upholding the charge of criminal conspiracy against Kodnani and Bajrangi, it challenges the BJP’s explanation that the 2002 violence was a spontaneous backlash against the Godhra incident. Chief minister Narendra Modi will find it difficult to wink at the fact protracted violence took place on his watch. It’ll be equally hard to justify Kodnani’s elevation to the rank of minister of state for women and child development in his government in 2007.
    Recall that witnesses from Naroda Patia had testified before the police against her in 2002. Worse, the Gujarat police were accused of having disregarded their testimonies as well as mobile phone evidence furnished by a police officer. Nor can the Gujarat government take credit for dispensation of justice. Where the public is concerned, things appeared to start moving for riot victims only after the Supreme Court referred nine riot cases, including Naroda Patia, to the special investigation team (SIT). Kodnani herself resigned from the state cabinet only after the SIT chargesheeted her in 2009.
    Coming ahead of assembly elections in December, the Naroda Patia judgement could impact Modi’s political ambitions. He’s been championing “sadbhavna” in a seeming attempt to shed his hardliner image with an eye to the national stage. Whether it dents his self-projection as a secular, development-oriented leader remains to be seen. More important is that, while it’s open to appeal, the Naroda Patia judgment comes as reassurance to victims of the 2002 riots. In a country where convictions for communal violence are dismally low, especially of the politically powerful, it will strengthen faith in the justice system.