Opinion: Why India's Reactions To Canada And US On Khalistan Row Are Different

The US Attorney for New York has charged Indian national Nikhil Gupta with murder-for-hire charges in the alleged foiled bid to kill Khalistani separatist Gurwatpant Pannun in the US. What is most significant is that the investigations by the US clearly state that Gupta was acting at the behest of an "Indian government employee", drawing a connection, much like the Canadian government did, with what PM Justin Trudeau called "agents of the Indian government".

The US press release is far more damaging than any accusation by Canada. First, it mentions the antecedents of Nikhil Gupta, who was allegedly working with the "Indian government employee", as being involved in serious crimes like "international narcotics and weapons trafficking". Secondly, it lays bare the entire process by which the bid to kill Pannun was thwarted, which included US undercover officers getting direct information from Gupta on the instructions he was getting from the "Indian government employee". For example, the official press release says, "On or about June 20, 2023, CC-1 sent GUPTA a news article about the Victim and messaged GUPTA, "[i]t's [a] priority now." Where CC - 1 refers to the "Indian government employee".

The US undercover operation also points to the connection they made with Hardeep Singh Nijjar's killing in Canada. The press statement mentions that just two days before the message that Gupta received from CC-1 to carry out the killing of Pannun on "priority", Nijjar was killed in British Columbia, on June 18. "On or about June 19, 2023, the day after the Nijjar murder, GUPTA told the UC that Nijjar 'was also the target' and 'we have so many targets'," according to the statement.

As opposed to this, so far, the Canadian government has not revealed any details of its investigation. On September 18 Justin Trudeau made a bombshell of an allegation against India in the Canadian parliament and then Foreign Minister Melanie Joly announced the expulsion of an Indian diplomat.

The manner of the revelation was most probably the reason for India's sharp reaction. There were two issues here - one, that Justin Trudeau made the statement in parliament as investigations were underway and decided to move away from quiet diplomacy on the matter. Next, Melanie Joly's office identified the expelled Indian official to the Canadian media and added that he led the Canadian branch of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). This, while the officer was listed as a minister for economic, coordination, and community affairs on the Indian High Commission's website.

The fact that India has, even in the past, expressed its concern to Canada over its approach of dealing with Khalistan separatists with kid gloves and allowing its territory to be used for a referendum over a secessionist call, had already created a backdrop for larger friction after Trudeau's statement. So, India reacted with visa restrictions and a threat to revoke the diplomatic immunity of diplomats, resulting in 41 of them returning to Canada last month.

Why hasn't New Delhi used a similar forceful approach against the US? Many put it flippantly as, Canada is no US. The other, more plausible, reason seems to be that while the US has conducted an investigation and revealed details and charges, Trudeau seemed to have jumped the gun because of domestic political requirements.

However, many argue that details that have consistently been trickling in the US media - from the foiled bid on Pannun to the killing of Nijjar -  and that they have cropped up in meetings between Indian officials and their American counterparts, which is as damaging as was Trudeau's parliament statement.

With the formal announcement of charges by the US, the swirl of stories in the international media, and the point that the tip-off to Canada on the Nijjar killing was from the Five Eyes (it is not clear whether it was the US), India's reaction will be watched.

(Maha Siddiqui is a journalist who has extensively reported on public policy and global affairs.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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