US disinclined to jeopardize India ties over alleged plot to kill Sikh separatist

It is obvious that the U.S. sees India as perhaps its most important strategic relationship not just in Asia but even globally in the context of an increasingly assertive China.

Mayank Chhaya May 02, 2024
Representational Photo (Photo: Twitter)

The disclosure by The Washington Post of the identity of an officer in India’s spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) to be allegedly behind the thwarted plot to assassinate a U.S.-based Sikh separatist is remarkable for wholly unexpected reasons.

The newspaper’s investigative report on April 29 reveals almost as an incidental fact the extraordinary length to which the Biden administration appears to have gone to soften the blow on the Modi government.

“White House officials warned the Modi government this month that The Post was close to publishing an investigation that would reveal new details about the case. It did so without notifying The Post,” the paper said.

The fact that Washington alerted New Delhi to the upcoming publication of the damning story underscores how the Biden administration has made a clear determination that robust bilateral relations between the two countries take precedence even over the alleged plot that would have brazenly violated America’s sovereignty had it been successful.

It was bad enough as it is that the alleged plot to assassinate the Sikh separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, whom India classifies as a terrorist, unfolded on U.S. soil and nearly worked.

However, now that the Post story has identified Vikram Yadav, as a RAW officer to be a key figure, the alleged assassination plot has acquired specific contours.

Yadav’s identity was no breaking news for the Biden administration since it was uncovered by its investigators. It is not clear though whether Washington specifically shared the details about Yadav’s identity with New Delhi preemptively. The paper has said the U.S. government informed the Indian government that “new details” about the case were going to be revealed.

It is conceivable that the Biden administration did indeed share specific details with India. The foreknowledge of the Post story ought to have prepared the Modi government for any likely fallout.

 It is obvious that the U.S. sees India as perhaps its most important strategic relationship not just in Asia but even globally in the context of an increasingly assertive China. With that being the case, it has rationalized that bilateral relations are not worth jeopardizing over the Pannun plot despite its unprecedented nature.

Both President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are in the midst of crucial national elections and the former may not consider worth his while at this juncture to escalate tensions with the latter over what is at its core a feature of global spy craft. The U.S. is no stranger to carrying out such hits on foreign soil. If anything, in many ways it pioneered them.

Domestically, the alleged Indian plot has next to no political consequence for Biden since average Americans are not known to focus on such convoluted global issues as Sikh separatists trying to hive off the Indian state of Punjab from India.

The more damning details of the alleged plot were already known since December last year but there are some specific pointers that are potentially troublesome for New Delhi. For instance, this passage: “U.S. spy agencies have more tentatively assessed that Modi’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, was probably aware of RAW’s plans to kill Sikh activists, but officials emphasized that no smoking gun proof has emerged.”

With the U.S. presidential election a little more than six months away and Biden bizarrely trailing former President Donald Trump, the Post story may eventually just slide by. The results of the Indian election will be known by June 5. Irrespective of whether Modi wins or loses this issue is of no significant consequence for him either.

For sure, the timing of the Post disclosure is inopportune for Modi. Notwithstanding that, for that minority of Indians which pays attention to such developments, especially the prime minister’s steadfast supporters, the alleged plot is merely reaffirmation of his muscular foreign policy.

Officially, however, Randhir Jaiswal, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, has been dismissive about the Post story. In a formal statement he said, “The report in question makes unwarranted and unsubstantiated imputations on a serious matter. There is ongoing investigation of the High-Level Committee set up by the Government of India to look into the security concerns shared by the US government on networks of organized criminals, terrorists and others. Speculative and irresponsible comments on it are not helpful.”

Given that the Modi government is focused almost entirely on the parliamentary election, there is no prospect of any substantive action in the matter until after the election results are out on June 4 or 5.

(The writer is a Chicago-based Indian journalist, author, filmmaker and songwriter. Views are personal. He can be reached at

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Manoj Chhaya
Thu, 05/02/2024 - 15:32
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Every word has a meaning and interest
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