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What Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Pannun’s failed murder attempt means for India-US ties?

The Indian Government is faced with a dilemna as allegation of murdering, attempting to murder Khalistani separatist on foreign soil mount with US now joining Canada in allegations. An India designated ‘terrorist’, and pro-Khalistan leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is now at the crux of possible bitterness in ties between India and US, if the former does not tread carefully. 

US recently charged an Indian man- Nikhil Gupta- with plotting to assassinate Pannun in American soil. The bid to murder the Khalistani separatist was thwarted by US agencies, as reported by US daily Financial Times. 

Even though India took suo moto charge, only hours before US indicted the Indian national of attempting to kills an US citizen, by announcing the establishment of a high-level probe committee looking into allegations, New Delhi’s reaction to the allegations were starkly different from how it had replied to Canada. 

The US chargesheet has linked the alleged India Government hired Nikhil Gupta to the June murder of yet another Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada. However, India rejected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claims of ‘credible allegation’ as ‘absurd’, it jumped to action when a similar allegation arose out of US. 

Does India fear ruining their ties with US, as was witnessed in case with Canada?

The India-US ties are far deep seated than it was with Canada. However, the question arises whether the ties will be value based, as the US Democrats favour it, or will it be interest based, as former US President Donald trump favoured it? 

According to the US indictment, in or about May 2023, the Indian official recruited one Nikhil Gupta to kill Pannun. This was the month when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had travelled to Hiroshima to attend the G7 and Quad leaders’ summit along with US President Joe Biden.

At this time India-US Defence Industrial Cooperation Roadmap was concluded, which seeks to fast-track technology cooperation and co-production in areas of mutual interest.

Notably, the US indictment charges mention Nikhil Gupta being in correspondence with an Indian government official who described themselves a “Senior Field Officer” with responsibilities in “Security Management” and “Intelligence.”  In the allegations to murder ‘victim’ Khalistani separatist Pannun, Indian Government received the most direct allegations from US. 

India seems to have taken a rather co-operative approach when Khalistani murder allegations came from President Joe Biden-led administration, as opposed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations. 

The US Democrats have always based their agenda on values over interest and this creates a dilemma as an dual US-Canada citizen was the ‘victim’ of Indian recruitment of Nikhil Gupta in murder-for-hire plot. 

The allegations also come at a time when India and US are attempting to seal their ties even further in order to counter China and Xi Jinping’s belligerence in the Indo-Pacific region. 

This raises the stakes for both sides. 

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Updated: 01 Dec 2023, 08:44 PM IST

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