Kodnani acquittal: A farce of a trial

Former BJP minister Maya Kodnani has been discharged by Gujarat High Court in the 2002 Naroda Patiya massacre case. For Kodnani, who has been on bail due to ill health, it is a great day as she walks free from her 28-year jail sentence. But, for the families of the nearly 100 victims of the carnage, it may not be justice delivered, but rather its miscarriage. Special judge Jyotsna Yagnik clarified that Maya Kodnani was not being acquitted but given the ‘benefit of doubt’. The court ruled that criminal conspiracy could not be established as the 11 witnesses who testified against her were “unreliable”.

The high court, thus, overruled the conclusion by a designated special court in 2012 that Kodnani was one of the “principal conspirators” and the kingpin of the entire communal riots, who instigated the rioters. The court, however, upheld the conviction of alleged co-conspirator Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 11 other people, who have been awarded a uniform jail term of 21 years.

The verdict came after over 8 months of hearing, where the prosecution did a half-hearted job throughout. This was, probably, the first case probed by the SIT in which the agency did not demand death penalty for the convicts, nor even enhancement of their punishment on the ground that it did not receive sanction from the state government. The court even pulled up the Gujarat government, saying it merely paid lip service to enhance punishment for the guilt as it neither opposed the bail applications of convicts nor underscore that they were convicts in a heinous crime while hearing their bail applications.

Courts are not interested in punishing anyone or letting anyone off. They only sit in judgment of the arguments put forth by the two sides. If the prosecution fails to establish whatever it is charging the accused with, the courts will not go out of their way to prove the guilt of the accused. This is what really happened in this case, relating to riots in Naroda Patiya, a suburb of Ahmedabad, where 97 Muslims were killed during three days of violence that followed the Godhra train burning, in which 59 Hindu volunteers were killed. Witnesses earlier testified that Kodnani had incited the mob and that she had handed out swords to rioters, exhorting them to attack Muslims.

The high-pressure nature of the case was evident from the fact that as many as six judges recused themselves from hearing the appeals. Another judge decided to take up Kodnani’s appeal separately for hearing after delinking it from other appeals, but the Supreme Court stayed the proceedings before they were taken up by a three-member Bench which heard the arguments for eight months.