A Brussels-based person of Indian origin describing herself as an “international business broker” and running a little-known European NGO named ‘Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT)’, is the one who arranged the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several right-wing leaders from Europe.
Invites were sent to more than 30 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) by Madi Sharma, a Brussels-based Person of Indian Origin (PIO). In her invitation email, she wrote, “I am organising a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India.”
On her Twitter account, Sharma describes herself as a “Social Capitalist : International Business Broker, Education Entrepreneur; Speaker.”
The details that have emerged raise several questions, with the foremost being: How did an “international business broker” and a little-known NGO swing access to PM Modi and arrange a visit to Kashmir for these MEPs?
These European Members of Parliament became the first delegation of foreign dignitaries to visit Kashmir since Article 370 was abrogated. Yet, India’s Ministry of External Affairs says that it was not involved in the visit, and was not coordinating it.
Interestingly, despite the MEA’s claim of not being involved, the MEPs had meetings with Modi, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and even Vice President Venkaiah Naidu.
The Invitation Sent out to European Politicians
It is worthwhile to note that the invitation email stresses, “Your participation will be as our VIP guest and not in an official capacity as a delegation of Members of the European Parliament.”
Madi Sharma’s Record as Lobbyist
Madi Sharma is listed as a lobbyist who met with conservative MEPs, as per two reports from 2015 and 2017.
- In 2017, she was listed as a lobbyist who had meetings with two MEPs from London, Charles Tannock and Syed Kamall.
- In 2015, she was listed as a lobbyist who met with MEP Amjad Bashir from UK’s Yorkshire and the Humber region.
Additionally, WESTT (the organisation run by Madi Sharma) is listed on LobbyFacts.eu, a site that indexes lobbying in the European Union (EU).
One Invitation, Many Organisations
- The invitation was sent out by Madi Sharma, who signed off her email with a reference to her business interest, Madi Group. On its website, Madi Group describes itself as “a group of International private sector & social enterprises, not for profit companies and NGOs.”
- In her email, Sharma made a detailed mention of the ‘Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT)’. She wrote, “My organisation WESTT has been working with the European Parliament and governments and non-governmental organisations across the world, mainly in South Asia in various capacities focussed on the empowerment of women.” But nowhere did she mention that WESTT was organising the trip.
- Instead, the email also referred to the India-based International Institute of Non-Aligned Studies (IINS) as the sponsors of the trip. “Flight and accommodations will be covered and are sponsored by the International Institute of Non-Aligned Studies.”
IINS is an organisation based in Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi. Its website says that it was founded in 1980 “to project and highlight the convictions of the peoples of the Non-aligned World.”
IINS’ association with Madi Sharma is unclear, and the organisation has not responded regarding the matter yet.
The Many Questions This Raises
- Who really were the organisers of the meeting then? Was it WESTT or IINS? Was WESTT organising it and IINS merely sponsoring it?
- What is the nature of the relationship between WESTT and IINS, given that IINS was footing the expensive bill for the trip as per Madi Sharma’s invitation email?
- Why did the invitation email not clarify these details?
- There was no overt mention about the organisers of this meeting by the Indian government. Why not?
- How much did IINS spend on the travel and accommodation of the MPs, and what was its motivation to do so?
- If Madi Sharma could promise “a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India” in her invitation emails, then it would stand to reason that she likely had an assurance that such a meeting would definitely take place if she could get the MEPs on board. What is Madi Sharma’s association with the Prime Minister’s Office or the government of India that she could arrange for the same?
- There was a clear focus on inviting right-wing and far-right leaders of the European Parliament. Was this an instruction given by the Modi government, or was it a decision made by Madi Sharma and whichever organisations helped her organise this meeting?
Did 4 MEPs Drop out of Kashmir Visit Due to the Ongoing Controversy?
On Tuesday evening, hours after the MEPs’ visit to Kashmir, The Hindu reported that out of the 27 MEPs who had come to Delhi as part of the delegation, only 23 had attended the meetings in Srinagar.
Did the remaining four MEPs drop out due to the ongoing controversy about the Kashmir visit and the negative publicity it had attracted due to the overwhelming majority of the delegation being members of far-right and right wing political parties?
So far, there is no clarity on the names of the 4 MEPs who reportedly gave the Kashmir meetings a miss.
However, given that 22 out of the 27 MEPs in the original delegation were from far-right and right-wing parties, it would be interesting to note if the 4 MEPs who dropped out are among the 5 members belonging to non-right parties.
The Quint has emailed a detailed list of questions to Madi Sharma, WESTT, IINS and the Ministry of External Affairs. This article will be updated if and when they respond.