The conviction by a Gujarat court of BJP legislator Maya Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi along with 30 others for their role in the Naroda Patia massacre is the strongest judicial affirmation yet that large-scale communal violence is almost always a product of pre-meditated political planning and calculation. An estimated 95 Muslims, many of them hapless women and children, were hacked to death in Naroda, a minority neighbourhood in Ahmedabad targeted by armed mobs under the indulgent gaze of the Gujarat government in the wake of the February 27, 2002 Godhra train carnage. The verdict is a landmark one. It is for the first time that an Indian court has convicted a sitting MLA — Ms Kodnani was also a minister in the Narendra Modi government from 2007 to 2009 — for mob aggression against members of a religious community. Secondly, the court has not only upheld the charge of criminal conspiracy against the 32 individuals convicted, it has also found one of them guilty of rape and sexual harassment.
The establishment of conspiracy augurs well for the future of communal violence prosecutions, where the judicial trend so far has been to uphold murder but not conspiracy. It is a victory particularly for the Special Investigation Team that was brought into the picture by the Supreme Court following the failure of the State police to properly prosecute the post-Godhra riots cases. For the families of the Naroda victims, who identified the aggressors braving threats and intimidation and who were able to come forward to some extent because of the protection offered by the apex court, there cannot be a greater vindication than the trial court finding evidence of rape and molestation. It has been their plaintive cry that the violence was orchestrated and targeted against women, who were subjected to gang rape and worse before being slaughtered. Violence against women is a pattern established over and over in anti-minority pogroms, and the judgment has done yeoman service in foregrounding this fact. Needless to say, the conviction is a huge setback to the Gujarat Chief Minister personally. The fact that Ms Kodnani led the Naroda killings was common knowledge, yet Mr. Modi made her a minister, even putting her in charge of ‘women and child development’ as if to thumb his nose at the victims. A bigger worry for Mr. Modi ought to be the establishment of conspiracy. The Chief Minister has maintained all along that the “riots” were a spontaneous act by crowds enraged by Godhra. It stretches credulity that Ms Kodnani could enter into a conspiracy with her co-accused without the government getting a whiff of the group’s criminal intentions and conduct, before, during and after the killing.