WASHINGTON: Even as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was basking in American adulation, “an officer in India’s intelligence service was relaying final instructions to a hired hit team to kill one of Modi’s most vocal critics in the United States,” The Washington Post reported on Monday, painting a damning picture of New Delhi’s operations on foreign soil and the complicity of its top leadership in such transnational suppression.

According to The Post, Vikram Yadav, an officer in India’s spy agency RAW, sent out instructions to a hired hit team while Modi was being lavishly entertained at the White House last year.

Higher-ranking RAW officials have also been implicated, according to current and former Western security officials, as part of a sprawling investigation by the CIA, FBI and other agencies that has mapped potential links to Modi’s inner circle.

Quoting reports that have been “closely held within the American government”, The Post said that US intelligence agencies have assessed that the operation targeting Pan­nun was approved by the RAW chief at the time, Samant Goel.

Washington Post investigation details how ‘hit-men’ were hired by RAW agents to assassinate dissidents on US soil

“The assassination is a priority now,” Yadav said, urging operatives to target and kill Sikh activists in North America.

“India’s assassination plots in the United States and Canada are part of an expanding wave of aggression against dissident groups seeking protection in other countries,” The Post noted.

The report interpreted Yadav’s memo as indicating that the Indian government was “increasingly willing” to “disregard the sovereignty of the host nations and send agents across borders to subdue political enemies”.

Yadav forwarded details about the target, Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, including his New York address. As soon as the would-be assassins could confirm that Pannun, a US citizen, was home, “it will be a go ahead from us,” said the memo quoted in the report.

The report also claimed that US spy agencies had assessed that Modi’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, was probably aware of RAW’s plans to kill Sikh activists, but officials emphasised that no smoking gun evidence had emerged. Neither Doval nor Goel responded to The Post’s calls and text messages seeking comment.

The report also uncovered shocking details of alleged assassination plots orchestrated by RAW agents, also targeting Modi’s critics living in the United States and Canada, shedding light on the lengths to which India went to suppress dissent beyond its borders and the diplomatic fallout that ensued.

The US operation shows how RAW tried to export tactics it has used for years in countries neighboring India, officials said, including the use of criminal syndicates for operations it doesn’t want traced to New Delhi, The Post said.

The Post’s investigation, based on interviews with numerous officials and experts across several countries, highlighted the escalating campaign of aggression by RAW against the Indian diaspora worldwide. Sikhs have been targeted due to their perceived disloyalty to Modi government.

Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2024

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