Monday, 30th October 2017

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Tracking Madi Sharma from Brussels to Delhi

An Indian company Srivastava Group has appeared in the picture

By The Telegraph in New Delhi
  • Published 30.10.19, 9:02 AM
  • Updated 30.10.19, 12:40 PM
  • 4 mins read
  •  
A Press Information Bureau picture shows Narendra Modi with what the PIB identified as “the Members of European Parliament” in New Delhi on Monday at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi. 7 Lok Kalyan Marg is the official residence of Prime Minister Modi. On the extreme right is Madi Sharma. Source: PIB

The name that has emerged as the centrepiece of the visit of the European members of Parliament to Kashmir is Madi Sharma.

Some internet digging has shown that Sharma runs an NGO called "Westt” or the Brussels-based Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank. What has also emerged is that Westt conducted the trip of the Members of Eurppean Parliament (MEPs) to India in coordination with an organisation that calls itself the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS), which has an address in Safdarjung Enclave, south Delhi. IINS is supposed to have paid the expenses for the trip. 

An internet tracking of Sharma and her associates has thrown up links between think tanks and a dubious publication owned by an Indian company, the Srivastava Group, that also runs IINS.  

The link between Sharma and IINS emerged from emails she wrote to Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP from Britain who was initially a probable for the Kashmir trip but was dropped by Sharma after he sought unfettered access to move around during the visit. Sharma wrote to Davies in one mail: "The visit will be of a small group of cross party, pan European politicians on a three-day visit (flight and accommodations will be covered and are sponsored by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies)...."

To know Sharma and her business better, it would be important to move the focus first to the Maldives, where a similar MEP team went in 2018. 

What happened in Maldives stays in...

A year ago, a small team of MEPs went to the Maldives to “observe the elections”. The island nation was about to vote to elect its President.

Abdulla Yameen, the then President, was seen to be close to Beijing as several Chinese infrastructure projects had taken off in his tenure after he made the island part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Yameen lost the election to Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, an Opposition leader in the atoll who was seen as favourable towards India. One of Solih's promises before the election was to re-examine the infrastructure projects started during Yameen's tenure, although he did not say he would pull out of any of them.

It was during this election that three MEPs, Tomas Zdechovsky, Maria Gabriela Zoana, and Ryzsard Czarnecki with Sharma visited the island. Zdechovsky and Czarnecki are now in the team that's in Kashmir.

The team published a report which said that the situation was worrying in the Maldives. The Maldives ambassador to EU Ahmed Shiaan then wrote to the European Parliament president complaining that the visit of the members was on tourist visas.

In a press statement later, the European Union said that the delegation visited the Maldives in their personal capacity and it was not an official trip. An EU spokesperson has made a similar statement regarding the MEPs' visit to Kashmir too. A report in the Maldives Independent quoted Zdechovsky’s office saying that it was Sharma who presented the trip as an official one.

Czarnecki is a politician of the far-right Polish ruling political party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość. It is known for its anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric. 

The Polish politician's association with Sharma and IINS, the Safdarjung Enclave based possible financier of the Kashmir MEPs' trip, goes back to at least 2015. 

A basic Google search reveals that the three could be linked to at least one meeting in 2015. 

South Asia Democratic Forum, a think tank based in Brussels, posted a report on a delegation from India. After a conference, sharma attended a meeting with Czarnecki and IINS director-general Pramila Srivastava to “discuss ways of improving the Indian educational system”.

The Srivastava Group 

Pramila Srivastava is the chairman of what is called the Srivastava Group. One of the businesses this group runs is a little known weekly news publication called New Delhi Times. Where is it housed? Yes, the same Safdarjung Enclave address that IINS has on its website.  

Another publication that the group is associated with, but does not mention on its website, is EP Today, a monthly news magazine on the European Parliament. EP Today was in the news recently for dubious reasons. The American news website Politico reported this year that EP Today "targets members of the European Parliament and other policymakers with media content that is critical of Pakistan and drawn largely from a Russian media outlet known for disinformation".  Politico explained that "EUvsDisinfo, a group funded by the European Union, showed that the website EP Today was drawing most of its content from Russian-owned RT and reproducing articles word-for-word on its site."

EP Today's website address says it is based in Brussels. Precisely, 37, Square de meeus, Brussels. The Srivastava Group's Belgium office address too mentions 37, Square de meeus, Brussels.

Back to Sharma

Brussels-based British PIO Sharma calls herself an “international business broker”. 

“Madi stands for Make a difference Ideas,” Sharma described herself in one of her TEDx Talks. Sharma is also a public speaker on gender justice, entrepreneurship and change.

She is listed as a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels where she is mentioned as a “public speaker and expert in... female entrepreneurship.” The EESC calls itself an advisory body which acts as a bridge between the EU and civil society.

Sharma writes for the Srivastava Group's EP Today. On September 14, she wrote an article on how “demolishing Article 370 is both a victory and a challenge for Kashmiri women”. 

Sharma has accompanied the MEPs to New Delhi with a former president of the EESC, Henri Malosse, who heads a Brussels-based think tank Vocal Europe. They met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Malosse was also with Sharma and the MEPs in the Maldives.

Vocal Europe tweeted a photo of Malosse and Sharma on Monday. Yes, it is the same photograph taken at Prime Minister Modi's official residence that the PIB has circulated for the Indian media.