One company investor collecting and processing applications for Hajj pilgrims living in western countries have close ties to India’s government.
According to Saudi authorities, would-be pilgrims from Australia, Europe, and the United States will be required to apply for visas through the government portal Motawif, a move designed to crack down on so-called “fake” travel agencies.
Those selected would be selected utilizing an “automated lottery” system, which would allow them to book and purchase their transport and accommodations directly through a Saudi government website.
The Saudi government has not commented on why the decision was made so soon before Hajj. Still, MEE research shows that a man linked to the Indian prime minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) helped facilitate investments into Traveazy. This Dubai-based company is processing the western applications through Motawif.
Mr. Prakash is a vice-president and partner at venture capital firm Accel India, and he has served on India’s advisory council for start-ups since 2020. He became an adviser to Karnataka’s chief minister, Bommai, who is an ally of Prime Minister Modi.
Prakash led Accel into partnering with two other companies to invest $7 million in Traveazy’s Holidayme subsidiary in 2016 and to invest a similar amount in Mohammed MS bin Mahfouz’s Umrahme in 2018.
Accel was one of five investors that invested a further $16 million in Traveazy in 2018 and a company co-founded by Geet Bhalla and Digvijay Pratap.
By publication time, MEE had not heard back from Bhalla, the CEO of Traveazy.
Forbes reports that Umrahme is now “one of just three companies authorized by the Ministry of Hajj & Umrah to sell Umrah products to global travel agents. By 2020, it ranked fifth on Forbes’ list of 50 of the most funded start-ups in the Middle East.”.
Extremely dangerous and outrageous
Several Indian activists deemed concerning the revelations. Having a company with investor links to the BJP handle Saudi Arabia’s application process is “outrageous” and “dangerous,” according to New Delhi-based Nabiya Khan.
The BJP-led government has implemented several anti-Muslim policies in Karnataka, including restrictions on the hijab and adhan (dawn prayer).
She said that Muslim men are a site of direct violence in Karnataka, as BJP officials interfere with interfaith marriages and harass inter-faith couples.
“Personal information of Muslims who applied through the portal could easily be misused,” Khan said.
Unfortunately, Muslim nations are handing over such sensitive information and money to individuals whose money will contribute to the persecution of Muslims in India,” said Khan.
On the one hand, the KSA [Saudi Arabia] condemns BJP officials’ controversial remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, but on the other hand, they are doing business with such organizations. Are they clueless or don’t care about Muslims when the BJP’s anti-Muslim agenda is obvious?”
MEE spoke to social and civil rights activist yed Abdahu Kashaf in Hyderabad, who said Saudi Arabia “invited people who have no right to be in a very sacred place for Muslims.”
The Saudi consulate in New York City and the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah declined to comment.
Prakash hails from the southern Indian state of Karnataka, known as India’s start-up capital.