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24 Dec, 2023 12:44

New Delhi reacts after Hindu temple is vandalized in California

India says extremists in foreign countries should not have space to operate, amid an ongoing row with the US and Canada 
New Delhi reacts after Hindu temple is vandalized in California

New Delhi reacted strongly on Saturday to the defacement of a Hindu temple in California with ‘anti-India’ and ‘pro-Khalistan’ graffiti, reiterating that “separatist elements” should not have space to operate in foreign countries. 

The attack on the shrine comes amid an ongoing row between India and its closest Western partners, the US and Canada, over New Delhi’s alleged targeting of north America-based Sikh activists who advocate that a separate state – Khalistan – be carved out of India. 

We are concerned about separatist elements operating on foreign soil and they should not get space there,” External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told the media in Gujarat on Saturday. He added that the consulate had lodged a complaint with the US government and police, and an investigation is underway.

The authorities at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple in Newark, California said they were “shocked” to discover “anti-India” graffiti on the walls on Friday. Photos posted online by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) shows slogans praising separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and insulting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Bhindranwale, a militant leader who established a ‘parallel government’ in the Indian state of Punjab in the 1980s, was killed in 1984 during ‘Operation Blue Star’, which was launched by the government under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. 

India has repeatedly raised concerns with Western countries, including the US, UK, and Canada, over a lack of action against pro-Khalistan supporters, despite repeated threats to Indian diplomatic missions in these countries, as well as the Indian leadership, including the prime minister.

The Indian Consulate in San Francisco, California came under attack twice this year, allegedly from pro-Khalistan activists. FBI Director Christopher Wray, during a recent visit to India, said the US is probing attacks on the consulate “aggressively” and would be able to share credible leads soon.

The US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs took to X (formerly Twitter) on Saturday to condemn the vandalism, while welcoming the efforts of the Newark police to “ensure that those responsible are held accountable.” The police captain told a press conference that the vandalism will be investigated with “full thoroughness.”

The incident comes as the US and Canada are investigating India’s alleged targeting of pro-Khalistan activists on their soil who were designated by New Delhi as terrorists. While Canada has linked “agents of the Indian government” to the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June, a US court indictment says an Indian government official orchestrated an assassination attempt against Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the founder of separatist organization Sikhs for Justice. New Delhi has rejected Canada’s allegations, but formed a high-level committee to probe “relevant aspects” of the US case.

Meanwhile, several US lawmakers of Indian origin have condemned the defacement of the temple, while calling for swift justice. Ro Khana, who represents California’s 17th district where the vandalism took place, condemned the incident in a post on X, adding, “freedom to worship is at the heart of American democracy.” 

Another Indian-origin congressman, Shri Thanedar, said the “desecration” struck at the “very essence” of America’s “diverse and inclusive society.” Congressman Subramanian Raja Krishnamoorthi urged people to stand united against bigotry “in all its ugly forms,” stressing that the culprits must be held accountable.

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