Wharton Woes: Modi Gets a Feel of Poison Ivy League

Those applauding the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania for dropping Narendra Modi from its list of keynote speakers had better pause. 

If anything, Wharton can be seen as the ‘Vibrant’ wing of the university. By denying Modi the opportunity to address what is clearly a capitalist-driven agenda, it has managed to imbue itself with a liberalism it may not possess. It is essentially a conformist management institution and the sole concern is to further precisely what Narendra Modi is claiming to do.

The Wharton Economic Forum is run by students, so clearly there are many who did not consider inviting Modi wrong. Even the protests are conformist, and playing into a politically-correct pattern from the humanities stream, working the stereotype. The US administration had already denied the Gujarat chief minister a visa in 2005, and that stands.

Recall the last time this happened, senior BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Manohar Joshi, Arun Jaitley addressed a rally when Gujarat organised a ‘Bharat Swabhimaan Divas’ (self-esteem day) to regain the lost prestige of a state chief minister who could not visit America to address some hoteliers in Florida.

Modi had responded with: 

“No court of India, or the world, has passed any judgment against either the Gujarat government, or its chief minister. The decision is heavily lopsided, against the tenets of democracy and human rights and a violation of natural justice. The American government, which prides itself on being a democracy, has indulged in the misdeed of insulting the Indian Constitution and the five crore people of Gujarat.”

Modi is not India. And he has gone against the tenets of the Constitution and degraded the self-esteem of his people.

Mr. Advani had said, 

“The US regards India as a ‘pushover state’. However, this time they have chosen the wrong person. The fight for swabhimaan initiated by Narendra Modi will become the fight of the entire nation. It must be noted that even those who are ideologically against us have stood by Mr. Modi.”

This was an insult to the country, for India has not fallen prey to US moves in its internal policies or even on how to deal with foreign powers. The entry of multinationals too is debated and argued.

If his self-esteem was so important, why did Modi agree to address the forum via satellite on March 23? This time the BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said, “It doesn’t matter as Americans don’t vote in India.”

But, a huge PIO population does exercise this right. Then, there is the funding and a promise of investment. Besides, America is itself an imperialistic power. How much does its antipathy towards Modi have to do with the fact that he "did nothing to prevent a series of orchestrated riots that targeted Muslims in Gujarat” and how much because it wants to ensure that the economic promises made by Modi could considerably reduce its leverage in the market and lead to the prodigals returning home?

The main sponsor, Gautam Adani, Chairman of the Adani Group, has backed out as a protest. Other speakers too are dropping out.  The Shiv Sena that has problems with Indians from other states coming into Maharashtra, has said, ”Wharton’s move is an insult to India.”

There is some noise about how Modi will become a martyr because of it. The rightwing parties have little opportunity to get sympathy votes, so clutching at such straws often helps ride a storm.

Why has the rejection of Modi become such a huge issue?

The educated middle class aspires to get into Ivy League colleges. One has to only see the desperation over getting an entry into this rarefied world. The alumni associations help these wishes come true with annual sponsorships. The universities are happy to gain a bunch of bright students who will add to the US economy in future. However, its mainstay is the significant contribution by India's rich. All the scions of business families have performed the ritual of that mandatory MBA, and the parental wealth has helped a good deal to keep these universities in a happy frame of mind.

That is the reason Wharton had no ethical or technical issues when Anil Ambani got a lecture series dedicated to his father Dhirubhai, a man who used the simple old-fashioned method of keeping people in fine fettle to get where he wanted without any management technique. Wharton is, therefore, not terribly picky. It is important to note that Anil Ambani has not commented on Modi's invitation being cancelled. Just a month ago he had hailed him as the "king of kings".

The Wharton Forum has no lofty principles. Described as one of the big-ticket “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", this meet is essentially about how to make the most of the Indian economy that has suffered fewer blows than the US or Europe.

So, whether it is Modi or anyone else, this would be like a preview trade delegation. It has been doing so for 16 years and has never got much attention.

