India confiscates properties of top Sikh leader

NEW DELHI   -  India’s top investiga­tion agency confiscat­ed Saturday the proper­ties of a prominent Sikh separatist and close ally of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, whose killing has sparked a diplomatic row between India and Canada. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a lawyer believed to be based in Canada, was designated as a terrorist by Indian authorities in 2020 and is wanted on charges of terrorism and sedition.

He is also the founder of the US-based group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), whose Canada chapter was headed by Nijjara before he was gunned down by masked assailants in June near Vancouver.

The group, which has been banned by India, has been a vocal advocate for the cre­ation of an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan.

A diplomatic firestorm erupted this week with Ca­nadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying there were “credible reasons to believe that agents of the govern­ment of India were involved” in Nijjar’s death.

New Delhi dismissed Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd”, tit-for-tat diplo­matic expulsions followed, and India has stopped pro­cessing visa applications by Canadians.

Pannun jumped into the raging row and issued a vid­eo telling Canadian Hindus to “go back to India”, claim­ing they had adopted a “jin­goistic approach” by siding with New Delhi.

In an interview with an Indian news channel, Pan­nun said Nijjar had been his “close associate” for over 20 years and was like a “young­er brother” to him. He also blamed India for Nijjar’s killing.


Soon after his interview was aired, the Indian govern­ment issued an advisory to news networks asking them to refrain from giving a plat­form to people accused of “heinous crimes”.

Armed with court or­ders, officials of India’s Na­tional Investigation Agency (NIA) on Saturday confiscat­ed Pannun’s house in Chan­digarh, the capital of the Sikh-majority state of Pun­jab, it said in a statement.

The NIA also confiscated agricultural land belonging to him in Amritsar, it added.

It accused Pannun of “actively exhorting Pun­jab-based gangsters and youth” on social media “to fight for the cause of the independent state of Khalistan, challenging the sovereignty, integrity and security of the country”.

In a statement mailed to AFP, Pannun’s office down­played the confiscation of his properties. 

“The issue at the heart of the conflict with India is not the properties of Pannun,” it said.

“This is about the Sikh homeland Punjab that is oc­cupied by India and the re­sources of the indigenous people of Punjab that are being plundered by Delhi,” it added.

Sikhism is a minority reli­gion originating in northern India that traces its roots back to the 15th century and drew influences from both Hinduism and Islam.

The Khalistan campaign was largely considered a be­nign fringe movement un­til the early 1980s when a charismatic Sikh funda­mentalist launched a violent separatist insurgency.

It culminated with Indi­an forces storming the Gold­en Temple, the faith’s holiest shrine in Amritsar, where separatists had barricaded themselves.

India’s prime minister In­dira Gandhi was subse­quently assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. 

The insurgency was even­tually brought under con­trol and the Khalistan movement’s most vocal ad­vocates are now among the large Sikh diaspora, par­ticularly in Canada, Britain and Australia.

But memories of the vio­lence -- in which thousands died -- still haunt India, which has outlawed the Khalistan movement and listed several associated groups as “terror­ist organisations”.

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