International Commission to Monitor Saudi Administration of the Two Holy Mosques (Al Harmain Watch) strongly condemned the Saudi authorities’ decision to hire a company linked to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to process the Hajj applications, whose Islamophobia has been widely reported.
Media reports affirmed that an individual involved in helping facilitate millions of dollars’ worth of investments into Traveazy — a Dubai-based company that has been exclusively contracted to process the western applications through Motawif — has ties to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Last week, Saudi authorities announced that would-be Hajj pilgrims from Australia, Europe and the United States would need to apply for visas via the government portal Motawif, a move intended to crack down on what it called “fake” travel agencies.
Prashant Prakash, the vice president and partner at venture capital firm Accel India, has served on India’s National Startup Advisory Council since 2020, and in 2021 became a policy and strategy adviser to Basavaraj Bommai, the chief minister of the BJP-run government in Karnataka and a key Modi ally.
According to Accel, it was Prakash who led the venture capital firm into partnering with two other operations when they collectively invested $7 million 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 bin Mahfouz.
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.
Several Indian activists said the revelations were concerning. Nabiya Khan, based in the capital, New Delhi, told MEE that Saudi Arabia’s decision to outsource the application process to a company with investor links to the BJP was “outrageous” and “dangerous”.
Khan said that the BJP-led Karnataka government was at the centre of several anti-Muslim policies, including restrictions on the hijab and adhan (dawn prayer).
“Muslims in Karnataka have been under continuous attack under the BJP. We have also seen Karnataka’s chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai, encouraging right-wing interference of inter-faith marriages and harassment of inter-faith couples, where Muslim men are a site of direct violence,” she said.
“The personal data of those Muslims who applied through the portal could easily end up in the wrong hands,” Khan said.
“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,” added Khan.
“On the one hand, KSA [Saudi Arabia] condemns controversial remarks about the Prophet Muhammad by BJP leaders, and on the other hand they are extending business with such organisations. Are they actually clueless or just don’t care about Muslims when the BJP’s anti-Muslim agenda is so clear for all to see?”
Since Saudi Arabia announced its changes to the Hajj application process, there have been several mishaps for western pilgrims.
On Friday, applicants said they were being bombarded with spam after registering on the site, prompting concerns about privacy and data theft – especially since the company does not specify its data protection policies on its website.
On Monday, Motawif’s site experienced several technical difficulties receiving applications, eventually crashing as millions descended upon the site.