In a startling revelation, India’s Ministry of External Affairs has been implicated in orchestrating a clandestine operation against Sikh diaspora organizations in Western countries. According to a confidential memorandum from April 2023, obtained by The Intercept, Indian consulates in North America were directed to launch a “sophisticated crackdown scheme” targeting several Sikh dissidents, including Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
The memo, titled “Action Points on Khalistan Extremism,” details India’s growing apprehensions over its international image due to the activism of these Sikh organizations. It labels these groups, advocating for a separate Sikh state, as extremist or even terrorist entities. Among the organizations listed are Sikhs for Justice, Babbar Khalsa International, and several others active in the U.S. and Canada.
In a shocking turn of events, Nijjar, named as a target in this document, was murdered in Vancouver in June, just two months after being singled out. The Canadian government has accused Indian intelligence of orchestrating this killing.
This scheme implicates various Indian intelligence agencies, including the Research and Analysis Wing and the National Investigation Agency, working in tandem with Indian consulates. The memo does not explicitly order killings but stresses the need for accountability of these Sikh activists, several of whom are either in Pakistan or incarcerated in India.
The U.S. and Canada have charged India with orchestrating assassinations against Sikhs in the West. This secret document is the first public evidence of the Indian government targeting specific Sikh diaspora organizations and individuals.
Sikh diaspora advocacy groups have long accused the Indian government of misrepresenting their political activities as militant or extremist. Prabjot Singh, an activist and editor, emphasized that India employs these strategies to justify crackdowns on Sikh political organizing while misusing diplomatic resources abroad.
The Indian government’s aggressive stance against Sikh activists is rooted in the longstanding conflict over separatism in Punjab, which saw thousands of casualties during the 1980s and 1990s. While Sikh separatism has largely diminished within India, it continues as a political movement abroad, leading to protests and lobbying against the Indian government.
The memo raises concerns about the influence of Sikh organizations in Western politics, alleging that they defame the Indian government and degrade its international image. It also notes the perceived assistance of these movements by public officials in Western countries.
Tensions in India’s relationship with Western countries, particularly over its neutral stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, are also highlighted in the document. It suggests that Western governments use the Khalistan issue as a geopolitical tool against India.
In response to these revelations, U.S., Canadian, and British officials have reportedly expelled senior RAW officials from their countries. This move significantly impacts RAW’s operations in North America, marking a dramatic shift in India’s foreign intelligence presence.
Human rights lawyer Arjun Sethi expressed concern over the chilling effect on free speech among Sikhs in North America. Many Sikhs, he noted, have sought refuge in the West from political persecution in India, only to now face threats on foreign soil.
This covert operation against Sikh activists not only strains India’s ties with Western countries but also raises critical questions about the extent of surveillance and repression against political dissent in the diaspora.