Arvind Kejriwal to replace Modi as speaker at Wharton meet

Gautam Adani, Prabhu decline invitation.

Bureau Report

WASHINGTON, DC: The fiasco over the decision by the Wharton School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania to withdraw its invitation to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to address its annual economic forum meet has led to further controversy with two other speakers withdrawing in protest at Modi’s non-inclusion, including Gautam Adani, the charman of the Adani Group, who was also the principal sponsor of the meet in Philadelphia to be held on March 23rd.

Along with Adani, Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu too has opted out of the program, citing his disappointment at the humiliation meted out to Modi, saying that it was not Modi’s decision to address the meet, rather he had agreed to it, after he had been invited.

According to NDTV, activist and politician Arvind Kejriwal will fill in the void of Keynote Speaker created by Modi’s non-participation.

Prabhu termed this decision “ridiculous” and announced that he will not attend as a mark of protest.

“It was Wharton which invited him. Modi did not ask that he be invited. And if you are calling off the invite, I think it is not only an insult of the Gujarat chief minister but of the entire country,” Prabhu said.

The Shiv Sena leader maintained that Modi is a democratically elected leader and a “three-term CM”.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party was dismissive of the cancellation of Modi’s invitation.

“It is Modi’s acceptance in India that matters. He needs no certificate from any international forum. He had not filed an application to speak at Wharton. They had invited him. Let them keep it,” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told reporters in New Delhi, in reply to a question.

A report in The Hindustan Times said that the University of Pennsylvania’s decision to drop Modi as keynote speaker was influenced by three Indian-origin professors – Toorjo Ghosh, Ania Loomba and Suvir Kaul – who wrote a strong letter to Wharton, saying they were “outraged” that Modi had been invited.

“This is the same politician who was refused a diplomatic visa by the United States State Department on March 18, 2005 on the ground that he, as Chief Minister, did nothing to prevent a series of orchestrated riots that targeted Muslims in Gujarat,” they wrote in the letter, that evolved into a petition signed by over 250 people.

Though Modi was to address the conclave only through a videoconference – to circumvent the visa dispute – agreeing to continue with Modi as a speaker once critics had pointed to the State Department position on the Gujarat CM, could have meant upsetting sections of the US administration, the report said.

India is also a critical market for the university. After China, India sends most international students to UPenn, at a time when the university – like most other major institutions in the US – are increasingly relying on foreign students.

“There’s always a reluctance — rightly so – to be seen as getting involved in internal political spats of other countries, and it’s even more so with India, given how critical the country is for us,” an administrator at the university said, requesting anonymity, reported the Times.

“Make no mistake, the move to not have Modi was a result of UPenn, not Wharton,” a senior Wharton official said, pointing to the fact that not a single Wharton faculty member had signed the petition demanding that the Gujarat CM’s speech be scrapped.

Wharton also had a tough balancing task to perform, with its student body clearly in favor of calling Modi, and faculty members keen not to upset a man who could emerge a Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

So on Sunday – while announcing that Modi’s address had been cancelled — the WIEF organizers tried walking a tightrope. The cancellation was aimed at saving UPenn and Modi from any embarrassment from protestors at the conclave venue, the WIEF statement said, adding however that it stood by its decision to invite Modi.

The organizers also held out an olive branch to Modi – stating that they remained impressed by the Gujarat growth story, and that they hoped to hold an interaction between the BJP strongman and Wharton students soon, without the “distraction” caused by the invitation they had just withdrawn, said the report.

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