New Delhi: The European parliamentarians may have returned home, but the controversy surrounding their ‘private visit’ to Kashmir lingers on, as does the spotlight it has trained on the two front organisers of the trip.
As is well known by now, the invitation letter for the trip, complete with an offer to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visit Kashmir – a region closed off to Indian lawmakers – was sent by Madi Sharma who runs a UK-based non-profit group. The entire tab for the visit was picked up by the little-known International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies.
The Wire had, on Wednesday, revealed that the company that runs the Institute, Srivastava Group, does not really have a healthy financial balance sheet, as per official filings.
From the beginning of October, Srivastava Group has been receiving unwanted media attention. Earlier this month, a European non-profit had found that news website EP Today, linked to the Srivastava Group, had been recycling content from Russia Today and targeting European lawmakers.
Interestingly, the US state department’s de-classified ‘Report on Active Measures and Propaganda’ published in 1987 had mentioned the founder of the Srivastava group as the source of ‘disinformation’ on US activities.
The 1987 report had a section which claimed that the Soviets had initiated a “disinformation campaign” to accuse US of interfering in the NAM summit at Harare in Zimbabwe, in September 1986.
The last entry in the five pages listing the various kinds of ‘disinformation’ spread is that of a Soviet TV commentator describing the “history of US attempts to put economic pressure on NAM members”. The source for the Soviet TV comment was given as a book by “Govind Narain Srivastava, an Indian writer”. The book titled Conspiracy against the Nonaligned Movement was published in 1986.
But Srivastava, who was also a journalist, had closer ties to yet another communist bloc country – North Korea.
An article published on December 12, 2012 in the news agency KCNA (run by the state or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) notes that there is a ‘tropical fruit tree’ called Psidium Guajava at the central botanical garden in Pyongyang.
It stated the guava tree was a gift presented to “general secretary Kim Jong-il by Dr. of political science of India Govind Narain Srivastava, secretary general of the Asian Regional Institute of the Juche Idea (sic)”.
Juche is the North Korean state’s official philosophy, which is roughly translated into English as ‘self-reliance’.
As per the article, the guava tree was gifted by Srivastava as gratitude for “Kim Jong-il’s loving care for him and his family”.
The story had it that Srivastava was travelling back from Pyongyang, when his health turned for the worse and he had to be deplaned in a third country in a comatose condition in July 1981. Srivastava had already founded the International Institute for Non Aligned Studies, a year earlier, in September 1980.
“Upon hearing the fact, Kim Jong-il [dispatched] competent doctors from the DPRK and sent tonics for the recovery of his health. He also took a step to bring his son to him to comfort his loneliness in hospital,” it said.
The article concluded that a moved Srivastava said that he was “blessed with loving care shown by Kim Jong-il, who was revered by all people in the world”.
This story about Srivastava was even published in the 2013 English language magazine Korea Today, a propaganda publication of the DPRK.
This article further quotes Srivastava’s ‘reverence’ for Kim Jong-il:
“To a man as a social being, there is no greater happiness than to live under loving care and trust because they are the greatest boon a man can grant to another man. And so when you are loved and trusted by a great man whom all people look up to, how blessing and glorious it will be! In this sense I say I am a luckiest man in the world.”
Srivastava had close connections with North Korea till the end of his life.
According to another KCNA article archived in KCNAwatch, he is listed as one of the directors of an ‘International Seminar on 21st Century and Position of Human Being,’ held in Japan in 1997. The seminar had been organised by the International Institute of the Juche Idea. A follow-up article said that North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il sent gifts to the participants of the Tokyo seminar, which again lists Srivastava.
Two years later, in February 1999, KCNA carried a report on a condolence message sent by the de facto head of the North Korean state, the president of the presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong-nam, to the wife of Govind Narain Srivastava.
The 1999 KCNA article says that Kim lauded Srivastava as a “prominent social activist who had grown to be an ardent adherent of the Juche idea under the loving care of great leaders like President Kim Il-sung and Marshal Kim Jong-il and devotedly worked for independence of India and the world”.
His death, in Kim’s message, was described as a “big loss for all the adherents of the Juche idea working hard to realise humankind’s cause of independence”.
“Though he passed away, his feats for global independence will remain long in the hearts of the Korean people and the world’s progressives,” it stated.
Srivastava apparently remained as secretary general of the Asian Regional Institute of the Juche Idea till his death. The Institute still figures several times on KCNA articles for organising events related to North Korea in India. The institute also has a website, but the mobile number given there does not work. When the landline was dialled, a woman who picked up the phone expressed ignorance about the institute. She confirmed that it was her number and address on the website, but pointed out that both belonged to a residence.
Two years after he died, Srivastava’s wife, Pramila, edited a book on non-alignment in honour of her husband. It had several contributions from former Indian diplomats. A review of the book was written by former external affairs minister, Natwar Singh, in his regular column in the Frontline magazine in December 2001.
(With inputs from Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta)