How Amit Shah’s testimony helped the prosecution and not Maya Kodnani
BJP president Amit Shah finally ended intense speculation by appearing before a Gujarat trial court on Monday as a defence witness for Mayaben Kodnani in the Naroda Gam massacre case. Several media reports said that Shah’s testimony provided Kodnani an alibi in the Naroda Gam case. But a careful reading of the BJP president’s testimony shows that this isn’t actually the case.
It must be remembered that Kodnani has already been convicted in the Naroda Patiya case, one of the bloodiest massacres during the Gujarat riots in which 97 Muslims were killed. The Supreme Court appointed SIT also chargesheeted Kodnani for murder and criminal conspiracy in the 28 February, 2002 Naroda Gam massacre, in which 11 Muslims were killed.
As the last of over a dozen defence witnesses, Shah was supposed to testify that Kodnani was not at Naroda Gam at the time of the massacre.
In her defence, Kodnani claimed that she was at the Gujarat Assembly, then at the Sola Civil Hospital finally at her home at the time of the carnage, not at Naroda Gam.
While Shah did affirm Kodnani’s presence at the Gujarat Assembly and later at the Sola Hospital, the time gap between the two incidents gives credence to the prosecution’s claims that she was present at Naroda Gam between 9 AM and 10 AM, during which she instigated a mob that eventually killed 11 people.
Deposing before the court, Shah said he reached the Gujarat assembly at 8:30 in the morning where he saw Kodnani among other MLAs present to pass a condolence motion for those who were killed in the Sabarmati Express attack in Godhra.
Shah then informed the court that he later saw Kodnani at the hospital at Sola in Ahmedabad sometime between 11:15 AM and 11:30 AM.
Even as it appears that Shah has backed an embattled Kodnani, the riot victims’ lawyer Shamshad Pathan insists his testimony is far from convincing.
“The most important aspect of the testimony is that it did not shed any light on Kodnani’s whereabouts in the time between when Shah saw her in assembly (8:30am) and then at the hospital (11:30),” Pathan said.
“The prosecution has affirmed her presence in Naroda Gam between 9 and 10 am, Shah's deposition did not in any way establish Kodnani's alibi that she was not present at the spot,” Pathan emphasised.
Incidentally according to his own testimony, Shah had reached the hospital in between 9:30 and 9:45 AM, where post mortem of the Sabarmati Express victims was being conducted.
The prosecution is likely to harp on the fact that Shah, then an MLA, could locate his Assembly colleague only after spending nearly 2 hours at the hospital.
Another interesting fact of his testimony is that Shah claimed to be unaware about the distance between Naroda Gam and the state Assembly.
Pointing to the fact that Naroda Gam was at a distance of nearly 10 km from the state assembly, Pathan said it was easy for anyone to reach to the place in 15-20 minutes.
According to the SIT, Kodnani left the Assembly after 8: 30 am and reached Naroda Gam where her alleged instigation led to the riots which consumed 11 lives.
In its chargesheet, the SIT has quoted eyewitnesses to assert her presence at Naroda Gam on February 28 between 9 and 10 30 in the morning.
A minister in the then Narendra Modi led government in Gujarat, Kodnani in 2012 was convicted and sentenced to 28 years imprisonment for masterminding the Naroda Patiya massacre, in which 97 people were butchered. She is out on bail since 2014.
Incidentally, Kodnani had not listed Shah as a witness in the Naroda Patiya case.
Asked by the prosecution as to why he didn’t depose in that case, Shah said he was not called for testifying.
While her plea for having Shah as a witness was approved in April, Kodnani got the summons served only earlier in the week. She had sought time from the court on multiple occasions claiming she was unable to locate her party chief.
What did Shah achieve?
While Shah’s testimony didn’t really provide an alibi for Kodnani, his mere appearance as a defence witness did send the signal that the party stands by its leaders, even those who are facing charges of murder and rioting.
This expression of solidarity with a leader convicted for orchestrating communal violence assumes political significance in the run-up to the Assembly elections in Gujarat. Given the lackluster performance of the state government and the anger among the Patel community, it is said that only a communal polarisation can ensure an emphatic victory for the BJP in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Shah.
Shah’s testimony for Kodnani is part of the party’s bid to reach out to its core base and counter allegations that the top leadership left the 2002 riots accused to fend for themselves.
The party, however, insists that Shah “being a law abiding citizen” was duty bound to appear after being summoned to testify by the court.