By Gardiner Harris and Hari Kumar –
A top lieutenant of one India’s most powerful politicians was sentenced to 28 years in prison Friday for her role in a deadly attack that killed at least 94 people during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Mayaben Kodnani, a state legislator and former state education minister, was given a 28-year prison term after being convicted of murder, arson and conspiracy. The other 31 defendants were given decades-long prison terms, including one who must remain in prison for the rest of his life.
Ms. Kodnani was a confidant of Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister and a top contender to become the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for prime minister in national elections scheduled for 2014. Mr. Modi has long been plagued by accusations that he discouraged police from protecting Muslims during the riots, accusations he has denied.
Ms. Kodnani’s conviction and long prison sentence are a blow to Mr. Modi’s efforts to distance himself from responsibility for the deaths and could derail his campaign to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party. Since Muslims represent nearly 15 percent of India’s population, no political party can afford to alienate them entirely.
The judge in the case, Jyotsnaben Yagnik, said that Ms. Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, a member of a Hindu hard-line organization, were the key conspirators in the massacre of mostly women and children in the Muslim neighborhood of Naroda Patia.
Akhil Desai, the prosecutor in the case, said that Judge Yagnik intended the long sentences to serve as a warning. “The judge observed that the riots were very brutal and the punishment should be such that such offenses should never occur again,” Mr. Desai said.
The Gujarat riots, which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people, are the first in India’s history to be followed by significant prosecutions and convictions. Perhaps because of that response, there has been no communal violence on the scale of the Gujarat riots, although ethnic attacks in Assam in recent months have claimed at least 78 lives.
Courtesy New York Times