Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah appeared before a special court in Gujarat’s Ahmedabad on Monday as the defence witness of Maya Kodnani, a former BJP minister and an accused in the 2002 Naroda Gam riot case.
The court summoned Shah to appear before it last week based on a request by Kodnani, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment in another riot case in Naroda Patiya. Shah’s deposition started before Judge P B Desai who had last Tuesday summoned him in response to an application filed by Kodnani.
On 27 February 2002, the Godhra train burning incident initiated a series of riots in Gujarat. Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya on the Sabarmati Express train were attacked and the train, which had stopped at Godhra station, was set on fire causing the death of 58 Hindus including 25 women and 15 children, activists of Vishva Hindu Parishad and Kar Sevaks.
The Naroda Patiya massacre took place on 28 February 2002 at Naroda, in Ahmedabad, India, during the 2002 Gujarat riots. 97 Muslims were killed by a mob of approximately 5,000 people, organised by the Bajrang Dal, a militant wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, and supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party which was in power in the Gujarat State Government.
Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam, both of which constitute the municipality of Naroda, located in Gujarat’s largest city, Ahmedabad, had around 2,000 daily wage earning Muslim inhabitants, and many immigrants from Karnataka and Maharashtra. On the evening of 27 February 2002, Vishwa Hindu Parishad declared a statewide strike in response to the Godhra train burning incident, starting from 28 February.
The massacre at Naroda occurred during the bandh called by Vishwa Hindu Parishad a day after the Godhra train burning. The riot lasted over 10 hours, during which the mob looted, stabbed, sexually assaulted, gang-raped and burnt people individually and in groups. After the conflict, a curfew was imposed in the state and army troops were called in to contain further violence.
The communal violence at Naroda was deemed the largest single case of mass murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots, it accounted for the greatest number of deaths during a single event. Survivors faced socio-economic problems, many were left homeless, orphaned and injured. A number of shrines were destroyed and many schools were adversely affected, cancelled exams or closed entirely.
Allegations were made against the state police, state government and then chief minister Narendra Modi, citing that government authorities were involved and various police personnel played a role in the massacre, a number of eyewitnesses reported police officers favouring the mob by allegedly injuring or killing Muslims and damaging public and private property. All allegations were proved to be false and the government and police were cleared of wrongdoing by a Special Investigation Team.
The state government stated that the massacre was a spontaneous reaction to the Godhra train carnage and the state government and ruling party had nothing to do with it. On 1 March 2002, Narendra Modi, talking about the violence, said that he tried everything to control the riots resulting from the natural and justified anger of people.
On 29 August 2012, the Special Court convicted 32 people and acquitted 29 due to insufficient evidence. Among those convicted were Maya Kodnani, former Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development of Gujarat and former Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Naroda, who was sentenced to 28 years imprisonment, and Bajrang Dal’s Babu Bajrangi, who received a life sentence.
Maya Kodnani is accused of leading and instigating a mob in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam to exact revenge for the deaths of kar sevaks killed in the Godhra train carnage.
BJP national president Amit Shah on Monday testified before a Special Investigation Team (SIT) court as a defence witness for the key accused and former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani in the Naroda Gam massacre case. During his deposition, Shah told the court that he met Kodnani in the state assembly in Gandhinagar around 8.30 am and subsequently at the Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad around 11 am to 11.30 am on February 28, 2002, the day when the carnage took place in Naroda.
The BJP president was in court for about an hour and answered over 40 questions from lawyers. Asked whether he knew where Maya Kodnani was at the time that he saw her at the assembly and in the hospital, Mr Shah said he did not know. He also said he did not know where she went from the hospital.
In the charge sheet, Special Investigation Team (SIT), however, alleged that Kodnani left the assembly at 8.40 am and reached Naroda Gam at around 9.30 am. The investigation team also claimed that signals from Kodnani’s mobile phone suggested that she was at the spot till 10.30 am.
Maya Kodnani, a qualified gynaecologist who was the women and child welfare minister in the then Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, has been accused of inciting violence and leading the mob that killed 11 people at Naroda Gam area in Ahmedabad, which is one of the nine major communal riots cases in 2002.
By summoning Shah and others, including her nursing home and Sola civil hospital staff, Kodnani will attempt to prove she was present at spots such as the Gujarat assembly, civil hospital, her home, and other places, but not Naroda Gam on February 28, 2002.
According to the application, by summoning Shah Kodnani wants to prove that she first met the then Sarkhej MLA in the assembly and then again at the Sola Civil Hospital, where the bodies of the karsevaks were brought after the riots broke out.
Witnesses have alleged in court that they saw Maya Kodnani in Naroda Gam between 9.30 and 10 am on that day, leading the rioters. “We saw her between 9.30 am and 10 am at the Naroda Gam and Amit Shah says he had seen her at two places, where did she go in between he doesn’t know,” Imtiyaz Qureshi, a victim of Naroda Gam violence, said as per the sources.
She was held guilty of similar charges and sentenced to 28 years in jail for her role in the Naroda Patiya riot in which 96 people were massacred. However, she has been out on bail citing health grounds since 2014.
Maya Kodnani is one of 79 people facing trial in the case. The Supreme Court had last month asked the Ahmedabad court to conclude the trial within four months. The Naroda Gam case is one of nine major 2002 riots cases investigated by a Special Investigation Team appointed by the Supreme Court.