The protest petition states:

“We find it astonishing that any academic and student body at the University of Pennsylvania can endorse ideas about economic development that are based on the systematic oppression of minority populations, whether in India or elsewhere. Our role as scholars and students—and indeed as would-be entrepreneurs and business managers—must be to develop conscientious and efficacious modes of economic organization, not to piggy-back onto the inhuman policies of politicians who not only lack a commitment to human rights and to ideals of social justice, but whose political success is based on the suppression of substantial sections of their own citizens. Modi still does not have a US visa to enter the US, but Wharton plans to present him on Skype to the audience. Recently there have been efforts to whitewash Modi’s grim record and to grant him respectability. Wharton’s invitation lends itself to doing just that.”

All good. But business models anywhere in the world ride on political initiatives. The very idea of a liberalised economy lends itself to some amount of wiggling. The Occupy Wall Street Movement was not organised by big business and bankers. A group of Wharton students, essentially expats, are indulging in diaspora nostalgia. How many minorities are accommodated in US universities? Pointing out a universally-recognised wrong in India does not absolve the flaws within their own system. 
To make up for the snub, news has come in that the expats under the aegis of ‘Overseas Friends of the BJP’ have decided to redeem him. He will address them at Edison, New Jersey, Chicago, Illinois, of USA through video conference.

One hears that Aap Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal has been invited. This is irony for he will be the only aam aadmi they will get to see, as the university has no place for commoners. How many cabbies and corner store owners have been to management schools in the US or even in India?

Recently British Prime Minister David Cameron on his visit to India went to express his regret over the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre. He was not revisiting history; he was ensuring that the Southall population kept the UK economy buzzing via Amritsar. He assured that the brightest students and big bucks got easy access to the old colonisers.  And he is not against the Gujarat chief minister. Most political leaders use a convenient modus operandi of semantics and split ‘acts of commission and omission’ with proactive development.

This is what the Wharton Economic Forum had done.  And this is also what the protests are doing. They are merely denying him space to speak. Will any of them sign petitions that say they would not invest in Gujarat and do business with anyone associated with Modi and the state?

If they get a good ‘package’, they’d pick it up in the future when the T-shirts and the slogans are frayed and the management cap seeks out talking heads.

(c) Farzana Versey


  1. Never use a paragraph when a sentence would do, and never use a sentence when a word would suffice! Except being verbose not much to disagree :). Just that I kept reading hoping for new nuggets since it was a long post.

  2. FV

    QUOTE: "Will any of them sign petitions that say they would not invest in Gujarat..."

    Would YOU pledge publically or privately that you would

    1. Donate your property in Gujarat (just an assumption, ok?) to Shah Alam relief fund?

    2. Not buy shares or products of Reliance, Tata, Adani etc?

    3. Not visit Ahmedabad or Vadodara or Surat (contributes to Gujarat'seconomy you see!)?

    4. Not watch any film starring Bachchan family or Paresh Rawal (he campaigned for Modi) ever?

    5. Not buy products endorsed by Irfan Pathan?

    I guess not. So why expect the moon from Wharton alumnii just for the sake of it?

  3. Since we are on the subject of boycotting Gujarat, it is incumbent on me to remind the hateful person who writes this blog that Gujarat has under 4% of India's population but is responsible for 22% of the national revenue collection. 22% of the money the Delhi Sultanate spends on various freebie schemes to buy votes in India comes from Gujarat. Please tell your Delhi Sultanate not to collect any revenue from Gujarat. That would do wonders for the nation's fiscal deficit by the way, which is ranked 149th / 150 nations because of the Delhi Sultanate's vote catching policies.

    By the way, I am in Karnataka, a Kannada newspaper carried out s statewide survey about which party people of Karnataka would vote for in the next elections. The verdict was - Congress for state elections, BJP for national elections. Why ? Karnbataka BJP has become associated with corruption and infighting and hence will be punished by the people.... but when it comes to the national elections, there is one person who is bigger than any petty party politics, much bigger than his own party. People of Karnataka want Modi to be PM of India and will vote for BJP as vote for BJP means a vote for Modi. This is the power of Modi. And this is what worries the hateful person.

