Indians by nature are a passionate and argumentative lot in general. However, a few topics in particular are guaranteed to really get them going at length. These include cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, India-Pakistan relations, and Narendra Modi. I have to admit that each of these topics has an impact on my blood pressure, in varying degrees.
My pet topic for today is Narendra Modi, as all my questions are related to the recent case of Modi and the Wharton Business School (University of Pennsylvania).
Part 1: Recap
For those who came in late, here is a synopsis: The Wharton India Economic Forum invited Narendra Modi to be the keynote speaker at their conference. He accepted the invitation. Then a group of 135 Indian-American academics (strangely, none of whom belonged to Wharton), decided to write a ‘furious’ petition. They demanded that the invitation be revoked, based on Modi’s alleged human rights violations .The organizers developed cold feet and cancelled their invitation. The petitioners were triumphant, and they celebrated a victory with their anti-Modi brethren in India.
However, the victory was short-lived. It turned out that the Indian-American academics sitting in the US had lost touch with the ground realities of modern India. Cocooned in their “ left-liberal” intellectual world, they had ceased to feel the pulse of the people. Therefore, they did not anticipate the anger that would result from their action. They did not account for the fact that for many Indians, this would become a collective ego issue. They forgot, as senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta pointed out, that “Indians hate foreigners showering the country with gratuitous insults.”
As a consequence of Wharton’s cancellation, the chairman of the Adani group (their chief sponsor), pulled out of the event, as did Suresh Prabhu, a politician from the Shiv Sena.
Indians from across the country united to criticize Wharton’s move. Social media was particularly scathing, and prominent citizens like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman of Biocon, expressed disgust by tweeting: “Wharton India Forum- No blow to Modi but a blot on Indian student organizers – most unprofessional for not being aligned.”
Even Modi’s skeptics were critical. Film producer & writer Pritish Nandy tweeted: “Disagree with Modi. But its sad Wharton chose not to let him speak. Argue, contradict. But let the man have his say.”
The public outrage only served to strengthen Modi, the man they had sought to slight. Swapan Dasgupta encapsulated this view when he tweeted “Thank u Wharton. You have added another few percentage points to NAMO’s popularity ratings in India.”
Thus, for Wharton, it’s face saving ploy ended up being an unmitigated public relations disaster.
Part 2: Introspection
Now the main acts of the Wharton drama have already played out. Various groups have taken a stand. I have heard and observed diverse responses. At the end of it all, I am left with questions, that go beyond the current issues. I seek answers and hence put forth some question, to all my countrymen (and women), across caste, region, religion and political affiliations:
1. Why should people who don’t have voting rights, or a stake in India, have the power to meddle in our internal affairs? Why should an outsider’s opinion have primacy over opinions of the people who have voted a person to lead them (not once, but three times, in this case)?
2. Why do most people not think that it is important to question the group of overseas academics who run insidious campaigns against India and Indians? What is their motive? Who funds them? How many Ghulam Nabi Fais will have to be unmasked before we pay attention?
3. How is it that some academics (and others) are able to peddle lies and half-truths systematically? How is it that some of us choose to believe the ‘evidence’ they cite, when a Supreme Court appointed SIT rejects the same? What makes their opinion more valid than the opinion of the highest court of our land?
4.Why do our people patiently accept the glib use of terms like liberty, justice and freedom, which this group conveniently uses to justify their own illiberal attitudes and bigotry? Which tenant of freedom do they follow when they push their agenda and snuff out differing opinions?
5. Why should America, or any other country for that matter, be our gold standard? Decades after independence, why do we still hanker after a “gora thappa’” (white man’s stamp) to get a sense of validation?
6. Finally, I have just one question for Wharton. In future, what will you teach your bright, young students? When you discuss business strategy and ethics, will you say to them: “Choose your strategy based on wisdom rather than fear.” “Choose what is right over what is expedient”. Or, will you teach them to follow your example and say: “When the going get tough, run”?