10 Years in the Making: Was Justice Served?
Image Credit: Al Jazeera English (Flickr, Creative Commons)

10 Years in the Making: Was Justice Served?


The wheels of justice have finally moved in the Gujarat riot case of 2002 that claimed more than a thousand lives and rendered hundreds of people homeless. In a landmark judgment last week, a trial court in the state capital of Ahmedabad convicted thirty two people- including a minister and a legislator from the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)- for their roles in the massacre of 97 people in the Naroda Patiya suburb.

Many of the victims were drawn from the Muslim minority community and included hapless women, children, and elderly people. Thirty of those convicted last week were sentenced to life imprisonment while the most high profile person on trial, former Minister Maya Kodnani, received 28 years in prison after being charged with inciting mob violence and murder.

In 2002 the whole state of Gujarat was submerged in communal violence following the burning of a train in Godhra that claimed the lives of several dozen Hindu pilgrims. It is still not clear how the train initially caught on fire but extremist Hindu’s used the incident as a pretext to attack the Muslim population of the state. Violence against Muslims continued for more than three months and it was widely reported and documented at that time that the large scale sectarian murder was done with the acquiesce of, if not outright instruction from, the state government led by BJP Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.

Many cite the 2002 Gujarat riot as one of the primary factors contributing to the BJP-led government’s defeat in the  2004 national elections.

Commenting on the verdict, Shoma Chaudhury of the English weekly Tehelka noted that the Naroda Patiya verdict, “comes as vindication for all those who resist. It is a hard-won victory, with hard-won messages. The conviction of Maya Kodnani, a former minister in the Narendra Modi government, and Babu Bajrangi, a favored man in the Sangh Parivar (Hindu right family), is the first time that the slow eye of justice has looked higher than the foot-soldiers; the first time it has singed the planners and conspirators of the riots. It brings hope that if the fight is resolute enough, justice can be had. It preserves the idea of India.”

However, this is the first time in the last ten years that the court has prosecuted politicians from the Hindu nationalist right-wing parties for their role in the 2002 riots. Indeed, up until now many have been rewarded for their participation in the riots. A good example is Kodnani, who, before receiving a life sentence last week, was later made minister despite the glaring evidence of her involvement in the Naroad Patiya massacre.

These transgressions raise the question of whether Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the state, who is positioning himself to be the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in 2014, has been complicit in the matter. His image is almost certain to be tarnished and his ambition for the highest office negatively impacted by these suspicions, although it remains unclear to what degree it will hurt his chances of winning.

Ashish Khetan, a journalist who conducted a sting operation in 2007 against the man accused in the riot cases writes that, “the dark truth is that there are far more unanswered questions that dangle over Modi’s head for his role in the 2002 riots. Until they are answered, these questions continue to hold an entire nation to ransom.”

Recently, Modi has been seeking to revamp his image by painting himself as the development figurehead of the country given that his time as state minister of Gujarat has coincided with a sustained level of 7% growth in that state. Critics, however, point out that Gujarat has always had a robust growth rate and contend that the BJP leader is only touting his economic achievements to hide his involvement in the 2002 riots.

The Naroda Patya verdict also comes at a time when the BJP has launched a high profile campaign against Prime Minister Singh over his involvement in an alleged coal scam that has resulted in the loss of an estimated U.S. $35 billion, according the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), the main auditor of the government. Some political analysts believe the BJP is using the campaign as a way to divert public attention from the verdicts in the cases tied to the Guajarat riot.

There are many cases like Naroda Patiya pending in the different courts in Gujarat.

The nation still remembers that BJP’s first term in power in New Delhi (1998-2004) coincided with the Gujarat riot, an event that severely tarnished India’s secular credentials. If India needs robust economic growth, it also needs a strong, pluralistic, and secular society to maintain its existence as a nation, to maintain what is often called the “idea of India.”

The verdict should make Indians think long and hard -should they vote for a party or individual who threatens the very idea of India, or rather choose a secular alternative where the country’s future remains in safe hands.

October 5, 2012 at 16:07

@Sanjay: How do you visualize India in 2080 and your grandson is going to live? He will be living in a place where it will be half Muslims, wearing Arab costumes, celebrating Islamic festivals, and a dull Diwali, Dhuserra celebrations, protests by Muslims destroying Hindus life and properties for any issues that might even in the slightest of way talk bad about Islam and many spying for Pakistan (Tasleem Ansari) with no condemnation by any political parties except Hindu parties that will be termed extremists. If you want to be secular and live with Islam go live in Pakistan or Afganistan or Iraq or Iran or Sudan or Ethiopia or Somali, or Egypt and then talk about Secularism. Else if you feel Christian countries are better put your son in UK or US schools where he can become a father of Child at the age of 16 or be abused by any bishop, or teacher. Secularism is for Indian religions which teaches tolerance and not to Islam (no tolorence) or Christianism (sick culture). Kindly dont write further articles.

