India

India facing ‘rogue’ label after assassination of Sikh leader in Canada, attempted murder of another in US

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, wrote a French based news agency.

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”.

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 gives 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 the French news agency.

While Washington has embraced India as an ally in the face of a rising China, accusations of murder plots threaten to throw the relationship off balance.

“US officials must now grapple with the possibility that one of its most important strategic partners attempted an extrajudicial operation on US soil,” Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center, told the news agency.

“It’s an unsettling realisation, and it will linger.”

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 Khalistani leader and Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, before he was gunned down by masked assailants in June near Vancouver.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went public with his allegations against India. Canada also suspended negotiations for a free-trade agreement with India.

“Canada went public with its allegations, while the United States took them up quietly and privately,” Kugelman said.

“If the government had knowingly authorised the targeting of Sikh separatists… then that implies a dramatic change in Indian policy, which it should be more upfront about”, 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.

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