Modi has made it clear to the US that India will not compromise with its national interest (ANI)

Though the Indian government is seriously looking into the allegations levelled in a US indictment, Prime Minister Modi makes it clear that India’s national interest is supreme. What does this mean for India-US relations?

Our Bureau
New Delhi/Prague/Washington, DC  

In November, the US Department of Justice dropped a bombshell when it unsealed an indictment against an Indian national for his alleged involvement in a foiled plot to assassinate a US-based leader of the Sikh Separatist Movement and a citizen in New York. The US Justice Department claimed that an Indian government employee (named CC-1), who was not identified in the indictment filed in a federal court in Manhattan, recruited an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta to hire a hitman to carry out the assassination, which was foiled by US authorities.

Since the unsealing of indictment, the India-US relations have been quite uneasy if not rocked by those allegations. The cancellation of the supposed visit of US President Joe Biden to New Delhi for the Republic Day celebrations added more tension to the relationship.

But India is standing its ground, even as it looks into the allegations.    

It has now been revealed that India has obtained consular access to meet Indian national Nikhil Gupta, the accused of conspiracy and attempted murder involving India-designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in the custody of Czech authorities and is providing all necessary consular assistance.

Addressing a weekly press conference, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “It is a legal issue…an Indian national is under the custody of the Czech Republic. The request for extradition by the US is pending there. We have had consular access three times. We are providing whatever possible consular help in the matter.”

Bagchi further said that the matter is sub-judice after a family member of accused Nikhil Gupta filed a petition in the Supreme Court.

“The family of this Indian national (Nikhil Gupta), had given a petition in the Supreme Court. The matter is sub judice, so it won’t be appropriate to comment on the matter now…it will not be able to comment on jurisdictions on this issue,” he added.

The Samosa Caucus members have welcomed the Indian investigation into the allegations (File photo)

On being asked about five Indian-American lawmakers in the US being briefed about the case, the MEA spokesperson said that New Delhi takes the inputs seriously and has set up a high-level committee. “We take the inputs seriously; inputs have been provided by the US side. A high-level inquiry committee has been set up to look into all relevant matters. This fact has also been noted by all the members of Congress. I don’t have any updates on the committee, on its timeline, or its findings,” he added.

Following the US allegations, Arindam Bagchi said that a case filed against an individual in a US court and allegedly linking him to an Indian official is a “matter of concern” and is contrary to government policy. India has also set up a high-level committee to probe the matter.

In another development, a plea has been filed with the Supreme Court of India seeking assistance and the matter has been listed for a hearing on January 4. As per the plea, Nikhil Gupta is currently detained in prison in the Czech Republic while awaiting extradition to the United States in connection with the case there for allegedly being involved in a foiled plot to murder Pannun.

As the Pannun saga continues, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has, for the first time responded to the claims made by the US, saying that he will “look into” any evidence, adding that “few incidents” would not affect US-India ties. “If someone gives us any information, we would definitely look into it,” PM Modi said in an interview with the UK based newspaper Financial Times.

“If a citizen of ours has done anything good or bad, we are ready to look into it. Our commitment is to the rule of law,” the Prime Minister said.

But Modi also raised concerns over extremist activities, and said, India was “deeply concerned about the activities of certain extremist groups based overseas,” adding “These elements, under the guise of freedom of expression, have engaged in intimidation and incited violence,” Financial Times reported.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who was declared a ‘designated individual terrorist’ by the Government of India on July 1, 2020, has been actively exhorting Punjab-based gangsters and youth over social media to fight for the cause of the independent state of Khalistan, challenging the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country, NIA investigations have shown.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has made a clear distinction between the American and Canadian cases (ANI)

Pannun has been under the NIA lens since 2019 when the anti-terror agency registered its first case against him.

In a related development, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he believes India’s relations with Canada may have undergone “a tonal shift” in the days since the unsealing of a US indictment alleging a conspiracy to murder India-designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil, Canada-based CBC News reported.

The Canadian prime minister made the remarks in an end-of-year interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton. The U.S. indictment appears to have convinced the Indian government to adopt a more sober tone, said Trudeau, as reported by CBC. “I think there is a beginning of an understanding that they can’t bluster their way through this and there is an openness to collaborating in a way that perhaps they were less open before,” he said.

“We don’t want to be in a situation of having a fight with India right now over this,” he said. “We want to be working on that trade deal. We want to be advancing the Indo-Pacific strategy. But it is foundational for Canada to stand up for people’s rights, for people’s safety, and for the rule of law. And that’s what we’re going to do,” CBC reported Trudeau as saying.

But even as Trudeau raises the pitch again, on the issue of allegations made by the US and Canada, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar emphasized that the two issues are not the same, adding that India is open to looking into the matter. While speaking at the Rotary Institute 2023 event in Bengaluru, Jaishankar asserted that India is a responsible country and it is willing to look into the matter if any country has a concern and shares inputs, referring to the Canada allegations about the alleged link of “agents of the Indian government” in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

“So, we very sincerely have told the Canadians saying that look it’s up to you, I mean your choice whether you would like us to pursue it, further look into it or not,” he added.

Even as India deals with these allegations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that India’s foreign policy approach is a “mix-and-match diplomacy” focused on pragmatic engagement aligned with national interests. “The world is interconnected as well as interdependent,” Modi said in his interview with Financial Times.

He also underscored the complexity of global dynamics while emphasizing that India’s foremost guiding principle in foreign affairs is its national interest. This approach, according to PM Modi, enables India to engage with various nations in a manner that respects mutual interests and acknowledges the intricate nature of contemporary geopolitics.

“Our foremost guiding principle in foreign affairs is our national interest,” PM Modi said, adding, “This stance allows us to engage with various nations in a manner that respects mutual interests and acknowledges the complexities of contemporary geopolitics.”

When questioned about India’s relationship with the United States and whether it could be characterized as an alliance, PM Modi highlighted the “upward trajectory” of relations. Despite recent allegations involving an Indian government official in a plot on US soil, the Prime Minister asserted that the India-US relationship is now broader in engagement, deeper in understanding, and warmer in friendship than ever before.

In another positive development, Indian American Members of Congress have “welcomed” the Indian government’s announcement of a committee of enquiry to probe the alleged foiled assassination plot against India-designated terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Indian American members of Congress – Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Shri Thanedar and Raja Krishnamoorthi called the allegations made in the indictment of Nikhil Gupta in connection with a foiled plot to assassinate a US citizen “deeply concerning.”

In the press release, the US Representatives said, “We appreciate the Administration providing us a classified briefing on the Department of Justice’s indictment of Nikhil Gupta, which alleges that an Indian government official engaged in a murder-for-hire plot of an American citizen.”

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