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2 Apr, 2024 17:39

New Delhi reacts to Washington’s ‘red line’ remark on Sikh activist murder plot

The foreign ministry emphasized “national security interests” as being behind India’s investigation of the US-based assassination attempt
New Delhi reacts to Washington’s ‘red line’ remark on Sikh activist murder plot

India is investigating an alleged attempt to assassinate the Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the US, as it involves its own “national security interests,” External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar asserted on Monday. 

His comments came after US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti spoke on the matter during a podcast on the Indian media network ANI, suggesting that “no government or government employee” can be involved in the assassination of a US citizen and calling it an “unacceptable red line.”

When asked about the US envoy’s comments, Jaishankar claimed India is investigating the issue “because we believe our own national security interests are involved in that investigation.” “The position of my government is that in this particular case, there has been certain information provided to us which we are investigating,” Jaishankar said. “As and when we have something to say on the investigation, we would be very glad to speak about it.”

New Delhi has set up a high-level panel to probe an alleged murder attempt against Pannun, a New York-based attorney who founded Sikhs for Justice (SFG), an NGO that advocates the creation of ‘Khalistan’, a separate nation-state for Sikhs, in the northern Indian state of Punjab.  India has designated Pannun a terrorist, as it views the Khalistan separatist movement as a threat to its sovereignty.

A US court, in its indictment last year, claimed that an Indian government official, who has not been named, had orchestrated the assassination plot, which was foiled by the FBI. Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national, was arrested by the Czech Republic on charges of attempting to hire a hitman to kill Pannun. The US is seeking his extradition.

Last week, Bloomberg News, citing unnamed sources, reported that India’s panel had found that rogue operatives were involved in the alleged assassination attempt. According to the report, at least one person who was directly involved is no longer working for India’s main spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). 

The US case has also been linked to the murder of another Sikh activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down by unknown assailants in British Columbia, Canada last year. Last September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linked the killing to “agents of the Indian government,” prompting New Delhi to reject the allegations as “absurd.” The incident sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.

New Delhi’s latest remarks come after Khalistan supporters organized a “referendum” in the US. Around 60,000 Sikhs gathered in Sacramento, California on March 30-31 to vote on independence from India in a non-binding referendum, according to various US media reports; Pannun’s NGO helped organize the event. 

Pannun himself reportedly addressed the crowd and criticized the Indian government, both under the rule of the Congress and BJP parties, for “atrocities against Sikhs.” A NPR report quoted another SFJ leader, Avtar Singh Pannu, as saying that after California, “the next stop for the referendum is New York.” 

India has repeatedly hit out against US, Canada and other countries with large Sikh populations for not taking action against Khalistan movement supporters, who have targeted Indian missions in the country, as well as Hindu temples and have openly called for actions against Indian diplomats and officials. Pannun himself has repeatedly threatened India and its citizens over the past several months, hinting at a possible attack on Air India flights and the Indian parliament.  

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