Two major court verdicts were spelt out yesterday. In one, the apex Court confirmed the death sentence to 26/11 carnage accused Ajmal Kasab. He now becomes the 309th prisoner on death row in India, the 52nd person to be hanged since Independence. This, of course, was anticipated.
The second and the more interesting, important and attention grabbing of the two, is the conviction of Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Naroda, Maya Kodnani, and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, besides 32 other accused in the Naroda Patiya massacre of 2002 in Gujarat. What makes the verdict important is the fact that the accused had a powerful godfather by way of their mentor Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Thirdly, with his detractors calling for Modi’s prosecution, this verdict has the potential to shatter his prospect of reelection.
Ironically, those who abetted the crime were people in position of influence, who ought to have protected the lives of the victims; but they preferred to orchestrate the communal bloodbath, thereby defiled the sanctity of Constitutional office occupied by them as ministers and betrayed the trust reposed in them by the people. This is the tragedy of Gujarat’s democracy
Kodnani was a sitting MLA when the Naroda Patiya massacre took place in which 97 people were killed on February 28, 2002. She and Bajrangi have been convicted for criminal conspiracy and murder — sections 120B and 302, respectively of Indian Penal Code. The combined sections under which the two have been convicted carry the minimum of life term and the maximum is death sentence. The verdict comes after the designated court in Ahmedabad had deferred the pronouncement of judgment by almost two months without assigning any reason, thereby even raising eyebrows whether any behind the scenes maneuvers were attempted.
The Naroda Patiya massacre is the largest single case of mass murder during the Gujarat riots that broke out following the Sabarmati Express train carnage near Godhra station. On February 28, 2002 when a bandh call was given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a large crowd gathered in the Naroda Patiya area and attacked the people of the minority community. The case was eventually probed by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigating Team (SIT) in 2008, which evidently resulted in the arrest of another 24 persons.
The conviction surely will create a major dent to the image of Modi, but will be a welcome relief, even triumph to those victims who have been virtually banging their heads over the wall with no visible justice in sight over the years. The victims admittedly had reached a degree of fatigue in their fight for justice.
SIT admits that police officers in some of the cases in Gujarat who allowed riots to fester were applauded and rewarded with lucrative postings. While upright officers were clipped and sometimes persecuted as in the case of IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt for doing their duty by the Modi government.
Now with the conviction establishing the crimes of the mighty without any reasonable doubt, the court must give an exemplary punishment to the convicted without showing any mercy, for the simple reason that the convicts not only failed in their duty to protect the people whose protection they were charged with, but in fact, they instigated and in some cases actively participated in their massacre.
Any leniency shown towards the guilty will send the wrong signals bolstering such sectarian dreams, and conveying the message that one can indeed get way crimes, however heinous it might be.