Naroda Gam Acquittal: Why the Ahmedabad special court’s order is shocking

Dr Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and 65 other accused in the Naroda Gam massacre case were acquitted by a special court in Ahmedabad on Thursday

Maya Kodnani
Maya Kodnani

NH Political Bureau

The acquittal by a special court in Ahmedabad yesterday of Dr Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, along with 65 other accused in the Naroda Gam massacre case in the 2002 post-Godhra riots, has shocked people and legal experts alike.

Kodnani, who was a BJP MLA and a minister in the Narendra Modi government in 2002, was the primary accused in the Naroda Gam massacre case and charged with instigating the mob.

At Naroda Gam in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2002, 11 Muslim community members had been burnt alive. They included women and a 12-year-old girl. A woman with a nine-month-old pregnancy was first stabbed to death with a sword. In a sting operation recorded obviously without his knowledge, Babu Bajrangi of the Bajrang Dal had boasted that he had cut the woman’s stomach open with his sword. He also claimed that police remained spectators, goading them to kill. The mob had used gas cylinders lying in the victims’ home to burn them, he had added. The sting operation, however, was not found to be admissible evidence and the court ruled that Bajrangi was bragging to exaggerate his own rabid image. The testimony of the 14-year-old brother of the victim too was dismissed by the court as ‘not credible’.

Witnesses had testified that Kodnani was present at the scene of the crime, handing out swords and weapons to the rioters. Mobile phone records indicated she was at the scene of the crime, and was in regular touch with police personnel as well as the current Home Minister Amit Shah. Amit Shah, however, had appeared as a defence witness for Kodnani in 2017 and supported her claim that she was not present at the site.

Shah had then claimed that he had seen Kodnani at the Gujarat Assembly at 8.30 am on February 28 and met her again at the Sola civil hospital at 11-11.15 am when they were both escorted out by the police. He had denied any knowledge of her movements later in the day.

Kodnani, a gynaecologist by training, was charge sheeted by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigating Team (SIT) headed by former CBI director R.K. Raghavan. It was the same SIT which gave the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi a clean chit. The Gujarat Government in 2013 had indicated that it would pray for the death sentence for Kodnani and the other accused. It was, however, dismissed as a ‘gimmick’ designed to present a favourable image of Narendra Modi, who was then campaigning to be declared BJP’s PM-face in the 2014 general election.

The Naroda Gam massacre was one of the nine major incidents probed by the SIT appointed by the Supreme Court. It filed the charge sheet in 2008 after interrogating 187 people and recording the statements of 57 eyewitnesses, many of whom turned hostile during the trial.

As many as six special court judges presided over the trial. Gujarat high court, however, transferred special judge M.K. Dave who was hearing the final arguments in the case in 2020 and replaced him with S.K. Baxi, who acquitted Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and other accused yesterday.

Maya Kodnani’s father, who had migrated from Sindh, was a member of the RSS and Kodnani herself was part of the RSS-aafiliated Rashtriya Sevika Samiti. One of the first women in Gujarat to join her medical college, people who have known her say she spoke flawless English, drove her own car and was known to be a good gynaecologist. She had set up the ‘Shivam Hospital’ in Naroda and even after being elected MLA and appointed a minister, she had continued to attend to surgeries and deliver babies. A large number of her patients happened to be Muslims.

But as her political ambition grew, add these sources, her ‘ruthless, shrewd and scheming self’ came increasingly to the fore. A good orator she began sporting a saffron scarf and Hindutva rhetoric peppered her speeches. Some say she fancied herself as a future chief minister of the state; and indeed her popularity was such that in 2007 while Narendra Modi won with a margin of 80 thousand votes, her victory margin was 1.80 lakh.

It is not clear if the SIT will move an appeal against the Special Court’s order acquitting her and others. Senior Advocate and Rajya Sabha Member, Kapil Sibal for one, does not think it is likely. On Thursday he took to Twitter to say, "Naroda Gam: 11 of our citizens including a 12-year-old girl killed. After 21 years, 67 accused acquitted. Should we: celebrate the rule of law or despair its demise!" 


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