Syed Aarim
April 8, 2014 at 04:47

hey, u hve alot ov misconceptions about muslims, if u read ur vaids thn u vl get to knw that our religion is vry similar, nd u hve vry much misconcptions that, muslims vl do this, nd dat ! Muslims vl nvr do this thng evr, coz its not allowd in there religion until they r harmed by other religion ! so bettr u clear ur concepts ! nd i m hving many hindu not friends but best friends ! we nvr fought wid each othr nd vl nvr fi8 ! all r equal nd hve ri8 to do wat they want ! its an int, law , so wat u say that in 2080, this this vl hppn its jxt ur misconception, no one can bcme a muslim until he accepts islam by his heart no one can be be a muslim forcefully ! so , we both nations r fi8ing wid out any reasons ! we dnt hve any issue wid u hindus, we all r same ! jxt sum ov our religious belifs r diffrnt othervise, we eat same, wear same, tawk same, ! evrythng is same ! so apny dil sai dushmani nikal dain nd be a prsn who luvs, peace nd harmony :) :)

H Jain
September 8, 2012 at 06:05

My respect for 'The Diplomat' reduces, when I see them publishing repeated articles by Mr. Sanjay Kumar who is so clearly biased towards in all his writings . (I hope it's not he case of being paid media by a political party)

September 7, 2012 at 13:32

The claim that "It is still not clear how the train initially caught on fire" is nefarious at worst when there are hundreds of eye witness testimony describing how a large radical Islamist mob attacked the train and set fire to the compartment. Yet shoddy journalists continue to be deliberately obtuse!
It's unbelievable anybody so blatantly partisan and obtuse can actually manage to make a career out of publishing articles! To actually try to peddle Congress platitudes and pseudo secular drivel in the guise of representing Indian "ideals" is outrageous . After reading this article I am more determined than ever to vote BJP so deluded self righteous pseudo secularists and Congress sychophants like Sanjay Kumar can be put back in their cage of obscuirity where they rightfully belong. It is disturbing that a foreign policy blog like the Diplomat would allow such partisan political blather to grace its pages. They might as well call Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannit to write articles now and I'm sure they'll be far more deft in their  rhetoric than Sanjay Kumar is in his crude propaganda and his dubious "idea of india" speil.
The only people still interested in the episode are Congress supporters and pseudo secularists organizations like Tehelka magazine which earned its chops exposing corruption during the NDA rule but apparently has seen fit to dedicate its entire existence now to harassing Narendra Modi while the UPA government has multi-billion dollar scams every week rattling it yet Tehelka doesn't seem to want to bother with such petty things as Congress corruption with any of its guerilla journalism.

A J Majumdar
September 6, 2012 at 15:56

There are two issues involved.
1. the administration of criminal justice. Sadly, the record of prosecution is very poor. BJP govt. had a programme of establishing a number of first track courts. UPA1 cancelled it. They pleaded that there was not enough money.  Bur they can dole out trillions to cronies.
2. You like it or not, Narendra Modi is gaining in stature. The polls conducted by media inimical to him confirms it. Introduction of the argument that Hitler too won votes, would be stupid. His stature is growing after Godhara and its aftermath. The essayist and the persons he has quoted would do well to ponder whether their trumpery in doubting that Hindus were burnt in the train has not made Hindus root for Modi. Of course his brilliance in running Gujarat too has mattered. 
3. Musalmans can kill, and Hindus are expected to be resigned – the idea cultivated by Nehru is now hated by many.

September 6, 2012 at 01:00

This article is not at all balanced.
You call the Congress secular ? Well, what about the 1984 sikh riots ? Not one conviction of the politicians responsible.
Shame on you, you miserable congress supporter.

September 6, 2012 at 00:45

@ Sanjay Kumar,
Which "idea of India" are you talking about ….. ?  
Is it the "idea of India" conceived by the Congress Party led by  Nehru, that was the architect of the Article 370 of Indian constitution, that eventually reduced India to a sham democracy of muslim appeasement and vote bank politics …… where half the population go without food 66 years after independence, let alone education, health care and drinking water ……. and the country is being looted in the name of democracy by a few individuals in power , while the media is hand-in-glove with these same visionless, spineless and corrupt individuals ………. ?
The nation was divided in the name of homeland to the muslims in Pakistan. What constitutional protection has been guaranteed to the Hindus in India in the same fashion ……. ?    why are the native people in the NE are being pushed out by the muslim immigrants, while the vote-bank loving Congress party watching for the past 66 years …… ?  

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief