The Wharton School is currently making headlines in the pages of India’s leading newspapers.
The keynote speaker for the annual Wharton India Economic Forum, Narendra Modi, the current chief minister of the state of Gujarat in India, had his invitation revoked by the organizers of the forum following a petition led by three Penn professors.
Peter Winicov, a spokesperson for Wharton, said in an email, “We appreciate the efforts our students have put forth in organizing this event and regret any confusion that may have been caused by the change in program.”
Modi is a controversial figure, in particular for his inaction during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat. He has been denied a visa by the United States since these riots and was due to speak at the forum via teleconference.
The petition stated that the signers were “outraged” with the selection of Modi as keynote speaker.
“Recently there have been efforts to whitewash Modi’s grim record and to grant him international respectability. Wharton’s invitation lends itself to doing just that,” the petition said.
Modi is, however, a popular figure and has been re-elected twice in the state of Gujarat. He’s widely seen as a contender for the position of India’s prime minister in 2014. Modi is also known for contributing to Gujarat’s rapid economic growth.
“I think for the economic standpoint it would’ve been an interesting viewpoint to have [at the conference],” College sophomore and South Asia Society political chair Savar Sareen said.
This cancellation has resulted in widespread media coverage and debate in India.
“I was talking to my parents [who told me] it was on the nightly news for the past few days,” Sareen said.
Following the cancellation of Modi’s invitation, two other guests for the forum, Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu and Adani Group Chair Gautam Adani have since declined their invitations.
The Adani Group, which was one of the corporate sponsors of the forum, has also pulled their support for the forum.
WIEF is an annual forum organized by students to “provides a platform for thought leaders to discuss the opportunities present to India and the challenges that need to be addressed,” according to their website.
They have chosen activist and politician Arvind Kejriwal as the new keynote speaker.