Alleged New York plot to kill Sikh separatist 'will not harm India-US relations'

Security official Nikhil Gupta is accused of seeking to assassinate a US citizen who advocated a Sikh sovereign state

US authorities allege an Indian government official directed a plot to attempt to assassinate Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York. AP
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An alleged plot by an Indian government official to assassinate a Sikh separatist and US citizen on American soil is not expected to harm relations between the two countries.

Indian citizen Nikhil Gupta, 52, a security and intelligence official, plotted to assassinate a New York resident who advocated for a Sikh sovereign state in northern India, federal prosecutors in Manhattan said.

US officials have named the alleged target as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual citizen of the US and Canada, who is “of Indian origin”, said Damian Williams, senior federal prosecutor in Manhattan.

Mr Gupta is awaiting extradition after his arrest by Czech authorities in June.

It comes two months after Canada said there were “credible” allegations linking Indian agents to the June murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a Vancouver suburb. India has denied this.

Relations between Canada and India soured after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed there were “potential links” between India and the killing.

But the alleged US plot is not expected to have similar effects on Indian-US diplomacy, Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management consultancy's South Asia Terrorism Portal, told The National.

“I don't think it is going to have any drastic impact on the relationship,” he said.

“I think this is all part of the dynamic that was unleashed by earlier controversy with Canada – our relationship with Canada has deteriorated rapidly. Nothing of significance has happened as far as America is concerned.

“This is only one among many issues that India and the US have between them but the mutual interest of two countries at this juncture is so deeply intertwined that the impact is going to be very negligible.”

Nikhil Gupta issue 'examined' by India

The Indian government has set up a high-level inquiry committee to look into the issue and will take action based on its findings, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Shri Arindam Bagchi said.

He called the US court filing against Mr Gupta "a matter of concern". New Delhi will be guided by the committee's results, Mr Bagchi said.

“During our discussions with the US on bilateral security co-operation, the US side shared some inputs pertaining to links between organised criminals, gun-runners, terrorists and other extremists," he said. "We take such inputs very seriously."

Mr Williams vowed the US “will not tolerate efforts to assassinate US citizens on US soil”.

But the US has otherwise “not publicly raised an issue”, Mr Sahni said.

“It has been a different approach by the two countries,” he said.

“In Canada, unverified allegations were released directly by the Prime Minister in the parliament without any evidence provided, whereas as far as the Americans are concerned, there's been a quiet conversation perhaps on the analysis of a newspaper report.”

Updated: November 30, 2023, 9:30 AM