Justice at last over Gujarat
massacre By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - A special court trying cases
related to the horrific massacres in Gujarat in
February and March 2002 has delivered a landmark
verdict. It has convicted 32 people on charges of
murder and conspiracy in the Naroda Patiya
massacre. Among those convicted is Mayaben
Kodnani, a former Gujarat minister, who has been
given a 28-year jail sentence.
massacre at Naroda Patiya, a mixed Hindu-Muslim
suburb in the city of Ahmedabad, was the worst
single incident during the anti-Muslim pogrom that
engulfed Gujarat a decade ago. According to
official estimates, 95 Muslims were killed in this
incident. The victims, who included new born
babies, were hacked to death or burnt alive.
Around 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, are
believed to have been
killed in the three-day bloodletting in the state.
The court verdict in the Naroda Patiya
massacre is historic. This is the highest number
to be convicted in a communal violence case
anywhere in independent India's history. More
importantly, it is the first time that political
conspirators, masterminds, instigators and
orchestrators of communal violence have been
convicted. Hitherto, it was only the
foot-soldiers, those who perpetrated violence and
low-level mobilizers of mobs, who were brought to
Kodnani, a gynecologist, has
represented the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in
the Gujarat assembly for three terms. The verdict
describes her as the "kingpin" who distributed
weapons and fuel to the mobs and goaded them to
attack Muslims. Babu Bajrangi, a leader of the
Bajrang Dal, a fraternal organization of the BJP,
was sentenced to "life imprisonment until death".
In a chilling confession captured on camera by the
newsmagazine Tehelka in 2007, Bajrangi boasted
about how he arranged for and carried out the mass
killings at Naroda Patiya.
In the wake of
the carnage, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi
and other BJP leaders described the violence as a
"spontaneous eruption of public anger" over the
killing of 59 Hindu pilgrims in a fire in the
Sabarmati Express at Godhra. By portraying the
riots across Gujarat as a "spontaneous backlash"
to the Godhra killings, Modi sought to justify the
The verdict in the Naroda
Patiya killings is a resounding slap in the face
of those who claimed the violence was unplanned.
The court upheld the prosecution's argument that
it was a conspiracy.
The Modi government's
determined efforts to prevent the wheels of
justice from turning must be blamed for the delay
of over a decade for a verdict in the Naroda
Patiya case. A compromised Gujarat police force
refused to file cases. Investigations were
stalled, evidence was systematically destroyed and
It was only with
the Supreme Court intervening in 2008, when it
appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to
probe and prosecute in nine riot-related cases,
that the judicial process began moving.
Convictions have come in some of these cases, such
as in the massacres at Ode village near Anand, and
Sardarpura and Dipda Darwaja in Mehsana district.
It was under Modi's watch that the Gujarat
carnage took place. Not only was he chief minister
at that time but he also headed the home ministry.
Yet he has never accepted any responsibility for
the violence nor even shown the slightest remorse.
Efforts of victims and activists to nail Modi for
the pogrom have been unfruitful hitherto. For
instance, a complaint filed against Modi and 61
others by Zakia Jafri, widow of former Congress
parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri, who was burnt alive
in the Gulberg Society massacre, was turned down
by the SIT in April this year. It ruled that there
was no "prosecutable evidence" against the chief
However, the arm of the law is
reaching uncomfortably closer to Modi. Last year,
an affidavit filed by senior Gujarat police
officer Sanjiv Bhatt said that hours before the
massacres began on February 28, 2002, Modi told
senior police officials at a closed-door meeting
that Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger
Raju Ramachandran, an
amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court to
investigate allegations of Modi's complicity in
the riots has observed that Bhatt's allegations
may have a basis. Ramachandran maintained that
Modi could be prosecuted.
report by an amicus curiae does not have legal
teeth, Modi has been a worried man in recent
months. The Naroda Patiya verdict will add to his
Although his government has sought
to distance itself from Kodnani following the
verdict, it cannot erase the fact that she was
Modi's trusted lieutenant. Kodnani's role in the
carnage was well known from the start. Yet Modi
appointed her as Minister of Women and Child
Department between 2007 and 2009, a move that was
widely seen as rewarding her for her role in the
Social activists are hoping
that with the court now acknowledging Kodnani's
role in the conspiracy, Modi's responsibility in
it will also be established.
support for Modi in Gujarat remains high,
especially among its business sectors, opposition
to his dictatorial style of functioning has
mounted within the party. A former BJP chief
minister in Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel, quit the
party recently and has mounted a stinging campaign
against Modi. A leader of the numerically strong
Patel community, which is the backbone of the
BJP's support base in Gujarat, Keshubhai could eat
into the BJP's votes.
In less than 100
days from now, Gujarat is scheduled to go to the
polls. The question on everyone's minds is how the
Naroda Patiya verdict will impact on the
Even so, while the verdict is a
setback to Modi, it is unlikely to change the
election outcome. Modi led the BJP in Gujarat to
resounding victories in December 2002 and 2007 and
will likely win this time, albeit with a much
In 2007, when Tehelka's
video footage of BJP leaders and Bajrang Dal
activists providing ghastly details of how they
raped, burnt and sank swords into Muslims was
telecast a couple of months ahead of assembly
elections, it inadvertently polarized the Hindu
vote and boosted support for Modi.
Naroda Patiya verdict could have a similar impact.
However, discontent with Modi's governance among
the rural poor has deepened considerably, and
hence he can expect a tough fight before he wins.
It is with regard to Modi's prime
ministerial ambitions that the Naroda Patiya
verdict will have its most severe impact.
It was widely believed until recently that
after consolidating his position in Gujarat
through a thumping victory in the election, Modi
would accelerate his campaign for nomination as
the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's prime
ministerial candidate in the 2014 general
election. The Naroda Patiya verdict may make
Modi's road to Delhi more difficult.
of the BJP's allies in the National Democratic
Alliance have been comfortable with Modi's
aggressive Hindutva politics or his arrogant style
of functioning. The Naroda Patiya verdict has made
him even more of a political "untouchable". It
will make the BJP's current and prospective allies
- many of whom depend on Muslim votes - even more
uneasy being seen holding hands with him. In fact,
several BJP leaders, who were hitherto worried
over his meteoric rise, might be a secretly
pleased with the Naroda Patiya verdict.
Modi built his political career on the
mass murders that occurred under his watch. It now
seems that the ghosts of his victims are returning
to thwart his ambitions.
Ramachandran is an independent
journalist/researcher based in Bangalore. She can
be reached at email@example.com
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