Is the Indian government guilty of conducting a covert policy of targeted assassinations of political opponents on foreign soil? The question is prompted by explosive revelations that the US authorities have foiled a conspiracy to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil and have issued a warning to India over its suspected involvement. The latest allegations, reported in the Financial Times, come just two months after Canada accused India of being behind the murder of a Sikh activist in Vancouver – a claim that prompted furious denials and denunciations from New Delhi.
The target of the latest alleged plot was Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American citizen who is general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, a US-based activist group, which India has previously accused of involvement in alleged extremist activities. This is linked to its demands for an independent Sikh state known as ‘Khalistan’ – which would be carved out of India’s Punjab region. Such claims are anathema to the Indian authorities, who view the Sikh separatist movement as a threat to national security. It is unclear whether the plot against Pannun was abandoned after the US warning to India, or if it was actively foiled by FBI agents. The Justice department and FBI have refused to comment publicly.
Pannun has been in the public eye after a series of social media posts targeting the Indian government. He apparently angered New Delhi by issuing a video in which he warned Sikhs not to fly on Air India because their lives would be in danger. He claims he was not making a threat against the airline. Even so, the video prompted India’s National Investigation Agency to launch an investigation.
Pannun has clearly made himself unpopular with the authorities in India – but would they really seek to assassinate him? Pannun has declined to comment on whether he was warned about the plot against his life by the American authorities.