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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”?

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30 thoughts on “Some inconvenient questions

  1. Brilliantly put. Cant agree more with you….This student body at Wharton has damaged its own reputation than anybody else. If they are so weak then may be they should have never invited Narendra Modi in the 1st place. Then to add insult to injury they invite Arvind Kejriwal who made unsubstantiated allegations against Adani group and Narendra Modi.

    Why should Gautam Adani pay from his pocket for a talk fest where the speakers (read Kejriwal) is speaking. This is the same Kejriwal who has already defamed Gautam Adani and Narendra Bhai.

    Clearly these “intelligent” students of Wharton are not so intelligent. It also shows that Indian education is far superior than Wharton or any other Ivy League crap.

    Student body of SRCC had invited Narendra Modi and they handled the event smoothly whereas these people couldnt manage a video conference!

  2. The Incident clearly marks the intolerance of so called liberals. I never gave much muck to anything political but this is beyond dissent, it’s plain an shameless Hypocrisy !
    Great piece btw.. you have a reader in me.

  3. Wharton has lost its claim to being a credible intellectual institution.
    That MODI has a large following for his plain speak is well known and he has something to say that people – specially young people -want to hear ( witness the recent success of the SRCC event and the Actor Deogan interview). That the Wharton based Society had thought that he was worth listening to is obvious – they invited him to be keynote speaker!
    Then what has happened since then to change it?. If some people don’t like him and don’t want to hear what he says they can shut their ears -but what about those who wanted to hear what he says? Do we have to put up a petition with 2000 names?
    Wharton are you listening?

  4. withdrawing the invitation was a shameful act on part of Wharton. NM was to address via Video conf. Those who opposed could have easily avoided viewing, Others could have viewed it. Well NM followers have increased as a result. NM will thank Wharton.

    Kejriwal a ‘real patriot’ grabs at the chance. Jai Ho!

  5. Hi – short and very well written. BTW, have you read Rajiv Malhotra’s “Being Different”? It is a most seminal and original work by an Indian in recent times. Would strongly recommend it to all Indians and especially Hindus.

  6. Pingback: Some interesting blog posts on Wharton episode | DeshGujarat

  7. Geoffrey Boycott during a particular lunch show : Sachin maybe a great batsman but he has never been on the Lord’s honors boards !!!!!

    Harsha Bhogle : So whose loss is it more, Sachin’s or the honors board’s ??

    Similarly,

    Who’s loss is it anyway? Of course, Wharton’s!

  8. Rahul Gandhi is invited in Wharton to speak on “Inheritance of Power and its many joys”…Never imagined that a Business School whose job is to teach professionalism can stoop to this level.Modi wins again

  9. Kudos to you . Its ’bout time some one starts putting reality in perspective.. Whether the world likes it not Namos time has come to lead this country out of this muck the CON-gress has landed us in.

  10. Like the stick of Hindutva, the stick of Modi bashing and secularism is losing its glaze. The very name Narendra Modi invokes criticism from ruling party and many in India that portrays insecurity in their mind or a shut mind. Courts are working well in India though slowly. Justice will catch up with him if he is wrong. But at the moment let us celebrate an outstaning administrator’s work.
    Congratulations to the author for showing courage and writing so beautifully.

  11. ” Then a group of 135 Indian-American academics (strangely, none of whom belonged to Wharton), decided to write a ‘furious’ petition.What is their motive? Who funds them? How many Ghulam Nabi Fais will have to be unmasked before we pay attention?”. I think we all know who this group of academics are. The only way to counter the snub is by ensuring namo gets elected a 4th time!

  12. It is said the conspiracy started by Hidden Islamist comrade Javed Anand.They Contacted (now owned by a sectretive Islamic country’s security appratus) The Hindu news editor.Citizens of Justice and Peace( a pan Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda in Somalia). Teesta bibi Javed Anand Setlewad then contacted an old comrade T.Ghosh a memberb of Naxals in WB and later Peoples War Group.
    Teesta manufactured Signatures not even bothering to change the ball point’according to eye witness…

  13. very well put together critique of politics of our time by the lovely lady with, as one reader noted, brains. however, one thing bears mentioning that goras have played no role here that we can discern. the few signatories belonging to Wharton alumni have now been identified as friends of dilliwala gandhis – alumni like kanishka singh, sachin pilot, vikram chatwal, rajeev gowda, all friends of gandhis. also bears noting is that this event’s main sponsor is govt of india of gandhis. thus, all this flows from gandhi loyalists. this is indian congressi politics at its customary grotesqueness.

