As 23 members of the European Parliament headed to Kashmir on October 29, speculation grew around who had arranged the visit. It was not an official delegation from the European Parliament, neither was it visiting on the invitation of the government of India.
Two think tanks seem to have been the driving force behind putting together the delegation of mostly far right parliamentarians. According to Bill Newton Dunn, a member of the Liberal Democratic party in the United Kingdom, the trip had been organised by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies. It describes itself as a “thinktank for the Non-Aligned Movement”.
But the invitations seem to have been sent out by a woman named Madi Sharma, who promised “a prestigious VIP meeting with the Prime Minister of India, His Excellency Narendra Modi” as well as a trip to Kashmir. The invitation letter was released by another Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament, Chris Davies, who said would not “join a PR stunt”.
Sharma claimed to be writing on behalf of the Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank. On her Twitter account, Sharma describes herself as a “Social Capitalist : International Business Broker , Education Entrepreneur; Speaker.”
Her letter, dated October 7, promised a three-day visit: “The meeting with the Prime Minister is scheduled for 28th October, with a visit to Kashmir on 29th and a press conference on 30th.”
It added that “flight and accommodations will be covered and are sponsored by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies”.
The International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies was founded in 1980 by Dr Govind Narain Srivastava, “a scholar and journalist” whose name is the only one listed on the institute’s website under the leadership page. Srivastava, who died in 1999, also established New Delhi Times, a newspaper that claims to have a “wide global readership”.
In its mission statement on the website, the Institute claims to have “provided a platform to voice the viewpoint of billions of people of the third world”. It has reportedly established a Centre for Human Rights, which covers the “rights of minorities and ethnic groups”, “rights of the women and child”, sustainable development, “right to life, Democracy and Human Rights”.
The Institute also says it has offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna to coordinate with the United Nations, apart from regional offices in five other countries. The governing body of the Institute, the website says, consists of “parliamentarians, academicians, experts, diplomats and media persons”.
Scroll.in has emailed questions to the address provided on the Institute website. When we called the number listed on the website, we were told someone from the Institute would call back. Both the Institute and the New Delhi Times share a registered address – in Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave according to their websites, with a third organisation: The Srivastava Group, also established by the same Govind Narain Srivastava.
According to the Srivastava Group’s website, it “is one of the fastest growing business houses in the country with interests in Natural resources, Clean energy, Airspace, Consulting services, Healthcare, Print Media and Publishing”.
The Srivastava Group was recently in the news in Europe after Politico revealed that its online presence “overlaps” that of EPToday, a website that, “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”.
EUvsDisinfo, an organisation funded by the European Union which examines disinformation efforts, found that EPToday, which calls itself a “monthly news magazine for the European Parliament” was for the most part reproducing articles word-for-word from the Russian-owned RT.com.
Another organisation, EU Disinfo Lab, a non-governmental organisation that also examines disinformation, went on to explain, in a Twitter thread, that EPToday had been pushed by the Srivastava Group and, per their websites, shares the same office as the group as well.
‘A leading woman’s think tank’
Madi Sharma, whose think tank sent out the invitations, has bylines as the “EU correspondent” of the New Delhi Times. Among her pieces for the newspaper are articles about everything from Kazakhstan to European trade policy. She also has a byline on the newspaper that refers to her as “Founder, Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank (WESTT)”, and covers an interaction with Nayyer Hussain Bokhari, Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan, who she calls “one of the most important political figures from Pakistan”.
On the Women’s Economic Forum website, she is described as the leader of the Madi Group, “International Business Broker, Education Entrepreneur; speaker”. The Women’s Economic and Social Think Tank is part of the Madi Group, a conglomerate of “international private and social enterprises and NGOs”. It claims to be a “a leading women’s think tank with global dimensions, focussing on the economic, environmental and social development of women. At a political level it is also lobbies to raise awareness on key issues but never for commercial gain”.
As Newslaundry points out, Sharma runs a number of concerns, including an “ethnic trail tour company” and Madi Magnesium, a consultancy which supports “SMEs, corporates, public sector organisations, NGOs and governments to overcome their challenges. Sharma also published an article on September 14 this year entitled “Why demolishing Article 370 is both a victory and a challenge for Kashmiri women”. It was published in EP Today.