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Big turbulence in Indo-US relations: The US authorities have “exposed” an Indian government official’s role in plotting the murder of Khalistani extremist Pannun!

The MEA's unexpected response gives some credibility to the story peddled by the American authorities.

Shortly after the Financial Times (a UK-based daily newspaper company) floated a news piece illustrating how the US government allegedly ‘thwarted’ an Indian plot to execute a ‘Sikh separatist’ Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on the American turf, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a press release on November 29th regarding the alleged involvement of an Indian national (Nikhil Gupta) in plotting to assassinate a “US-based Khalistani Leader” without mentioning his name.

In its report, the US DoJ floated “murder-for-hire charges against Indian national Nikhil Gupta, aka Nick (52 M), in connection with his participation in a foiled plot to assassinate a US Citizen in New York City.” 

The DoJ distinctly mentioned the involvement of an ‘Indian government employee,’ who identified himself as a ‘Senior Field Officer,’ in conspiring with Gupta to orchestrate the “victim’s” assassination. This official (anonymous) reportedly has an intricate nexus with India’s intelligence bureau and security management and is rumoured to have served in the Indian Central Reserve Police Force! We maintain that the information divulged here is solely the American interpretation of the escalation, so go through this article with a pinch of salt.

According to US sources, the said Indian government official (whom they referred to as ‘CC-1’) contacted Nikhil Gupta in New Delhi and kept in contact predominantly through text messages. Nikhil Gupta has allegedly been identified as an international trafficker of weapons and narcotics who was getting pursued by the Gujarat police. CC-1 had assured Gupta that all his charges shall get dropped if he took up the intricate task of getting Pannun (a Khalistani terrorist) executed. 

DoJ mentioned, “an Indian government employee (CC-1), working together with others, including GUPTA, in India and elsewhere, directed a plot to assassinate on US soil an attorney and political activist who is a US citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City (the ‘Victim’).”

How did the US ‘foil’ the covert mission of Pannun’s execution?

In June 2023, CC-1 orchestrated a plan to execute a US-based attorney and Khalistani extremist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun from his abode in New York. After contacting and negotiating with Nikhil Gupta, CC-1 was confident of having drafted a foolproof plan for terminating the anti-India extremist Pannun. 

Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national staying in the US, contacted an ‘individual’ who was an undercover American agent posing as a criminal associate. The agent succeeded in tricking Gupta into divulging the essence of the murder plot before acquainting him with another ‘purported hitman,’ who would have eventually carried out the assassination. Unsurprisingly, this ‘hitman’ was another undercover agent working for the American government. 

As per the American report, Nikhil Gupta and the ‘hitman’ negotiated and agreed on getting the hit job executed for USD 100,000 (Rs. 83 lakhs) and the payment of another USD 25,000 (approx. Rs. 21 lakhs) before the job. Nikhil Gupta had also reportedly paid USD 15,000 (approx. 12.5 lakhs) as an advanced payment to the ‘hitman,’ a transaction about which the US authority claims to have ‘photographic evidence.’

As per the tale narrated by the US Government, Nikhil Gupta instructed the ‘hitman’ to get the “victim” executed without delay but also instructed him against carrying it out during the top-level diplomatic meetings and conferences between the American and Indian authorities. After the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June 2023, Gupta, while in contact with the ‘hitman,’ had mentioned how he (Nijjar) too had been a ‘target.’ He then advised the undercover agent to get Pannun executed on a “top-priority basis.”

Later, in June 2023, Nikhil was arrested by Czech authorities at the Prague airport after “the Czech National Drug authorities were tipped off due to his alleged past in drug trafficking.” While the Czech authorities remained tight-lipped regarding the actual cause of Gupta’s detention before the Indian embassy, they collaborated with the American authorities regarding the ‘murder-for-hire’ charges. 

Presently, Nikhil Gupta stands detained by American authorities in the Czech Republic on charges of ‘murder-for-hire’ and ‘conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire,’ carrying a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison should he get convicted.   

A big setback for Indo-US relations?

Despite the entire narrative sounding like a plot for a Hollywood movie, the Indian authorities did not flank the claims outright, taking exception to what they had done when Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau had raised similar charges regarding the murder of Nijjar. The fact that they chose to name only Nikhil Gupta and not even Pannun (referring to the latter as “victim”) despite being aware of his anti-India and extremist ideology appears shady, to say the least.

Ever since the allegations against Nikhil Gupta were declassified, the Indian government has been operating prudently and collaborating with the American authorities in due process. Diplomat Arindam Bagchi (of the Ministry of External Affairs) used sophisticated jargon to refute the allegations, claiming that such a petty conspiracy (of executing Pannun) was “contradictory to (Indian) government policy.”

However, the spokesperson of the MEA labelled the US allegation of an Indian official directing a murder plot on American soil as a “matter of concern.” On November 29th, the MEA reassured that they set up a high-level probe committee to investigate the matter thoroughly.

Prima facie, such allegations by America and Canada appear as ‘pressure politics’ against India. The fact that the Modi government did not lash out against the Biden administration (contradictory to what they did with Trudeau) substantiates some authenticity to the murder plot of Pannun. However, the governments of America and India are careful enough not to let their mutual diplomatic progress get thwarted by such pettish charges.

It will be interesting to observe how the Nikhil Gupta saga unfolds further.

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