The judgment of a special court in Ahmedabad, handing rigorous imprisonment to Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi for their involvement in the Naroda Patiya killings, will go far in boosting people’s faith in the judiciary.
The sight of BJP MLA and former Gujarat Minister for Women and Children, Maya Kodnani, being led by a policewoman to a special court in Ahmedabad, where the judge, Jyotsana Yagnik, sentenced her to 28 years imprisonment for her implicit involvement in the 2002 riots, must have warmed millions of Indian hearts. Particularly those of the relatives of the Muslims who were butchered in the 2002 post-Godhra carnage in Gujarat.
Even more heart-warming is the “life imprisonment till death” award given to Babu Bajrangi, former Gujarat chief of the Bajrang Dal. This prime accused in the butchering that took place in Naroda Patiya in Ahmedabad was trapped in a sting operation by a Tehelka editor, whose spy camera captured Bajrangi boasting that, after the Godhra carnage, he had mobilised about 30 people on the night of February 27 and taken “revenge for Godhra”.
Foetus not spared
The most heart-searing and stomach churning brutality in Naroda Patiya was the butchering of the pregnant Kauser Bano, whose stomach was ripped open and the foetus foisted on the tip of a weapon. The “hero” of that atrocity was none less than Bajrangi. Recounting the burning and hacking of Muslims in that sting operation, he had gloated: “I felt like Maharana Pratap after killing them. I don’t care if I’m hanged.” The same sting operation had also established the involvement of Dr Kodnani, a gynaecologist, in the Naroda Patiya operations.
Eyewitnesses who deposed before the special court, survivors and families of victims have welcomed the judgment; one of them said simply: “Our real Eid is today, not last Monday.”
A record number of 32 convicts have been given life imprisonment by Judge Yagnik. That it took 10 long years for a substantial and definitive punishment to be meted out — appeals to higher courts will of course be made — is a pointer to the Gujarat administration doing its best to stall investigations into the carnage. The Judge noted as much when she said that Kodnani was “tremendously favoured by the then investigating agencies.”
Kodnani the “kingpin”
Kodnani, who continued to be a Modi confidante for years after the riots, till the criminal and judicial net closed in on her in 2007, made the outrageous plea that she was a “victim of politics”. The judge gave her a fitting reply by saying that, as an MLA, she was expected to serve the people as their representative. Instead, she was found “plotting and planning the conspiracy along with Babu Bajrangi to attack the Muslims. She led the mob and incited them to violence.”
Commenting on her “victim of politics” plea, Judge Yagnik described her as the kingpin of the violence and said the Gujarat police had actually helped her. She was elevated to a minister in 2007, despite the serious allegations against her vis-à-vis the 2002 riots. Apart from being helped by the investigating agencies, all care — against the interest of the victims — was taken to see that “Kodnani’s involvement does not come on the books.” This negated the plea that “she was ever a victim of politics”.
Blot on Modi
The judgment comes as a huge black mark on the Modi administration, to which hosannas are being sung at various forums on it being an ideal ‘development’ model for other States to emulate.
In a scathing open letter to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was busy answering laudatory questions from fans on Google hangout after the judgment came out, suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt wondered about the timing of the chat, even as Modi’s “trusted lieutenants” (Kodnani and Bajrangi) and “misguided foot soldiers” were given sterling punishment. “Was it perchance that you smartly distanced yourself from all these unfortunate people at an opportune moment,” he asked wryly.
Asking Modi if he had ever looked at the “real face behind the mask”, Bhatt added: “Have you ever introspected about your true self, concealed behind the meticulous imagery created by your media managers?” Of course, Bhatt’s letter will be treated with the customary contempt that Modi and his close circle of admirers and advisors reserve for any criticism against the Gujarat Chief Minister.
But the judgment, which fell short of awarding death penalties as these were, according to the judge, against “human dignity”, has once again unleashed the ghosts and terrible memories of 2002. It is very well for many intellectuals, who are no admirers of the BJP’s brand of Hindutva, or the hate politics of the more strident Sangh outfits such as the Bajrang Dal, to say that the country has to forget 2002 and move on. Try telling this to the aggrieved. The relatives of those who were killed, raped or burnt in the 2002 outrage need to get justice.
Another ridiculous factor is that any discussion/writing on 2002 has BJP supporters pouncing on you on two counts. Condemn Godhra first is one, and what about the 1984 butchering of Sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, is the other. Of course, the state administrative machinery failed to check the brutalisation of the minorities in both these cases, as it has so done many times earlier and in between.
A short chat with a Muslim friend, an advocate in Ahmedabad, revealed an interesting trend. A host of lawyers, he said, are extremely unhappy at Judge Yagnik’s judgment. “How can you pinpoint and establish culpability on a few individuals in a riots case. And that too, give them such harsh penalties as 28 years of imprisonment for Kodnani and imprisonment till death for Bajrangi, they are asking,” he said.
Conjure up before the mind’s eye the image of a heavily pregnant woman’s belly being ripped open with a sword and the foetus pulled out. Or an elected representative, a doctor at that, who has taken the Hippocrates oath to save lives, openly inciting people to attack, burn, kill.
Once you do this, no punishment appears too harsh. How Modi’s spin doctors and media managers handle this setback to his government will be interesting to watch in the coming days.
But this judgment will go far in boosting people’s faith in the judiciary. However delayed, justice has not been denied. For the aggrieved, the disadvantaged and the insecure sections in Gujarat, such judgments will bring closure to the wounds of 2002, more than any homilies on the need to move on.