  4. F&F:

    Your love for Wharton alumni is touching.

    I asked a rhetorical question based on their over-zealous protests, which you should have been happy about since you get so agitated about secular/liberal discourse. I was hoping for too much.

    Coming to your queries, they do not apply to me because I have not signed any petition, not protested or written about a boycott of the state. I have persistently talked about Modi being made answerable as head of government.

    Had I done any grandstanding, then too your points are not apt. A product goes through several processes to reach the market. I have problems with the CM, not Gujaratis. But I don't have property in the state.

    However, I would not invest as long as he is in power.


    Regarding the other comment, other states contribute to the Centre. They just don't make such a noise about it.

    Just because the 'Delhi Sultanate' mucks it up, does not make anyone who is an opponent right or better only because they sit on another perch.

    Anyhow, this is blind belief and one can't argue with it.

    PS: Next time you post on my blog, learn to respect the space. The comments were let past to reveal the hateful agenda. I might not always be so kind.

  5. NK:

    {Never use a paragraph when a sentence would do, and never use a sentence when a word would suffice!}

    Wonder why the sea is not a pond and the mountain a hillock...

    {Just that I kept reading hoping for new nuggets since it was a long post.}

    If you concentrate on the length of the road, you are bound to miss the signposts!

    Thanks for stopping by, assuming it's your first time. And glad that making your way through the web you agree with the spider :-)

    PS: You will notice that even when I don't write something long I like mixing metaphors...

  6. Manish Chhabra07/03/2013, 16:12

    I have followed your blogs for almost 5 years, your tweets from almost from day you started to tweet and my comment today is not about Modi but the impact Modism seems to have your thoughts.
    What keeps me attached to your tweets and blogs is the unparalleled clarity of thoughts coupled with depth of understanding of issues from an extremely diverse intellectual landscape.
    Your thoughts are not just known on Modism but have managed to shown the "other side of coin" to a large readership which would have usually been influenced by media .
    That said, as an inconsequential reader/follower it is sad that modism takes up so much of your time and attention and keeps you away from blogging/tweeting on topics other than Gujrat and modism.
    What's also sad is your reaction to some of the pieces here or tweeter which are intended just to poke ...some people seem to derive sadistic pleasure of valueless arguments and drag you to them as well ...anyway
    I will still follow and read , I just choose to not read Modi stuff, please ignore this is another blabber but being a forthright direct Punjabi, I couldn't see my fav blogger getting distracted by Modism ...

  7. Hello Manish:

    Thank you. As you are aware I am extremely attached to my blog - it has been a respite and a welcome outlet from the mainstream media, not because I was afraid of expressing my thoughts there but because they did not find my thoughts 'sitting on the fence' types, where names are not mentioned and the argument is full of ifs and buts.

    This digression is due to the fact that you went back five years and it truly touches me to know that there are people like you, whether we agree with each others' thoughts or not.

    Regarding Modi, I cannot deny that these days I have been writing more about him. He is news. I would be disappointed if you or anyone else did not read only because of 'Modism', at least when the issue is a bit different, such as in this case.

    It seems to have missed many that it is not just an anti-Modi tirade, but questioning the protests too.

    Those who "poke", as you put it, perhaps see only one aspect.

    I am afraid, but ignoring such subjects would be taking the easy way out. My views being known is not enough; the views and spins that follow shouls be made known too.

    If you notice, I had kept up this on Mumbai carnage, Anna Movement, and in the past the Bombay riots. Indeed, I end up spending time with comments sometimes. Look at it this way: how many people care to do so?

    Also, I am disappointed to see you do not notice that I still write on other subjects. Just on this page there is evidence of it. Take a look at the interactions on Helen Hunt. Or, a simple subject like 'thought'. What marvellous contributions from others. I feel gratified for the effort they spend.

