Maya Kodnani's acquittal in Naroda Patiya massacre may erode faith of people in investigating agencies, courts

Sandipan Sharma
Maya Kodnani's acquittal says a lot about our justice system though. In 2012, a trial court had called her the mastermind of the Naroda Patiya massacre.

For Hindutva fans, this is turning out to be a week from heaven, something each of them would have prayed for.

First, Aseemanand was acquitted of all charges in the Mecca Masjid blast case. Then, the Supreme Court disallowed an independent probe in the judge Loya case. And now, Maya Kodnani, till yesterday considered mastermind of the Naroda Patiya massacre of nearly 100 Muslims during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The stars must be really aligned in favour of Hindutva and Salman Khan, who has also had a similar run, fans. And, as far as the BJP's detractors go, they perhaps need to get their horoscopes checked.

In Kodnani's case, you really can't argue with a court. The legal system depends on witnesses and evidence. It works on the principle of innocent till proven guilty. To convict an accused, it needs a watertight case with incontrovertible evidence and reliable witnesses. Kodnani seems to have been acquitted because facts did not support the allegations against her.

Her acquittal says a lot about our justice system though. In 2012, a trial court had called her the mastermind of the Naroda Patiya massacre. The verdict was based on 11 eyewitness statements that confirmed her presence at the sight of the massacre.

The trial court observed: "Accused 37 (Kodnani) has been proved to be the kingpin of the entire communal riot and one of the principal conspirators who has actively instigated the rioters and has abetted them to form unlawful assembly to execute the conspiracy hatched under her leadership with other co-conspirators."

The life sentence awarded to her was primarily based on investigations by a special team constituted by the Supreme Court to look into the massacre. The SIT told the court that Kodnani reached the spot where a large mob had assembled to avenge the killing of kar sevaks at Godhara. She was accused of making inflammatory speeches and inciting the crowd to go on a murderous spree. Eleven eyewitnesses claimed to have seen her getting off her car and address the crowd. The SIT had also produced Kodnani's phone records to back its findings.

"Dr Maya Kodnani, the MLA of the said area, after completing the mourn meeting in the Vidhan Sabha came near Noorani Masjid and as per the evidence on record she made some speech and said "Kill Muslims, destroy the property of Muslims", the SIT had said in its chargesheet.

But all this, as the high court says, could not be proven. Kodnani was already out of the jail on medical grounds, citing tuberculosis, irritable bowel syndrome and a variety of ailments. Today, the 'mastermind' of yesterday is a free bird.  

One factor that may have swung the case in her favour could be BJP president Amit Shah's testimony. Appearing as a witness for the defence, he had told the high court in September 2017 that Kodnani was in the Gujarat Assembly on the day of the massacre. "Maya Kodnani was not present in Naroda Gam, she was inside the state assembly at 8:30 am. From 9:30 am to 9:45 am I was at the Civil Hospital and I met Maya Kodnani there," he had said. Shah's testimony corroborated Kodnani's version of her day's movement.

When a judgment of such contradictions is pronounced, the first question to ask is obviously is, who got it wrong, and why? How did the SIT file a case based on eyewitness account that led to her conviction by a special court for 28 years in jail but were later found unreliable? How did the special court decide she was not just an accomplice but the mastermind when the evidence, as the high court says, was flimsy? Or, did something change drastically between 2012 and 2017€"the judgment was reserved by the Gujarat High Court in that year€"to turn the case on its head? Whatever be the reason, this case that has swung from one end to another doesn't inspire much confidence in our investigation agencies and courts. At some level€"where and how is for the Supreme Court to decide in case the government appeals against Kodnani's acquittal€"they entire criminal investigation and justice system has huge flaws.

Also See: Maya Kodnani acquitted in Naroda Patiya massacre case: How BJP leader went from 'kingpin of riot' to acquittal

Naroda Patiya riot case: Gujarat High Court likely to pronounce judgement on appeals filed by 32 convicts

Naroda Patiya riots: Gujarat HC upholds Babu Bajrangi's conviction, says prosecution able to establish conspiracy

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