Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured that India would thoroughly investigate any evidence presented regarding its alleged involvement in an assassination plot in the United States. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, he addressed the November incident where a US charge implicated an Indian individual in a conspiracy to murder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist leader in New York.
Mr. Modi emphasized that these allegations would not strain the relationship between India and the US, stating, “If a citizen of ours has done anything good or bad, we are ready to look into it. Our commitment is to the rule of law.”
The target, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, holds dual US-Canadian citizenship and actively supports the Khalistan movement, advocating for a separate Sikh state. US prosecutors alleged that Nikhil Gupta, a man associated with the Indian government, paid $100,000 in cash to a hitman to assassinate Mr. Pannun.
India has labeled Pannun as a terrorist, while he maintains that he is an activist, denying the accusations. These developments occurred approximately two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of having links to the murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was shot dead in Canada in June.
India has vehemently denied these allegations, accusing Canada of providing shelter to “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” threatening its security. The diplomatic tensions have strained India-Canada relations, with Delhi asserting that Ottawa has not shared concrete evidence supporting its claims.
Trudeau revealed in an interview with Canada’s public broadcaster CBC that he went public with the allegations after weeks of private diplomacy, intending to “put a chill on India” and discourage potential agents from carrying out further attacks in Canada. He noted a change in India’s tone following the US’s similar allegations.
Despite these challenges, Prime Minister Modi expressed confidence in the positive trajectory of India-US relations. He stated, “There is strong bipartisan support for the strengthening of this relationship, which is a clear indicator of a mature and stable partnership.” Modi dismissed the idea of linking isolated incidents to diplomatic relations, asserting that it is inappropriate to do so.
Moreover, he highlighted India’s concerns about the “activities of certain extremist groups based overseas.” The government has consistently reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in Western countries for Khalistan. While the Khalistan movement witnessed its peak in India during the 1980s with a violent insurgency in Sikh-majority Punjab state, it has lost resonance within India. However, it still garners support among some members of the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the UK.
Experts suggest that these recent accusations of extra-judicial killings of Sikh separatists pose a potential threat to India’s growing ties with the US. Despite the challenges, Prime Minister Modi remains optimistic about the strength and stability of the partnership between the two nations.