Monday July 22, 2024

India battles rogue label after assassination allegations in Canada, US

December 03, 2023

NEW DELHI: When Canada accused India of killing a citizen on its soil, New Delhi dismissed the allegations as “absurd”. Relations plunged and diplomats were expelled.

This week, after an Indian national was charged with plotting to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in the United States, commentators noted New Delhi’s response to its superpower ally and largest trading partner was “starkly different”.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Khalistani Sikh leader, a separatist Khalistan Sikh leader, who was murdered in June this year near Vancouver.. — AFP
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Khalistani Sikh leader, a separatist Khalistan Sikh leader, who was murdered in June this year near Vancouver.. — AFP

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said it was a “matter of concern” and a special committee had been set up -- a “pointer to how seriously” it is being taken, the Hindustan Times wrote in an editorial this week. But, despite New Delhi’s “starkly different” and “much more cooperative” reaction, journalist Shubhajit Roy feared it would “cast a shadow” on the key relations. “The depth of its strategic ties with the US give it some manoeuvring room, but New Delhi has its task cut out,” Roy wrote in the Indian Express.

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- who revelled in centre-stage attention hosting G20 leaders in September -- the assassination allegations threaten to puncture well-crafted efforts to burnish his image abroad. “It will create a greater wariness in dealing with Modi,” said Hartosh Singh Bal, executive editor at The Caravan magazine, suggesting the charges would result in a reduction of intelligence sharing with New Delhi. “What India stands accused of is rogue behaviour and it will leave allies unwilling to trust a leadership that is willing to act so,” he told AFP.

Both cases centre on radical Sikh separatists living abroad, but promoting an independent state called Khalistan in the northern Indian state Punjab, where New Delhi crushed an insurgency three decades ago.

The US Justice Department on Wednesday unsealed murder-for-hire charges against Nikhil Gupta, 52, “in connection with his participation in a foiled plot to assassinate a US citizen” of Indian origin in New York City.

The Financial Times reported that US authorities had thwarted a conspiracy to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US and Canadian citizen. He was also a close ally of fellow Sikh separatist and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, before he was gunned down by masked assailants in June near Vancouver.

The Hindu newspaper charged Friday. “If top officials had no inkling about the ‘plots’... it is also a matter of grave incompetence and ‘rogue’ officers”, it added.

But while potentially damaging on the international stage, domestic politics dance to a different tune.

For Hindu nationalist leader Modi, seeking reelection next year, the reports may serve to bolster an image of strength to his fans.