New Delhi: As a delegation of European Union (EU) lawmakers wrap up their two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, questions are being raised over how Madi Sharma, a Brussels-based person of Indian origin, was able to arrange the trip even as Indian opposition leaders have been kept waiting for access.
The 23 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) who visited J&K were not part of an official delegation of the European Parliament, nor were they invited by the Ministry of External Affairs. The invitations were, in fact, sent by Sharma on behalf of the Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT), an NGO she runs. The NGO itself is reportedly part of Sharma’s Madi Group.
According to the group’s website, “Madi Sharma is the Entrepreneur who founded, inspires and motivates the Madi Group, a group of International private sector & social enterprises, not for profit companies and NGOs (sic).”
Sharma’s purported Twitter account describes her as a ‘Social Capitalist: International Business Broker, Education Entrepreneur; Speaker’.
Sharma, who accompanied the 23 EU lawmakers to J&K, had reportedly sent out invitations to 30 MEPs, promising them “a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India, His Excellency Narendra Modi” and a visit to Jammu and Kashmir.
“I am organising a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India, His Excellency Narendra Modi and it is my privilege to offer this invitation to you… As you will be aware Prime Minister Modi had a landslide victory in the recent elections in India and is planning to continue on his path of growth and development for India the country and its people. In that respect, he would like to meet influential decision makers from the European Union,” read the invitation.
Screenshot of the invitation letter sent via email was released by Chris Davies, an MEP from Britain’s United Kingdom’s Liberal Democrats party, who refused to “join the PR stunt”.
The Lib Dem leader said he had asked Sharma for free access and the liberty to talk to “whoever I wish, unaccompanied by military, police or security forces, but accompanied by journalists and television crews”. Sharma reportedly suggested that they meet in person to discuss it but cancelled the meeting, saying she could not take any more MEPs.
According to the Madi Group’s website, the company runs a host of business, including a business brokerage firm, a consultancy for MSMEs named Madi Magnesium, and an ‘ethnic trail tour company’, which “provides local holiday experiences for travellers seeking experiences”.
Who Paid for the Trip?
In the invitation, Sharma said the trip would be sponsored by the Delhi-based International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS). According to its website, IINS “is an international organisation, founded on September 19, 1980… to project and highlight the convictions of the peoples of the Non-aligned World.”
The ‘leadership’ section of the IINS website, says it was founded by Dr Govind Narain Srivastava, a “scholar and a journalist” by profession. It says he was the director general of IINS and editor of New Delhi Times. Srivastava died in 1999 and the website has no information on the institute’s current leadership. The ‘contact us’ section lists out an address in Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave and two phone numbers.
A News18 reporter, however, found the office locked on Wednesday morning and phone calls went unanswered.
On September 14, weeks after the government revoked J&K’s special status and converted it into a Union Territory sans Ladakh, Sharma penned an article in support of the move. Headlined ‘Why demolishing Article 370 is both a victory and a challenge for Kashmiri women’, the piece appeared in EP Today.
EP Today’s website says it is a monthly news magazine about the European Parliament. An article in The Guardian dated October 9, however, says the publication identified itself as “news magazine for the European parliament” and had been lifting articles from the Kremlin-funded Russian news channel RT.
According to the Guardian report, “The taskforce concluded in its report that the site, which has 145,000 Facebook fans and publishes about 25 articles a day, is a “lobbying platform, presented as a serious news outlet, whose target audience are EU decision-makers.”
EP Today published an article in August last year about a visit by some MEPs to the Maldives. The article, headlined ‘The edge of Chasm: Threat to the Maldavian democracy’, described Sharma as a British European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
It said that Sharma, EESC president Henri Malosse, and MEPs Tomas Zdechovsky, Maria Gabriela Zoana and Ryzsard Czarnecki “uncovered disturbing, undemocratic trends occurring in the archipelago”.
“Attacks on democratic principles, combined with close ties to radical Islamist groups, brings the security of European tourists, business and investors into question,” the EP Today article said.
The delegation’s visit to the Maldives came just before the presidential elections amid New Delhi’s concerns that a second term for incumbent Abdullah Yameen could spell doom for Male’s India-first policy.
EP Today quoted Malosse as cautioning against Yameen’s victory. “We will not let Yameen transform the paradise islands of the Maldives into a hell. If Yameen wins with threats and fraud, we won’t just ban his close friends, we will ban the whole country from tourism and investment.”
Yameen ended up losing the election.
The delegation had marketed themselves as an official representation from the EU. But the Maldivian envoy to the EU complained to the European Parliament that the group “was on a privately sponsored visit under a tourist visa and engaged in their ‘investigation’, in utter disregard and violation of the rules and laws of Maldives Immigration”.
Sharma’s J&K invitation to the MEPs mentions that the MEPs’ participation will be “as our VIP guest and not in an official capacity as a delegation of the Members of European Parliament”.