    Much as I disagree with one rightwing supporter here, I do marvel at the time he must give to responding to me. Maybe I am just a nice person!

    It's been a long rant, but then it's been a while since we saw you.

    Thanks again, for giving me honest feedback. Tonight's vodka is on me...

  8. Note: Those who have sent comments advising me on where to invest and where to relocate, thanks but no thanks. Just to remind you, Gujarat in not the only state and no one, NO ONE, can stop me from investing working anywhere in my country in states/cities I choose to irrespective of who is in power.

    As regards the other stereotyped choices, perhaps you'd like to know that at least one place has many non-Muslims, prominent ones too, who invest. A famous singer, a Shiv Sena supporter, has spread her restaurant chain almost exclusively in the Gulf countries.

    Reality check.

  9. Manish Chhabra07/03/2013, 18:27

    Thanks for a touching reply , I would have been dishonest if I didn't tell you all this , with all my bad spelling.
    Tonight is Chilli Vodka with fresh Mint and Limca , my favourite Al Fakher Mint flavoured sheesha ...with Karamat Gardezi's latest ghazal ..as Indian as I can get :)

  10. FV,

    QUOTE: "... no one, NO ONE, can stop me from investing working anywhere in my country in states/cities I choose to irrespective of who is in power.."

    Precisely! :)


    QUOTE: ".. Much as I disagree with one rightwing supporter here, I do marvel at the time he must give to responding to me."

    Right wing supporters also have to form their arguments and find the right words. In fact, they have to invest more time and care into it as they are scarcely, if ever, a match to the extreme linguistic acrobatics of the sekulaar daredevils. No one wants to plunge to the floor head first and become halaal before a vicarious audience!

    The above is not necessarily my personal opinion, as always! :)

  11. I was about to post this piece on FB on the Modi-Wharton saga with a comment - 'finally, someone who raises the right questions!' Indeed, neither Wharton's track record nor that of the US really figured in the endless discussions on TV.
    Nice job of connecting the dots - I really like your take on things...and you write really well.

  12. This article is very thought provoking, especially the point about Wharton not being liberal but now getting some liberal cred by banning Modi. My guess is that while Wharton people are ruthless capitalists they still don't like the kind of atrocities committed against innocent Muslims in Gujarat and the fact that these were not prevented in any way by the government. No amount of "economic development" in Gujarat is going to wash away the stain and there seems to be no remorse being shown by the Modi government on this shameful event. The least they could do is apologize but may be doing so would make them liable in some way and that's why they are avoiding that.
    I think capitalists want a docile work force and a market to sell their stuff and don't particularly care for religious fanaticism, money/wealth being the only God they really worship. So while the Wharton guys are not liberal they may still not want to encourage people like Modi. Also Wharton gets students from all over the world so they do have to appear liberal especially on social/religious issues while being conservative on fiscal/economic ones.

  13. Anon:

    Many thanks. The discourse usually leaves out elite institutions.


    No thanks to the second bit. Thanks for the first. Yup. Selectivity.


    Your a welcome! Next time you clink glasses, don't forget to toast ‘India First'!

  14. Sai:

    “I think capitalists want a docile work force and a market to sell their stuff and don't particularly care for religious fanaticism, money/wealth being the only God they really worship. So while the Wharton guys are not liberal they may still not want to encourage people like Modi. Also Wharton gets students from all over the world so they do have to appear liberal especially on social/religious issues while being conservative on fiscal/economic ones."

    Agree with the latter. However, there is a huge S.Asian diaspora that keeps the rightwingers in fine fettle. Is that not the reason they quickly organised another tele-conference?

    Besides, if you look at the Republican candidates, they seem to be rich. Therefore, money is not just god, it also makes god into an ally. Or is it collateral damage? :-)

  15. FV,

    (Refer to your comment above)

    Are you planning to invest in Gujarat, now that Narendra Modi is no more in power there?

    Or you are planning to disinvest from India altogether? :)


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