Few incidents’ cannot derail India’s ties with US, says Modi

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New Delhi : India will “look into” any evidence of allegations of a plot to kill a Khalistani leader on American soil but a “few incidents” will not derail US-India ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in his first response on the issue.

Modi made the remarks in an interview with the Financial Times, during which he sought to play down the diplomatic impact of a US indictment last month that alleged an Indian official directed the plot to kill Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, already declared a terrorist by India.

“If someone gives us any information, we would definitely look into it,” Modi said. “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.”

External affairs minister S Jaishankar had earlier said that New Delhi has set up a high-level inquiry committee to look into the allegations and will “take necessary follow-up action”.

Modi reiterated India’s concerns about Khalistani activists misusing freedom of expression in Western countries to engage in acts of intimidation and inciting violence. He said India is “deeply concerned about the activities of certain extremist groups based overseas”.

He added: “These elements, under the guise of freedom of expression, have engaged in intimidation and incited violence.”

At the same time, Modi said that he didn’t believe such incidents would impact the overall India-US relationship. “There is strong bipartisan support for the strengthening of this relationship, which is a clear indicator of a mature and stable partnership,” he said.

“Security and counterterrorism co-operation has been a key component of our partnership…I don’t think it is appropriate to link a few incidents with diplomatic relations between the two countries,” he added.

The comments came days after all five Indian-American members of the US Congress warned of “significant damage” to the “very consequential” India-US partnership unless New Delhi probes and holds those responsible for plotting to kill Pannun, an American-Canadian citizen. In a joint statement, Amy Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Shri Thanedar sought a clear assurance from India that such an incident would never reoccur. The five, all Democrats from diverse geographies and members of key legislative panels, said the US administration provided them a classified briefing on the indictment of Nikhil Gupta in connection with the foiled plot.

Modi also pointed out that “absolute agreement” on all matters cannot be the basis for India’s relations with other countries.

“We need to accept the fact that we are living in the era of multilateralism,” he said. “The world is interconnected as well as interdependent. This reality compels us to recognise that absolute agreement on all matters cannot be a prerequisite for collaboration.”

An indictment filed by US prosecutors in a Manhattan court last month against an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta alleged that an Indian government employee, who described himself as a “senior field officer” responsible for intelligence, had ordered the assassination of Pannun in New York. Gupta is currently in the custody of Czech authorities, and the US has sought his extradition.

The indictment alleged that Gupta, acting on the instructions of the Indian official, contacted a person whom he believed to be a criminal associate but was a confidential source working with US law enforcement for help in contracting a hitman to murder Pannun.

The confidential source introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was an undercover US law enforcement officer, the indictment said.

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