Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah on Monday appeared before a special court in Ahmedabad as a defence witness for for ex-Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani, an accused in the 2002 Naroda Gam riots case, and said that he had met her in the state assembly in Gandhinagar on the day the incident took place.
Shah told special court judge P B Desai that he had later on February 28, 2002 had met Kodnani at the Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, where bodies of 59 'karsevaks' killed in the Sabarmati Express train fire a day earlier had been brought to.
The BJP chief, however, told the judge that he did not know where Kodnani went to from the hospital after the police escorted them for some distance away from it.
Both Shah and Kodnani were BJP MLAs in 2002.
Fifty-two-year-old Kodnani has been charged with offences including murder, attempt to murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy in the Naroda Gam case.
In 2012, she was convicted and sentenced to 28 years in jail in the Naroda Patiya riots case in which 96 people were killed during the riots. She is at present out on bail.
Naroda Gam was one of the nine major 2002 communal riots cases investigated by a Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team.
Eleven Muslims were killed in the Naroda Gam area on February 28, 2002, a day after 59 karsevaks returning to Gujarat from Ayodhya were killed in a fire inside a three-tier coach of the Sabarmati Express train near the Godhra railway station. A total of 82 people are facing trial in the case.
The riots had started in Naroda Gam area on the morning of February 28 and continued till late in the afternoon.
Kodnani had filed an application in the court seeking summoning of Shah as a defence witness to prove her 'alibi' -- that she was present in the assembly and later at the Sola Civil Hospital on the day of the riots and not at the Naroda Gam area.
Shah told the court that he had gone to the assembly on February 28, 2002 to attend the session which started at 8.30 am, and Kodnani was present in the House.
A resolution was passed in the assembly condemning in the strongest possible terms the incident of burning of the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express near the Godhra railway station a day before in which 59 karsevaks had died, he said.
Shah said he then went to the Sola hospital after receiving calls that bodies of the karsevaks had been brought to the hospital, where autopsies were also being conducted.
"As the Sola Civil Hospital is in my constituency, I reached there between 9.30 am to 9.45 am," he submitted.
"Maya Kodnani met us at the Sola Civil Hospital," he said.
The crowd there was very agitated due to the killing of the karsevaks and had surrounded the hospital, the BJP chief said.
"The police were escorting Mayaben out of the hospital when I first saw her at the hospital between 11.15 to 11.30 am," he said.
"They also escorted me out of the hospital along with Mayaben for some distance away in their vehicle, and dropped me at Gota Cross Road, but she was still in the (police) jeep," Shah said.
"After that I went to my home and I don't know where she went to," the BJP president said.
Shah told the court that he had no idea if Kodnani had gone to the civil hospital directly after attending the Assembly, and that he had no knowledge of where she went to after the two were escorted out of the hospital by the police.
He also said that he saw one Natubhai Vaghela and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaideep Patel, who is also an accused in the case, at the hospital.
He replied in negative when asked if he had ever been to Naroda Gam, but said he had passed through it several times.
Shah also told the court that he did not know the distance between Naroda Gam and the Assembly.
He denied claims that he came to depose as a defence witness for Kodnani because she was from the same political party to which he belongs.
When the SIT counsel Suresh Shah asked him why he did not depose as a defence witness in the Naroda Patiya case, Shah said he did not receive summons for the same.
He replied in the affirmative to a question if he knew about a notification issued by the SIT on the basis of a Supreme Court order that anyone can depose before it regarding the riots.
He also said that he knew Mayaben was a convict in the Naroda Patiya case.
Shah was the last witness to be examined in the case. A total of 187 prosecution witnesses and 57 defence witnesses have been examined in the case till Monday.
Now the court will begin hearing of arguments from both the sides before pronouncing its judgement.
Kodnani had earlier told the court that on the day of the Naroda Gam riots near Ahmedabad, she had visited the Sola hospital after attending the assembly and was not present at the spot where the violence took place.
A witness had also told the court that Shah, who was an MLA, was also present at the Sola hospital where bodies of the karsevaks killed in the Sabarmati train incident were brought from Godhra.
Another defence witness had told the court that Kodnani had gone to her nursing home at around one pm after leaving the Sola hospital.
Kodnani had claimed that she was present at all the three places before leaving for her home and did not go to Naroda Gam even once on that day.
She had sought Shah's testimony to help prove her 'alibi' that she was present elsewhere when the crime took place, she had said.
Kodnani, who was an MLA in 2002, was made a junior minister in Chief Minister Narendra Modi's government in 2007.
Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court had asked the special court to conclude the trial within four months.
A bench of the apex court had asked the trial court to complete recording of evidence of defence witnesses in two months.
Photograph: PTI Photo