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Former India minister jailed 28 years for Gujarat riots

The principal judge, Jyotsna Yagnik, called Maya Kodnani "the kingpin of the religious riots".

Maya Kodnani arrives at court for her sentencing on Friday.
Maya Kodnani arrives at court for her sentencing on Friday.

NEW DELHI // A former Gujarat state minister burst into tears when sentenced to 28 years in prison yesterday for her role in riots that led to the deaths of 97 Muslims in 2002.

Maya Kodnani, who was convicted on Wednesday for murder and other charges including inciting religious hatred, was given separate sentences of 10 years and 18 years, to be served consecutively.

The principal judge, Jyotsna Yagnik, called the former minister "the kingpin of the religious riots".

"In a way she has helped the entire crime," Judge Yagnik said.

Thirty-one others were also sentenced yesterday.

Babu Bajrangi, a leader of a Hindu right-wing group called the Bajrang Dal, received the longest sentence - life without parole.

The others were also sentenced to life imprisonment, but some will be eligible for release after 24 years, and others after 31 years.

Kodnani was led out of the court crying.

The prosecutors had sought capital punishment, arguing that the brutality in the case was among the "rarest of rare" necessary for the death penalty in India.

The riot, which took place in the Ahmedabad suburb of Naroda Patiya in February 2002 as one of many across Gujarat, was triggered by the deaths of nearly 60 Hindu pilgrims in train fire that was initially blamed on Muslims.

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Hindus rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods in some of India's worst religious riots.

Human rights groups say more than 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were hacked, beaten or burnt to death, while government figures put the toll at about 1,000.

More than 100 others have been convicted for killing Muslims during the riots.

Bajrangi was caught on video boasting about passing out weapons and ordering people to kill Muslims.

The convictions were expected to deliver a political blow to Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. Mr Modi, who has been in office since 2001, made Kodnani a minister in his cabinet well after allegations against her began to surface.

But Madhav Nalapat, a professor of geopolitics at Manipal University, said Mr Modi would survive Kodnani's conviction.

"If 1984 did not hurt Rajiv Gandhi, the reality is that this is unlikely to hurt Narendra Modi," he said, referring to the deaths of hundreds during anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Gandhi, the prime minister.

Teesta Setalvad, an activist who lobbied for rioters to be prosecuted, told the CNN-IBN television channel: "The judge has also made very strong observations about communal violence … calling it a cancer that is eroding our society, and this is a very welcome observation."


* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse