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Former BJP minister Maya Kodnani was on Wednesday held guilty along with 31 others in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, becoming the first MLA to be convicted for the 2002 Gujarat riots. The special riot court also convicted Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi in what was the worst massacre of the riots, leaving 97 dead.
The court let off 29 of the 61 accused, giving them the benefit of doubt. The quantum of sentence is expected to be announced on Friday. The Supreme Court-appointed SIT that investigated the case has sought the death penalty.
Kodnani and Bajrangi were convicted for murder, conspiracy and for provoking a riot and other charges. For the first time after the 2002 Bilqis Bano case, three people were convicted for gangrape. The total of 32 convicted is the largest number for any of the cases associated with the riots. In the Godhra carnage case, 31 had been convicted.
Dismissing demand for Chief Minister Narendra Modi's resignation, the Gujarat government distanced itself from Kodnani, saying she had not been a minister when the incident occurred. "Let me be very clear that the MLA is not a state government functionary as you are trying to make out. Secondly, Maya Kodnani was not a minister when this incident took place," government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said.
He added that Gujarat was not the first state to have seen such a judgment against an MLA or a minister. In Delhi, the BJP said the party respects the judicial system. "To question the judicial verdict on the streets is a culture of the Congress," party spokesperson Tarun Vijay said.
Kodnani, who is possibly also the first woman to be held guilty for the riots, broke down in court on hearing the verdict and cried through the proceedings. Her assistant Kirpalsingh Chhabda was among those convicted.