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US Indictment of ‘Grave Concern’, Indian Probe Needs to Be ‘Sincere’: Congress Leaders

Congress leader and former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid told the Indian Express that the US government's allegations are especially worrisome given that India-US relations have been warm recently.

New Delhi: Responding to the US government’s allegations that an Indian government official directed the assassination of a US citizen on that country’s soil, senior Congress leaders said the claim was a “matter of grave concern” and that the Indian government must address it with “absolute sincerity”.

Former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid told the Indian Express that the issue not only concerned India’s security but also its relations with the world’s democracies.

“All I can say at this stage is that the government must address this with alacrity and with absolute sincerity. Because it is not an issue limited to the security of our country. It is also an issue which concerns our relationship with democracies in the world and therefore we have to be absolutely clear and direct in finding solutions to this,” IE quoted Khurshid as saying.

He added that the Indian government’s investigation into the matter must persuade opinion both at home and abroad.

“You have to probe. The probe must be a credible one because it is not just a matter of convincing your own people but it is a matter of persuading world opinion. Therefore, the probe must be good, transparent and sincere, so that we can carry conviction with people across the globe,” he said according to IE.

An indictment by the US Department of Justice unsealed on Wednesday (November 29) said that an Indian government official directed a plot to assassinate an unnamed, pro-Khalistan political activist on US soil.

US officials had reportedly said earlier that their government had thwarted a plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a pro-Khalistan activist and lawyer of US and Canadian citizenship.

Also Read: From Nijjar to Pannun, Modi Government’s Recklessness is Undermining National Interest

The indictment says that the unnamed Indian government official worked with a man named Nikhil Gupta to orchestrate the victim’s assassination. Their alleged bid failed as their contacts, including the proposed hitman, were working with or for US law enforcement agencies, the indictment says.

It adds that Gupta suggested to the undercover officer that Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was murdered in Canada in June, was also a “target” of his associates.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in September that his government was pursuing “credible allegations” that Indian government agents may have been linked with Nijjar’s murder, sparking a diplomatic standoff between Canada and India.

Khurshid told the Indian Express that while Canada-India relations had experienced their ups and downs, the US’s recent allegations were “worrisome” owing to better relations between it and India.

“When it happened with Canada, we [India] reacted and said this is nonsense, this is rubbish, but there was a concern that the Five Eyes were sort of agreeing with Canada that there was need for some clarification and need for some investigation,” he told IE.

“But in isolation one incident and one event in Canada etc … can be understood that there may be a difference of perception and that is causing this trouble. But now this is coming from the US … It is worrisome,” Khurshid added.

“Unlike our relations with Canada, which have been a little strained and stressed in the past, our relations with the US have been very smooth and very good.”

The former minister also said that while there are concerns about pro-Khalistan activists operating from abroad, allegations that Indian officials are “proactively trying to interfere with what the Western democracies consider to be entitlements and rights that citizens have” are a “very troubling thing”.

“And I do believe that we should have been extra careful about this. That we should not have allowed anybody to raise any questions about India’s conduct and India’s uprightness. Why this is happening is worrisome,” IE quoted him as saying.

Another Congress leader, Lok Sabha MP and former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor, also told IE that the allegations were “a matter of grave concern that warrants a comprehensive internal inquiry”.

In his first post-indictment reaction, external affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that the US government’s allegations were “a matter of concern” and were “contrary to government policy”.