Ahmedabad: A Jesuit human rights activist has pooh-poohed the Gujarat government’s reported plan to seek death penalty for a former minister and nine others accused of mass murder during 2002 sectarian violence.
The move “is a sheer gimmick and smacks of a very clever ploy to defocus from more important issues,” Fr. Cedric Prakash, director of a human rights center in Ahmedabad, said in a statement reacting to the government decision.
On April 17, media reports said the Gujarat government had decided to seek death for Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Narendra Modi government, and others in connection with the riots Naroda Patiya riot case.
According to the prosecution, a mob killed 97 people in Ahmedabad’s Naroda Patiya locality on February 28, 2002, a day after a train coach was set on fire at Godhra town triggering communal riots that lasted for months in Gujarat.
In August 2012, trial court Judge Jyostna Yagnik sentenced Kodnani and others to varying durations of jail term. Kodnani was given 28 years. The court acquitted 29 accused.
The reports said the government would soon file an appeal in the state High Court against the special court’s judgment.
Assistant Public Prosecutor Gaurang Vyas told the Press Trust of India that the state’s legal department has formed a three-lawyer panel to prepare the appeal.
The government has taken seven months to file the appeal whereas the stipulated time to challenge the lower court order was three months. Hence the government has to seek the High Court approval to file the appeal.
Vyas said the appeal would also seek enhancement of life term awarded to 22 convicts to 24 years in jail. Life term normally runs for 14 years.
Father Prakash, who was among the first to seek justice for the riot victims, says the involvement of Kodnani and others in “the terrible killings” was known in 2002 itself.
“Yet she was promoted and made a minister in the government. All these years, the Government did all it could to defend the accused – including Kodnani, Bajrangi and their ilk,” the priest’s statement points out.
According to him, the appeal is an excuse to deflect attention from a protest petition filed by the wife of a slain parliamentarian that “definitely names people and the events during the carnage.”
An investigative expose by a leading news channel on the report of a Special Investigating Team has shown that it had left out important record and documents. The probe team had concluded the “carnage was neither sudden nor spontaneous,” the priest points out.
The priest also expressed doubt whether the “death penalty” is a ploy to prevent Kodnani and others from mentioning the involvement of leading politicians in the killings.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has protested the government move.
“VHP strongly condemns the reported decision of the Gujarat government to seek death penalty for Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and other Hindus sentenced in the Naroda case,” Gujarat VHP general secretary Ranchhod Bharwad told reporters here on Wednesday.
Calling the decision “shocking” and “a blow to Hindus”, Bharwad has written to chief minister Narendra Modi urging him to withdraw the decision.