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Indian court orders ex-minister to prison
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (UPI) Sep 4, 2012

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An Indian court has sentenced a former state minister to 28 years in prison for her involvement in the deaths of 95 people during religious riots in Gujarat state a decade ago.

Former Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party politician Mayaben Kodnani was found guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy in what is known as the Naroda Patiya massacre, a report by New Delhi TV said.

The BJP -- in power during the riots and which faces a state election this year -- has been quick to point out that Kodnani wasn't a minister at the time of the riots.

Kodnani was appointed junior minister for women and child development in 2007 but resigned in 2009 when she was arrested over alleged involvement in the massacre.

A Special Investigation Team court sentenced Kodnani, still a member of the state legislature, to 18 years and 10 years imprisonment for arson, not to run concurrently, NDTV said.

Her sentence, along with that of 31 other defendants, ends a three-year trial regarding the Gujarat communal riots sparked off by a fire aboard the Sabarmati Express train in February 2002.

Fire erupted in two cars of the train while it was at Godhra station about 80 miles from Ahmedabad. A total of 58 Hindu pilgrims, including 27 women and 10 children, died in the fire.

The train fire set off sectarian rioting around Ahmedabad and other areas of Gujarat. Up to 1,200 people -- Muslims and Hindus -- were killed in the civil unrest that lasted until June 2002.

The day after the train fire, a mob of Hindus armed with guns, bombs and machetes killed 95 Muslims in Naroda Patiya, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Kodnani has been sentenced for her allegedly inciting the unrest.

The train fire is controversial because separate inquiries reached different conclusions about how it started.

A 2005 Supreme Court inquiry found the fire was an accident, started by passengers' cooking stoves. However, last year a Gujarat State Court convicted 31 Muslims for attacking the train and starting the fire. An inquiry set up by the state government said in 2008 that the burning of the train was a "conspiracy," a BBC report said.

Among the other defendants sentenced was Babu Bajrangi, leader of the hard-line youth organization Hindu Barang Dal, who was sentenced to life in prison, the Times of India reported.

Other defendants were sentenced to prison terms of 14-21 years.

By any standard, the Naroda Patiya riots were brutal, said Judge Jyotsna Yagnik who also called Kodnani "a kingpin of riots," the Press Trust of India reported.

"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," Yagnik said.

"The climax of this inhuman and brutal act of violence was reflected in [the] murder of an infant, who was 20 days old."

The sentencing has come at a politically sensitive time for the governing BJP and Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the party heads into a state election, battling the Congress Party, before the end of the year.

"It has been proved now that BJP's minister and officials were involved in the Gujarat riots. Everything that happened was at the behest of Narendra Modi," said federal Congress Party leader Digvijaya Singh.


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