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The curious case of Maya Kodnani

March 30, 2009 09:55 IST

She saw it all coming when the Gujarat High Court cancelled her anticipatory bail on March 27. Riot ghosts have revisited Gujarat's Minister of State for Higher Education Mayaben Kodnani, as she hung her political boots and surrendered before the police.

Kodnani is accused of leading a rioting mob in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gram area of Ahmedabad. More than 100 people were lynched. Earlier, the Special Investigation Team, appointed by the Supreme Court, had declared Kodnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaideep Patel as absconding.

Political observers feel that Kodnani's arrest will help the Bharatiya Janata Party project a more 'secular and fair' image.

Maya Kodnani, the BJP MLA from Naroda, is a practising gynaecologist, whose clinic is barely a kilometre from the site of the Naroda-Patiya massacre.

Kodnani ran a clinic with her husband in Naroda area much before her political career took off in 1995. A good orator and often seen as a soft-spoken person, she was familiar with the functioning of the Sangh, as her father, a school teacher, was an active RSS worker.

She had been actively associated with the women's wing of the RSS, Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, since her college days in Baroda Medical College.

The BJP fielded her as their woman candidate for the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation elections from the Saijpur ward in 1995. She won the elections and was appointed the deputy chairperson of AMC's health committee. Later, she went on to become the first woman chairperson of AMC's standing committee.

From then, her political career saw no point of return until the appointment of the SIT on the Supreme Court's orders to probe the most-heinous post-Godhra riot cases. In the 1998 assembly elections, she was elected as the BJP legislator from the Naroda seat.

Despite her alleged role in the Gujarat riots, she won the assembly elections again in December 2007 by the highest winning margin.

She is known to have been close to former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who led the rebel group in Gujarat against the Modi government in the past. A source even claimed that the rebel camp leaders held meetings at her bungalow in Shahibaug. Kodnani, however, switched her loyalty to Chief Minister Narendra Modi later on, according to the same source.

Kodnani has won thrice from the Naroda assembly constituency.

Interestingly, her name did not appear in the list of ministers initially after the 2007 elections. Demonstrations were held outside the chief minister's office to include her in the cabinet.

Kodnani became the first Sindhi leader to be given a ministerial portfolio when none other than BJP stalwart LK Advani urged that her name be included in the list, sources familiar with the development said.

Image: Police escort Kodnani after she was arrested in Gandhinagar.
Photograph: Reuters

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Maulik Pathak in New Delhi