Indian government is increasingly under fire for curbing dissent
he revelation by the United States Justice Department that an Indian official orchestrated a plot to assassinate pro-Khalistan leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannu in New York has strained India-US relations. The US indictment has also vindicated Canada in its recent dispute with India over the murder of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar on its soil in June.
The Justice Department has released a 15-page indictment detailing the involvement of Indian national Nikhil Gupta, who conspired to assassinate Pannu at the direction of an Indian government official.
According to the indictment, Gupta paid an individual to assist him in hiring a hit-man to carry out the assassination. This individual was a confidential source for the US Drug Enforcement Agency. The hit-man he introduced Gupta to was an undercover DEA officer. Gupta reportedly disclosed his role in Nijjar’s killing in Canada to both of these individuals, as outlined in the indictment. The indictment says that a day after Nijjar’s murder, Gupta told the undercover DEA agent that Nijjar was also a target, adding, “…We have many targets.”
There is now evidence that India’s secret agency has hired several hit-men to silence dissenting voices across the world. The US authorities possess human as well as incontrovertible digital evidence that the Indian intelligence agency was involved in planning, funding and executing operations in the US and Canada. The indictment shows that, initially, five targets were decided upon, three in the USA and two in Canada. It appears that India’s intelligence is willing to spend large amounts of money to eliminate its enemies and ready to risk its reputation.
Some Indian commentators have argued that if the US can eliminate its enemies, so can India. A prominent Indian activist writes on X, that if the US wants to create an environment of trust and partnership with India, it must not ignore India’s legitimate concerns. In response to Trudeau’s remarks, India downgraded its relations with Canada, suspended visas and expelled dozens of Canadian diplomats. However, in response to the US allegation, it adopted a different strategy, stating that extrajudicial killing is not its policy. To assuage the US, it has also constituted a committee to investigate the matter.
The reported killing in Canada and the thwarted plot in the US have upset the Western world and prompted concerns about India’s reliability as a strategic partner for Western governments. President Joe Biden has engaged in a conversation with Modi regarding the allegations and senior American diplomats and intelligence leaders have engaged in discussions with their Indian counterparts. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, Jake Sullivan, the US national security advisor, and William Burns, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, held meetings with their Indian counterparts to insist on accountability following Nijjar’s killing in a Vancouver suburb.
In recent months, around a dozen Pakistani citizens were mysteriously killed in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Rawalakot and tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is widely believed that their killing was planned, funded and executed by the people who also killed Nijjar in Canada.
To curb India’s pursuit of its political opponents across the Western world, two senior Research and Analysis Wing officers — the head of the RAW station in San Francisco and the second-in-command of its operations in London — were expelled earlier this summer.
Additionally, The Print has reported that the Indian government was not permitted to replace the RAW station chief in Washington, DC, after the incumbent retired in June. Furthermore, Ottawa has also requested the withdrawal of the RAW station chief from the country, attributing his involvement to the killing of a Sikh leader.
The Indian government is facing international scrutiny for the first time over allegations of running a transnational network to assassinate its opponents. A recent report by the US web magazine The Intercept, alleges that India’s RAW has been coordinating the murders of target individuals in Pakistan, using local criminal networks and assets based in the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. The report further contends that “In addition to Nijjar, in recent years, a number of Sikh activists have died in mysterious circumstances in the United Kingdom and Canada, prompting accusations from family members and others of Indian government involvement.”
The Modi government has tarnished India’s image worldwide by allegedly ordering the assassination of its political opponents. Such actions have rendered many countries pariah states, subject to intense international pressure and economic sanctions. Unlike India, where courts face interference from political leaders, the US and Canada uphold independent judicial processes. Despite India being a strategic ally and a purported counter-weight to China, it may have to undergo a judicial process in the days to come. This may expose more of its clandestine network in the US and other Western countries. India has to answer many questions to justify its global credibility.
The US and other Western countries must acknowledge that India has long been involved in extra-judicial killings. Recently, the conviction of Indian naval officers in Qatar for espionage is just a tip of iceberg. Many Kashmiri, Sikh and Christian activists have reportedly faced a fate similar to Nijjar’s. A serving Indian intelligence officer is currently in a Pakistani jail for fomenting terrorism in Balochistan. In recent months, around a dozen Pakistani citizens were mysteriously killed in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Rawalakot and tribal districts of Khybe Pakhtunkhwa. It is widely believed that their killings were planned, funded and executed by those who also killed Nijjar in Canada.
PM Modi’s inner circle includes hardliners like Amit Shah and Ajit Doval, who have been accused of involvement in encounter killings in Gujarat. If India is not held accountable and goes unchecked, it may set a bad precedent.
The writer is a freelance contributor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @ErshadMahmud