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Company that processes Hajj applications from western countries received investments from a firm with links to the BJP, says an investigation by the Middle East Eye

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Company that processes Hajj applications from western countries received investments from a firm with links to the BJP, says an investigation by the Middle East Eye

At the Bengaluru Tech Summit in Bengaluru in April: (from left) Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys; Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai; C.N. Ashwath Narayan ,  Karnataka Minister of Information Technology - Biotechnology, Higher Education, Science and Technology; and Prashanth Prakash, policy and strategy adviser to Chief Minister Bommai.

At the Bengaluru Tech Summit in Bengaluru in April: (from left) Kris Gopalakrishnan, co-founder of Infosys; Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai; C.N. Ashwath Narayan , Karnataka Minister of Information Technology - Biotechnology, Higher Education, Science and Technology; and Prashanth Prakash, policy and strategy adviser to Chief Minister Bommai. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

In a revelation that might ruffle feathers, an investigation by the Middle East Eye has found that the company tasked by the Saudi authorities to process applications from prospective Hajj pilgrims living in western countries has received investments from a firm whose vice president enjoys proximity with the Indian government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Saudi authorities announced a fortnight ago that Hajj applicants from Australia, Europe, and the United States would need to apply for visas through Motawif, the government portal. The move aims to end exploitation by fake travel agencies and ensure transparency by introducing an automated lottery system for selection of pilgrims.

The Saudi authorities have contracted Traveazy, a Dubai-based company, to facilitate applications from the U.S., Australia and Europe through Motawif. It has now come to light that Traveazy has at least twice received substantive investments from Accel India, a venture capital firm whose vice president Prashanth Prakash is perceived to be a key BJP ally.

Prakash is currently a policy and strategy adviser to Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai of the BJP. His affinity for the Hindu nationalist party became public knowledge when he showered praises on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic even though the Central government had attracted scathing criticism from the opposition in India and observers worldwide over the unrelenting death toll—the World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that nearly 4.7 million Indians died of COVID-19 so far.

According to the Middle East Eye, Prakash “led Accel into partnering with two other operations when they collectively invested $7m in Traveazy in 2016, as the Indian-owned company began to build its Holidayme subsidiary, and, later in 2018, Umrahme, a company run by Mohammed MS bin Mahfouz”.

The Middle East Eye reported that in 2018 “Accel was part of a consortium of five partners who invested a further $16m into Traveazy, which was co-founded by Indian nationals Geet Bhalla and Digvijay Pratap”.

Prashanth Prakash has served on India’s National Startup Advisory Council since 2020.

Since Traveazy is expected to reap considerable monetary dividends by partnering with Motawif, several activists have voiced concerns about its linkages with a company apparently close to the Indian establishment at a time when anti-Muslim hate crimes in India have littered the news space globally.

Activist Nabiya Khan, who is based in New Delhi, found the Middle East Eye’s revelations concerning. The news organisation quoted her as saying, “Muslims in Karnataka have been under continuous attack under the BJP…. The personal data of those Muslims who applied through the portal could easily end up in the wrong hands…. It is unfortunate that Muslim nations are entrusting such sensitive information and money to people whose money will ultimately abet persecution of Muslims in India.”

Saudi Arabia’s government is yet to react to the Middle East Eye’s revelations.