Facing murder, abetment to murder and arson charges, Kodnani has, ironically, a pathology lab owner for company in SIT custody — Jaydeep Patel, a VHP leader — who is accused of similar charges in the 2002 Naroda Gam carnages and was arrested with her.
Kodnani, who was the state Minister for Women and Child Development until her mentor Modi finally had to let her resign on Friday, comes from a refugee Sindhi family with strong saffron roots.
Daughter of a teacher and RSS worker, Kodnani had her early education in a school in Deesa, a dusty town between Ahmedabad and noted pilgrimage centre Ambaji in Banaskantha district. The Gujarati-medium school where she studied was set up and run by her father who had settled down in the town after fleeing in 1947 from the Tharparkar area of Sindh province, now in Pakistan.
Kodnani was actively associated with the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, women's wing of the RSS, since the time she joined the Baroda Medical College from where she did her MBBS and Diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics.
She drew closer to the RSS after returning to Ahmedabad some 20 years ago to set up Shivam Maternity Hospital at Kubernagar in Naroda, the area with a sizeable Sindhi population. A good orator, Kodnani was soon popular among local Sangh leaders. It did not take long for the BJP to fix her as its candidate for Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) elections from Saijpur ward in 1995— Kodnani’s first step into active politics.
The BJP had captured the AMC from the Congress in that poll and Kodnani, with her medical background, was made deputy chairperson of AMC's health committee. From 1997 to 1998, she was the first woman chairperson of the AMC's Standing Committee.
She did not have to look back since then. In the 1998 Assembly elections, she got elected as the BJP legislator from Naroda by a huge margin of 75,000. Such was her popularity and organisational skills that she was made general secretary of the Gujarat Pradesh BJP Mahila Morcha between 1997 and 1998. Subsequently, she was appointed the chief of the party’s Mahila Morcha unit from 1998 to 2000.
She actually bettered her winning margin in the December 2002 Assembly elections, which was fought against the backdrop of the riots barely nine months earlier, and defeated her Congress rival by 1.10 lakh votes.
Her constituency, ironically, was among the worst-hit during the communal riots. She won the assembly elections again in December 2007 posting a margin of 1.80 lakh, the highest in the state.
Narendra Modi wasted no time taking her into his Cabinet, widely believed to be at the behest of L K Advani. With this, she became the first Sindhi leader to be a Gujarat minister since the state was founded in 1960.
Though witnesses had named her as one of the accused in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam massacres, Gujarat police merely questioned her and claimed to have found no evidence against her in 2003.
But Kodnani’s troubles began with the appointment of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) by the Supreme Court to probe the nine most heinous post-Godhra riot cases. The Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam cases figured in those. There were many discrepancies between the statements Kodnani made to SIT sleuths on December 28, 2008 and what her cell-phone records suggested about her movements on February 28, 2002, the day riots broke out in Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam — first reported by The Indian Express.
The SIT summoned Kodnani on January 29 and again on January 31.
Among other discrepancies, her statements also differed from the depositions of a police inspector posted in the area during the riots had made before the SIT.
Fearing her arrest, the minister went underground on February 2, 2009, while the SIT began looking for her.
Maya Kodnani’s husband Surendra Kodnani is a general physician practising in Saijpur area of Ahmedabad. The couple has a son who studies in the US.