The United States will stay engaged with India on an alleged plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist in New York and is waiting for the outcome of New Delhi’s investigation into the matter, a US official said on Tuesday, The Hindu reported.

On November 29, the United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, announced that it had filed “murder-for-hire charges” against an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta in connection with his alleged participation in a thwarted plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader.

While the statement did not name the separatist leader, a report in the Financial Times on November 23 identified him as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

In response, the Indian government had constituted a high-level inquiry committee to examine the inputs from the United States.

Speaking at an event organised by the Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation on Tuesday, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma said that Washington had raised concerns regarding the alleged foiled plot with New Delhi.

“They have taken it very seriously,” said Verma, who served as the US ambassador to India between 2014 and 2017. “And we are grateful for that.” He also said that the ties between the United States and India were built on “shared values” that are the “glue” in the partnership.

“We cannot stray too far from the shared values that hold us together,” said Verma. “We are both post-colonial democratic powers governed by a constitutional framework with checks and balances. We aspire for equality, social inclusion, and racial and minority rights and so much more.”

US allegations

In its November 29 statement, the US Attorney’s Office alleged that Gupta had been recruited by an Indian government employee, who “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”.

It was referring to Pannun, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, and the founder of a group called Sikhs for Justice that advocates for Khalistan – an independent state for Sikhs. He was declared an “individual terrorist” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in 2020.

The United States’ Department of Justice alleged that the plot was part of a larger conspiracy to kill one person in California and at least three in Canada. It claimed that Gupta was working on the directions of an Indian government officer.

On November 30, Arindam Bagchi, who was the External Affairs Ministry’s spokesperson at the time, said that the United States’ allegations were a “matter of concern”.

“The nexus between organised crime, trafficking, gunrunning and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for the law enforcement agencies and organisations to consider and it is for that reason that a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted and we will be guided by its results,” said Bagchi.

On December 7, the United States’ National Security Spokesperson John Kirby said that while India is a strategic partner for Washington, New Delhi needs to hold accountable those responsible for the alleged plot to assassinate the Sikh separatist.

In late December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Financial Times that he would look into the evidence, but a “few incidents” will not harm relations between New Delhi and Washington.

“If someone gives us any information, we would definitely look into it,” Modi had told the newspaper. “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.”