The Gujarat government has decided to press for death sentence for 10 convicts — including Maya Kodnani, former Cabinet Minister in the Narendra Modi government, and key Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi — for the Naroda Patiya massacre that left 97 Muslims dead on February 28, 2002.
This comes a day after after Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri who was killed by marauding mobs during the infamous 2002 riots, filed a protest petition against the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that gave a clean chit to Mr. Modi.
It was in August last year that a special court in Ahmedabad sentenced Ms. Kodnani, who had put in her papers by then, to 28 years in jail. Nine others, including Babu Bajrangi, were also sentenced.
The State government is also learnt to have decided to go for the enhancement of the punishment of 22 other convicts from 14 years to 30 years. Sources confirmed that the government also plans to move appeals against seven acquittals in the case.
This decision by the government assumes political significance given that Mr. Modi is known to be positioning himself as the future Prime Minister on the plank of his “Gujarat development model” and has been desperately trying to put his alleged communal face on the backburner.
“By this move, he is suggesting to the country that he had no role in the 2002 communal conflagration and that his government could also recommend death sentence to key BJP and Sangh Pariwar people,” a party insider told The Hindu, requesting anonymity.
It is another matter that this decision of the government may not go down well with several leaders of the Sangh Pariwar in Gujarat, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Pravin Togadia, who is known to have turned against Mr. Modi. “There is already a lurking feeling that the Chief Minister used and discarded key Sangh Pariwar leaders in the State for his political ambitions,” said a senior RSS leader. “Maya ben and Babu bhai are the latest instances,” he added.
Senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil told The Hindu, “Narendra Modi intends to show to everyone that he is above communalism and that he or his government has had no role in the 2002 holocaust. And that he can also recommend death sentence for his former minister.”
Meanwhile, human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash said, “The Gujarat government’s decision to seek the death penalty for former BJP minister Maya Kodnani and nine other convicts for their role in the Naroda Patiya massacre, during the Gujarat carnage of 2002, is a sheer gimmick and smacks of a very clever ploy to defocus from more important issues.”
He added, “The involvement of Kodnani, Bajrangi and several others in the terrible killings was well-known in 2002 itself. Yet she was promoted and made a minister in the government. All these years, the government did all it could to defend the accused — including Kodnani, Bajrangi and their ilk.”
He alleged that the government’s ploy was to deflect attention from the protest petition filed by Ms. Jafri.