  14. Letter to Wharton:

    Dear Mr. Wharton,
    I understand that you run a school that charges very high fees and prepares pupils to be world leaders. I believe people who aspire for such roles should have a strength of mind and intelligence to face situations in a real world and do the right thing even in the face of adverse public opinion. Your recent decision to dis-invite Mr. Modi shows that you are afraid that your pupils may not be prepared for such a challenge. Perhaps your pupils are being taught to just be good boys and hold on to the apron strings of Mama. In India we call such people “babalog”.
    I shall be grateful if you will include this fact in the brochure next year when you invite new entrants to your school so that they know what they are paying for.
    Yours truly.

  15. It is entirely shameful the way Wharton has conducted this affair – especially the part where it bowed to pressure from within the university to repeal its invitation. The answers to the questions that pop into my mind from a quick objective glance:
    A1. They are not meddling in India’s affairs if that’s what you meant by “our”. Let’s not accord them any privilege of that kind. They are just controlling what their university may or may not indulge in. It does not undermine the people’s mandate in Gujarat in any way.
    A2. There are people running more flagrant, overt campaigns in India against Indians that reaches larger masses than these overseas campaigns which neither have the reach nor the impact. Are they still worth questioning? Yes. Are they high on the priority list of questionable things? Probably not.
    A3. People tend to accept that as the truth that which reinforces their pre-conceived notions driven by personal dogma or emotional considerations over fact and reason. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a tenet of the justice system. The minds of people work quite the opposite way.
    A4. The use of clichéd terms in order to occupy higher moral ground is a strategy being adopted these days, by both sides in every “your-word-against-mine” argument. Each side may spin their own argument into the folds of liberty, justice and freedom and sound totally justified to a dispassionate observer. You are expecting people to be rational and discerning. They are not.
    A5. When you’ve heard both sides of the argument and concluded that you’re not getting the complete truth from either, you tend to look for the opinion of a seemingly impartial entity. “See what Time magazine says about Mr. Modi” sounds better than “See what Anil Ambani says…”. This is not to say that a hankering for western merit badges doesn’t exist at all.
    I can’t answer the question for Wharton but the likely reality will be that they’ll be taught “… don’t get yourself in a situation where going forward and backing out are equally damaging”. I just wonder what these folks will do if Mr. Modi does indeed get elected PM.

  16. 1. People who signed that petition are Indian citizens, too! I am one of them. I know the majority of the 130 people who signed when the letter was sent, and they are not “disconnected from ground realities.” (The number of signatories to that first letter is close to 250 now, but it was NOT the only letter written.) They DO have the right to vote. They and others DO have a stake in India. In fact, if one must question the power of non-citizens to influence domestic policy, please note that the VHP raises money for its programmes from diasporas in US/UK… Why are you not bothered by international financing for conservative politics?
    2. Why do most people not think that it is important to question the group of domestic fundamentalists who run insidious campaigns against India and Indians? What is their motive? Who funds them?
    3. How is it that some politicians and citizens (and others) are able to peddle lies and half-truths systematically?
    4.Why do our people patiently accept the glib use of terms like development and empowerment and asmita and national pride, 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? Like harassing peaceful protesters at the SRCC in Delhi? What do you mean by “our people”? Do you mean “tenet” of freedom?
    5. Why should Modi, or any other politician for that matter, be our gold standard? Decades after independence, why do we still hanker after a Hindu fundamentalist India which is hostile to Muslims and Pakistan to get a sense of validation?
    6. Finally, I have just one question for Wharton. In future, what will you teach your students? When you discuss business strategy and ethics, will you say to them: “Choose your strategy based on superficial marketing and propaganda rather than substantive quality control and high ethical standards.” “Choose what is marketable over what is ethical”. Or, will you teach them to follow your example and say: “When organizing a conference, invite a man who has blood on his hands because he will bring along major corporate sponsorship?”

    • I profoundly disagree with your views.However,I have chosen to allow your rebuttal on my wall because unlike you, I believe that everyone has a right to be heard.
      I will let the leaders decide who/what is “ethical”

      • Let me reassure you, in 2005, an RSS spokesman spoke at the Political Science Department of the University of Pennsylvania. The organizers received letters expressing concern. The organizers went ahead with the event AND also banned entry of dissenters in the conference room. Talk about free speech!

        How do I know this? I was at that event.

        What happened? In that case, the RSS spokesman got to make his speech about Hindu India, he refused to answer questions about Godhra, the peaceful protesters sat outside quietly. Everybody went home unharmed. No problems.

        Look, the point is, we are all citizens of India who are trying to contribute our own ideas of the perfect nation. Some of us are free speech absolutists who think anyone can say anything. I am not one of those.

