On 27 February 2002, 57 people were charred to death when S-6 of the train Sabarmati Express carrying Kar Sevaks from Ayodhya was set ablaze.
In the three days of carnage that followed amid bandhs called by Hindu groups, about 100 Muslims were killed in Gujarat’s Naroda Patiya.
A Special Investigation Team (SIT), set up by the Supreme Court of India, submitted that “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.”
Sixteen years after the Naroda Patiya massacre, a Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court on Friday, 20 April, acquitted Maya Kodnani, saying there was an absence of sufficient proof of her presence at the crime scene. The court also upheld the conviction of Bajrang Dal activist Babu Bajrangi, who was sentenced to imprisonment for life by the trial court in 2012.
But who was this Sindhi woman who saved lives as a gynecologist but was also among the key accused in one of the most controversial riots in India.
How Kodnani’s Star Rose
The former Gujarat State Minister for Women and Child Development was brought up in a pastel town between Ahmedabad and a popular pilgrimage spot Ambaji in Banaskantha district. She studied in a Gujarati-medium school that was set up and run by her father, who had fled during 1947 partition from Sindh province, now in Pakistan.
Growing up with strong saffron roots, Kodnani played an active role in the women's wing of RSS named Rashtriya Sevika Samiti during her time in Baroda Medical College where she enrolled for her MBBS and Diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics.
Kodnani took her first step to politics with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation(AMC) elections in 1995. She was appointed as AMC Standing Committee's first woman chairperson in from 1997 to 1998.
Kodnani became BJP legislator from Naroda in 1998 and then became general secretary of the Gujarat Pradesh BJP Mahila Morcha, only to be appointed as the head of the party's Mahila Morcha unit from 1998 to 2000.
In 2002, in the backdrop of the Gujarat riots barely nine months prior, she widened her winning margin in the 2002 December Assembly elections.
In December 2007, she came back to power once again with a thumping majority, although her constituency was one of the worst-hit during the riots, reported The Indian Express.
Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, was quick to include Kodnani in his cabinet. The decision is often believed to be in consultation with LK Adnani, as per Express.
Discrepancies, But ‘Not Enough Evidence’
After allegations from witnesses claiming that Kodnani was present at the scene of the riots, she categorically denied the charge and came out of questioning by the Gujarat police questioning unscathed in 2003.
The problem mounted when the Supreme Court set up an SIT in 2008 to probe the nine worst post-Godhra riot cases, which included the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam cases too.
The SIT uncovered phone records that placed her at the scene and also unearthed many discrepancies between the phone record and her statements to the probe team.
Terming her a "kingpin", the trial court convicted Kodnani, and sentenced her to 28 years of imprisonment.
The SIT has said that the incident was a “preplanned conspiracy in view of the Godhra train carnage case.”
Six years later, in the Gujarat High Court division bench, it was concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove Kodnani’s involvement in the riots, and acquitted her.
(With inputs from The Indian Express, IANS)
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