In a November 29 court filing, U.S. prosecutors alleged that a “senior field officer” for the Indian government ordered Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national, to assassinate a Sikh separatist in New York City in May. Although the purported target of the alleged murder-for-hire plot was not named in the filing, according to the Washington Post, that individual was Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S.-based lawyer for a Sikh separatist group. The Financial Times (FT) broke the story on November 22 that the U.S. had “thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate” Pannun, a dual Canadian and American citizen.
Pannun was an associate of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian who was murdered in Surrey, B.C., in June 2023. In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated publicly that the Canadian government had “credible allegations” of the Indian government’s potential involvement in that killing.
Disparity in responses
New Delhi characterized the Canadian allegations as “unsubstantiated,” threatened to strip diplomatic immunity for 41 Canadian diplomats, and halted electronic visa-processing services for Canadians planning to travel to India. In a sign of a modest improvement in bilateral relations, visa services resumed last week. In a recent interview with CTV News, the Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, maintained his government’s position that Canada’s allegations were “motivated and absurd.” New Delhi has so far refused to co-operate with Ottawa in investigating Nijjar’s death.
In contrast, in responding to the FT report, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Arindam Bagchi, acknowledged that the U.S. had “shared some inputs” about the case and that India was taking “necessary follow-up action.”
In his CTV interview, Verma attributed his government’s differing responses to Canadian and U.S. allegations to the specificity of the information shared, noting that the criminal case in the U.S. is more advanced and that the “inputs” provided by the U.S. are “legally presentable,” whereas Canada has not shared such information.
Canadian government sources told The Globe and Mail their evidence includes Indian diplomatic communications obtained by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Verma argues that such communications are diplomatically protected and thus cannot be used as evidence in court or publicly released. Analysts in India and Canada will be closely watching developments in both the B.C. and New York investigations and their impact on Canada-India and U.S.-India diplomatic relations.
In the meantime, a Nanos poll released in October shows that 74 per cent of Canadians believe Trudeau’s September statement. According to the same poll, 57 per cent of Canadians would also like to see a reduction of bilateral tensions between India and Canada through diplomatic engagement.