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After protests, Wharton cancels Modi's keynote address

March 04, 2013 10:12 IST

The prestigious Wharton school on Sunday cancelled the keynote address of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, following uproar from a section of university professors and students about the invitation extended to the controversial Bharatiya Janata Party leader.

The organising committee of the prestigious annual event apologised for putting the university and the Wharton School administration in a ‘difficult position’.

It said Modi's address would be replaced by a prominent Indian leader, whose name would be released very soon.

"Mr Modi's keynote address at Wharton India Economic Forum has been cancelled," the Wharton India Economic Forum said in a statement.

Modi was invited to deliver the keynote address at the Forum, which will be held in Philadelphia on March 22-23, via videoconference.

"We hope to have Mr Modi speak at a more appropriate forum where he can interact with students without the distraction of this kind of attention," the statement said.

A group of Wharton's professors and students had written a strongly-worded letter saying they are outraged to learn that the Forum has invited Modi as a keynote speaker.

The letter noted, "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."

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia is expected to address the Forum on March 23.

"With all the chosen speakers across multiple keynotes and panels, our goal as a team is to provide a neutral platform to encourage cross pollination of ideas as we all work towards contributing to India's success.

"Through this ideology, we hope to present multiple opinions and ideas to our audiences and supporters across the world and constructively contribute to the intellectual milieu for which University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School stand," the statement said.

In its statement, the Forum said the student body was extremely impressed with Modi's credentials, governance ideologies and leadership, which was the primary reason for his invitation.

"However, as a responsible student body within the University of Pennsylvania, we must consider the impact on multiple stakeholders in our ecosystem," it said.

The Forum said even as it stood by its decision to invite Modi, "We believe that this course of action (of cancelling his address) would be the most appropriate in the light of reactions of the multiple stakeholders involved."

"Therefore, we as a team, would like to apologise for being a catalyst for a decision that may have put Mr Modi and the Wharton School administration in a difficult position," the Forum said.

The Forum said it hoped to have Modi speak at a "more appropriate forum where he can interact with students without the distraction of this kind of attention".

The Forum said it was in the last stages of finalising an additional keynote address that will be delivered by a very prominent Indian leader.

Since its inception in 1996, the meet has emerged as one of the largest and most prestigious India-focused business conferences that provides a platform for leaders to discuss the opportunities present in India and the challenges that need to be addressed.

Other eminent invited guests to the conference include Milind Deora, Union Minister of State for IT and Communications; Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group; actress Shabana Azmi, poet and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar.

Other eminent invited guests to the conference include Union Minister of State for IT and Communications Milind Deora, Chairman of the Adani Group Gautam Adani, actress Shabana Azmi and poet and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar.

Earlier keynote speakers have included former president Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Varun Gandhi and industrialist Anil Ambani. 

Lalit K Jha
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