12/22/2023, 15.14
Send to a friend

Delhi, the Sikhs, and relations with Washington

After Canada, the United States has released information suggesting that Indian officials and Indian national are involved in plots to kill activists fighting for the creation of Khalistan, an independent state for Sikhs. Indian PM Modi responded recently to the allegations using cautious tones, but also highlighting the growing radicalisation of the Sikh diaspora. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is a key figure.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Last month the United States accused India of devising a plan to assassinate a separatist activist on US territory. The man in question is fighting for the secession of Indian State of Punjab to create Khalistan, a Sikh-majority country.

This week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi commented on the matter for the first time.  Speaking to the Financial Times, he said that India will “definitely look into” any evidence provided by other countries.

If any Indian citizen did “anything good or bad", he explained, India would investigate it. “Our commitment is to the rule of law,” he insisted, adding that such issues would not undermine diplomatic relations between Delhi and Washington.

At the same, Modi questioned the US stand on freedom of speech, noting that his government is "deeply concerned about the activities of certain extremist groups based overseas" who, "under the guise of freedom of expression, have engaged in intimidation and incited violence”.

Modi’s remarks are much more cautious and balanced than those he made a few months ago, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Delhi in connection with the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, another Sikh separatist with Canadian citizenship who was found dead in June. At that time, Delhi rejected the claim as "absurd".

According to the US Department of Justice, an Indian citizen, Nikhil Gupta, hired a hitman for US$ 100,000 to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a lawyer and spokesman for Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a separatist organisation founded in 2007 and banned in India in 2019.

Nikhil Gupta, 52, is currently in a prison in Prague, Czech Republic. The United States believes he was recruited by an Indian official not only to eliminate Pannun, but also to kill another person in California and at least three more in Canada as part of a wider conspiracy. For this reason, Washington has submitted an extradition request to Czech authorities.

For their part, Gupta's family has turned to the Supreme Court to intervene to get him released, but Czech authorities responded saying that India had no jurisdiction in the matter.

Yesterday, India's Ministry of External Affairs announced that it has had consular access  to Gupta on at least three occasions.

India has never hidden its animosity towards Pannun. In the wake of US allegations, Delhi said that Pannun "is wanted for violation of the law."

“A high-level inquiry committee has been formed to investigate the allegation and address the US government's security concerns,” External Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi said.

Pannun is accused of terrorism and sedition, and his assets in the cities of Amritsar and Chandigarh, Punjab, were seized in September.

In the early 1990s, he joined the movement for an independent Khalistan when he was still a university student. He later moved to the United States, where, after a master's degree in management, he worked as a business analyst on Wall Street.

After he joined SFJ, he began to criticise Indian politicians and celebrities who spoke against Sikh activism while visiting the United States; on such occasions, Pannun called for the application of a US law of 1789 that allows US courts to try cases related to human rights abuses committed in other parts of the world by non-US citizens.

In recent years, the Sikh diaspora, which is concentrated in the United States and Canada, has organised several referenda (with no legal import) for the creation of the independent Khalistan, actions that Delhi has always opposed.

The “Indian government and the Modi regime want to kill me, they want to eliminate me for running the global Khalistan referendum voting campaign," Pannun told Time magazine in a recent interview.

This is not the first time that the Sikh separatist has used very harsh tones against the Indian government. In videos posted online by SFJ, Pannun can be seen offering rewards to those who write anti-Indian graffiti, hoist Khalistani flags on government buildings, or desecrate the flag of India.

In other posts, he threatened to “shake the very foundation of Indian parliament,” but also directly addressed Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah calling for their death.

In other videos, he tells Hindus in Canada to "go back to India” and vowed to "avenge the death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar”.

"Pannun works on optics and through his videos on social media, he attempts to instil fear in the minds of our citizens," a retired Indian intelligence official told the BBC.

"But he's clever, he's a lawyer and chooses his words carefully to avoid falling foul of the law." Until a few years ago, Pannun was more of a "nuisance", but now "he's being taken more seriously”.


Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
Visa services for Canadians suspended as row over Sikhs intensifies
21/09/2023 18:33
Indian spy agency fingered for targeted killings in Pakistan
19/04/2024 18:53
Pope talks about the Middle East, the Holy Land and the food crisis with Bush
Sikhs in Canada call for a referendum on Khalistan's independence
14/10/2022 15:04
India urges UK to monitor more closely Sikh separatists
12/04/2023 18:18


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”