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Can Modi’s US troubles help Canada?

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks on, with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, during the day of Kenyan President William Ruto's ceremonial reception at the Forecourt of India's Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, December 5, 2023.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi looks on, with Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, during the day of Kenyan President William Ruto's ceremonial reception at the Forecourt of India's Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, December 5, 2023.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

In an interview published on Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded to allegations that his government was involved in an assassination plot on US soil. Modi’s comment followed the unsealing of an indictment in Washington alleging a conspiracy to murder Khalistani activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen who is general counsel for the separatist group Sikhs for Justice.


The Indian PM said that India will “definitely look into” any evidence the Americans provide and is treating the plot with the “utmost seriousness.” “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.”

Displaying diplomatic goodwill. Modi was careful to highlight the importance of the US-India relationship in his FT interview, noting that “a few incidents” would not derail diplomatic relations.

This conciliatory tone might be good news for Ottawa too. You’ll remember that Canada has been in the doghouse with Delhi ever since PM Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of orchestrating the killing of Canadian Sikh militant Hardeep Singh Nijjar, gunned down in Surrey, British Columbia, last June. The ensuing spat saw diplomats expelled from both countries, a freeze on trade negotiations and student visas, and a collapse of Canada’s nascent Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Since the US indictment, however, Trudeau says the Indian government’s narrative has perhaps undergone “a tonal shift.” Echoing Modi’s language, Trudeau told the CBC that “it is foundational for Canada to stand up … for the rule of law” and said there is “an openness to collaborating in a way perhaps [there wasn’t before].”

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