        For example, does Honey Singh have the absolute right to sing his misogynist songs? Someone like me would argue that there is a fine line between free speech and hate speech, and Honey Singh crosses that line into dangerous hate speech territory. In fact, I signed a petition requesting organizers to cancel his concert after the Delhi gangrape. Somebody else would argue that he is popular, they like his songs, if they want to spend time and money on him, that is none of my business! Both points of view are accurate. We individuals have the right to choose one side or the other! As citizens in an inclusive and democratic nation, both are choices are allowed. So who decides whose point of view prevails? In the case of the concert, it was the organizer of the concert who chose. Not the government. Not a censor board. But the private citizens who organized the concert. I have NO problem with that!

        The same applies for Modi’s talk. Some wanted him, some did not —- most were Indian citizens!!! With voting rights! How do I know this? I actually know the people who signed. I was there. And the organizers decided one way.

        All these are acceptable options in an inclusive democratic nation.

        Why are Modi’s supporters so angry about the one time they were denied…when most of the time, they get to speak?! Most of the country thinks Modi is amazing. Most of the people love him! Relax! He may even get to become Prime Minister of OUR country.

    • Am I to understand your last assertion to mean that ‘large corporate sponsorship’ has no ethical basis at present? Does that describe the sponsors who continue to support the event sans Modi?

    • Questions raised by you in this context are indeed very difficult. I could not find much connection between what is the “subject of discussion” and what did you write. Here is an attempt.

      1. We are not debating the power of non-citizens to influence domestic policy. Absolutely beyond comprehension why this point is made in first place. May be you would like to explain further how is it relevant in this case.

      2. It is certainly important to question the group of domestic fundamentalists who run insidious campaigns against India and Indians? What is their motive? Who funds them? However how is it relevant to our discussion?

      3. How is it that some politicians and citizens (and others) are able to peddle lies and half-truths systematically? – All countrymen need to reply on this and not only bunch of people and that too residing in another country. In this case people of his state responded and you must respect it. So not a valid point again.

      4. Glib use of terms like development and empowerment and asmita and national pride – Agreed with you. Compared to developed countries, India has to do much more than what is being done. The context here is development over last 10/15 years by a Gujrat in contrast to other states in India. So not exactly glib talk there.

      Snuffing out – Why to say so? You are criticizing, the whole media critizing Modi and his party 24 X 7, so called political pundits also do so. where is the question of snuffing out. If you are referring to 2002 riots, also remember Godhra. Never seen many people coming out on social forum condemning Godhra and other such acts. You can’t single out an event / person. Infact you can, but then a few would lend ears. It is a news to me and probabaly to many more that protestors outside SRCC were manhandled by Modi / BJP. That’s is what I could gather from your post. Btw though this is not relevant to this discussion, can I be sure that you would also have an equally passionate views @ other atrocities like Mumbai Blast, Parliament Attack and so on and so forth. In comparision, SRCC incident appears not so serious. I have not heard much voices from “Elite and Educated” community on other important topics.

      5. Modi, or any other politician – be our gold standard? I find this point also obscure in this context but still replying. Certainly not. We are looking beyond it, This is just a process of evolution. By your own logic, are you confirming that you would oppose invitation to any and every politician to your university?

      Hankeing after a Hindu fundamentalist in India which is hostile to Muslims and Pakistan to get a sense of validation?- And this proves completely how disconnected are you from India, if you have put toughts honestly. There is a fashion to call guys fundamentalist and extremist who critizes Muslim whether for right or wrong reasons. I fear that you also seem to be in the same fashion. Also if you suggest us not to remain critical of Pakistan, I dont think you have ever visited Kashmir or talk to Kashmiri Pundits.

      6. Finally suggestion to Wharton – Do your study properly before inviting someone / taking an action. Once committed, don’t succumb to any pressure and have faith in self. Listen to the larger population rather than handful of guys who do not understand India. Today you tried to prove that millions of people in Gujrat are stupid who elected Modi as CM and Indians in the country better ask Wharton’s Indian Forum or so called Scholars, who believe what they know and think is final, in future election.

      To summarize your point # 1,2,3 and 5 are not found relevant at all. Point # 4 is responded. Point # 6 – I think really does not matter to anyone of us. But please dont force us to write long messages, we believe in to the point, short and sweet discussion.

      • Nikhil, nobody is forcing you to write long messages! It’s a free country. But I have noted your comments, and also the responses I have received, and I am not going to overstay my [already dubious] welcome.

        I am very surprised that if one politician is criticized by Indian citizens, suddenly they have insulted the entire country. Proud Indians can sometimes peacefully disagree with their democratically elected leaders.

        Anyways, I respectfully withdraw from discussion and readership of this blog.

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