A special court has sentenced former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani to 28 years in prison for her role in one of India’s worst religious riots.
Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty for Kodnani, who was among a group of 32 people convicted on Friday with “beating, cutting down, burning alive and causing the deaths of women, men and children”, in an episode of the Gujarat riots known as the Naroda Patiya massacre in 2002.
The court has ordered that Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, a youth of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad, will remain in jail for the rest of his life.
Seven of the 32 convicted have been sentenced to 21 years in jail by the court in Ahmedabad for their role in the episode in which 97 people were killed.
In some of India’s worst inter-faith clashes since independence in 1947, about 2,000 people died in a wave of anti-Muslim unrest triggered by a train fire in which 60 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive.
One witness alleged Kodnani, who became a minister in the state government five years after the riots, identified Muslim targets to be attacked and at one point fired a pistol.
Kodnani’s conviction comes as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prepares for elections in Gujarat.
Narendra Modi who is leader of the economic powerhouse state, is often touted as a future prime minister.
Modi, Gujarat’s chief minister since 2001, has always denied any wrongdoing in connection with the riots, but has never expressed any remorse or offered any apologies.
The Congress party, in power nationally, signalled the case would likely feature in its Gujarat election campaign, saying Kodnani’s conviction was proof of the BJP’s involvement in the riots.
The BJP said the court ruling was proof that the state’s criminal justice system was free from bias.
A 2005 federal government inquiry concluded that the train fire had been an accident probably started by people cooking in one of the carriages and was not the result of an attack.
A commission of inquiry set up in 2008 by the Gujarat state government determined that it was the result of a conspiracy.
A 2008 state inquiry exonerated Modi over the riots.
A special investigation team (SIT) was set up by the Indian supreme court to investigate some of the most prominent riot cases.
In November 2011, 31 people were sentenced to life in prison over the killings of 33 Muslims in a single house during the riots.