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Ahmedabad: BJP MLA Maya Kodnani, a former minister in Narendra Modi government, was today awarded 28 years imprisonment by a Special Court which also gave a life term to a Bajrang Dal leader till death in the Naroda Patiya massacre--the worst of 2002 post-Godhra riots-- in which 97 people were killed.
Of the 29 other convicts, seven were given a jail term of 21 years by an Additional Principal Judge Jyotsna Yagnik. Like 57-year-old Kodnani, they will also have to first serve 10-year imprisonment under Section 326 IPC (voluntary causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means).
The remaining 22 convicts were given simple life imprisonment (14 years) by the court which described communal violence as "cancer" on Constitutional secularism.
The Court named Kodnani as "a kingpin of riots" in Naroda area and sentenced her to 18-year life imprisonment after serving 10 years jail term under IPC Section 326.
55-year-old Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, the other high profile accused, will have to spend his entire remaining life behind bars, it said.
Kodnani, a three-time MLA from Naroda area who was considered to be close to Modi, is the first woman to be convicted in a post-Godhra riots case.
"Communal riots are like cancer on Constitutional secularism and the incident in Naroda Patiya was a black chapter in the history of the Indian Constitution," the Judge observed.
Kodnani and Bajrangi were on Wednesday held guilty under IPC sections 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) and the prosecution sought the maximum punishment of death sentence for all the convicts.
Social activist Teesta Setalvad, who has taken up the case of the post-Godhra riots victims in Gujarat, said they are "completely satisfied" with the manner in which the court has given "exemplary punishment".
"It is the first time that a politician's involvement in communal violence has been recognised," she said.
The Court had on Wednesday convicted 32 and acquitted 29 persons in the Naroda Patiya case in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage. It did not pronounce sentence against one accused who is absconding.
The court while delivering the landmark verdict rejected the defence's argument that communal violence in Naroda Patiya was a reaction to Godhra train burning incident.
"This was a pre-planned conspiracy and it cannot be mitigated just by saying that it was a reaction of Godhra train burning incident. There cannot be justification of crime for doing another crime as nobody can take law in their own hands," it said.
The court, however, said, "the violence was to display the sparking displeasure and total disapproval to the Godhra carnage which, in fact was the motive of the accused".
Samshad Pathan, an advocate representing some riot victims, said the verdict is unprecedented.
"This(verdict) is unprecedented in the Indian history as till now in most of the cases the sentences awarded in different offences used to run concurrently, but in this case the court has decided that the different sentence will not run concurrently," he said.
The court in its order observed that, "28/2/2002 became the day of cyclone of violence, one of the black chapters in the history of democratic India where violation of human rights and constitutional rights were publicly done by the assaulter on the victims".
"Acts of communal violence was brutal, inhuman and shameful, it was a clear incident of human rights violation as 97 people were killed brutally within the day which included helpless women, children aged persons and the climax of this inhuman and brutal act of violence was reflected in murder of an infant who was 20 days old," the court said highlighting the enormity of the crime
Though maintaining that death penalty was "desirable" to reduce crime in the society, the court said it believes that such a punishment "undermines human dignity".
"Death penalty brings justice and it is desirable to reduce the crime in the society but this court cannot overlook the global trend prevalent in recent years as by 2009, 139 countries have repealed death sentence and there is a global campaign against death penalty and progressive societies are advocating for restricting death penalty and this court believes use of death undermines human dignity".
The court further said, "On account of the lapse of time of ten years and agony of impending trial by the accused and suffering of their families the case just falls short of the rarest of the rare category and this court feels somewhat reluctant in imposing the death sentence".
Describing Kodnani as the "kingpin" of the riots, the court said she is one of principal conspirator who has actively instigated the rioters and has abetted them to execute the conspiracy hatched under her leadership.
"India is a secular state and such offence by the elected member of the constitutional body needs to be viewed by the courts very seriously where disharmony hatred and enmity based on religion was created by investigation and she had abetted such crime," the court further said.
Kodnani, who was an MLA at the time of the riots, was made minister of state for women and child development in 2007 but had to resign after she was arrested in March 2009.
She broke down after the sentenced was pronounced.
Regarding the defence of Kodnani that she is a victim of politics the court has observed that, "she was tremendously favoured by Gujarat police. All care at the cost of the duty of the I.O. and even at the cost of interest of victim was taken, to see to it that her involvement does not come on the books".
Regarding Babu Bajrangi who was sentenced to suffer rigorous imprisonment for remaining period of his natural life, the court said "he was one of the principal conspirators, overt actor of the communal riot on that day, leader and instigator for the co-accused as far as Naroda massacre is concerned.
The court in its order said that, "all the substantive sentences, except the sentences for imprisonment of life shall run concurrently". This means that all the accused who were found guilty of offence under section 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means) of IPC have to go through 10 years of imprisonment and after that their life term will begin.
VHP president Pravin Togadia reacting to the verdict in Surat said, "This is American style justice where sentences will run separately and not concurrently. This type of sentence has not been given to even terrorists.