The stylish host of the annual G-20 summit in New Delhi in September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was reliant on creating a leaders’ summit for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in January. Modi anticipated the visit of U.S. President Joe Biden as the chief guest for India’s Republic Day celebrations before the meeting, following in former U.S. President Barack Obama’s footsteps. Australia and Japan agreed to the proposed date, Jan. 27, but a senior U.S. official said Wednesday that Biden had declined the invitation. Reports suggest that scheduling was the problem for Biden—specifically, the timing of the State of the Union . But the reason for his decision may lie elsewhere: India’s response to U.S. charges that an Indian government agent plotted to assassinate U.S. citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist leader, in New York. According to a U.S. Justice Department indictment, the attempt was part of a larger scheme, through which Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed in Vancouver in June. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of involvement in Nijjar’s killing during a speech made to the Canadian House of Commons in September, and Modi’s government reacted boldly, denying the charges. Pannun and Nijjar both advocated for the cause of Khalistan. Modi’s India pays little price for many of its actions. India has largely gotten away with avoiding public rebuke from the United States for policies that actively discriminated against religious minorities.rajishankar and other officials dismissed the claim as “absurd and motivated.” But India was already aware of information from the United States linking the killing of Nijjar to the attempt against Pannun.
After news of the foiled assassination plot against Pannun became public, India announced the formation of a high-level committee to investigate the matter. It remains unclear whether New Delhi is sincere in this effort, or whether its promise is intended only to buy time. Senior U.S. officials first raised the issue with New Delhi in August, and Biden mentioned it to Modi at the G-20 summit, but it took media reports and a White House statement to push India into announcing an official inquiry.
India has largely gotten away with avoiding public rebuke from the United States for policies that actively discriminated against religious minorities and led to democratic backsliding. In June, the Biden administration even honored Modi with an official state visit to Washington, and senior U.S. officials continued to harp on about “shared values” with New Delhi. India’s security establishment may have been emboldened by operations in Pakistan and may have assumed the U.S. position was more lenient due to India’s role in combating China. While some of Modi’s supporters say that his government is justified in targeting Sikh separatist leaders on foreign soil, Sikh separatism and the idea of an independent Khalistan pose little threat to India or Indians; Pannun and Nijjar’s propaganda was relatively ineffective until they benefited from the outsized attention of the Modi government.
Under Modi, India seems to be at a crossroads as we seek to become a major power. It’s vital to recognize the increasing influence of the U.S. in India and the importance of relationships between allies, such as Canada. Any shortcomings in strategic operations are recognized globally and should be seen as an opportunity for growth.