Your Voice | It’s not a free speech issue, it’s an economic one
March 14, 2013, 12:28 am·
Lately there has been a lot of coverage in The Daily Pennsylvanian about the cancellation of Narendra Modi’s invitation to speak at the Wharton India Economic Forum. Most of Modi’s critics have argued that he should never have been invited in the first place on humanitarian grounds and cite his alleged involvement in genocide. Most of those who argue that Modi’s invitation should not have been cancelled, including the DP’s editorial (“A closed forum is no forum,” March 12), cite the importance of free speech.
I think that a major factor has been largely overlooked. Nobody would invite Herbert Hoover or Robert Mugabe to speak at an economic forum because the disastrous results of their economic policies clearly demonstrate that they are not qualified to lecture the rest of us on economics.
Under Modi, Gujarat has experienced dramatic growth in per capita income, but this has coexisted with statistics for basic human development indices that are below the natural average in a third world country. Modi became chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. In 2007, six years after he came to power, Gujarat reached the highest child malnutrition rate of all the states in India. Since then, malnutrition in Gujarat has decreased sharply, but the rate of severe malnutrition is still above average for the nation overall. According to some observers, it is even higher than that of Somalia, which is widely recognized as a failed state.
Modi should never have been invited to WIEF. It’s not simply a matter of free speech or human rights. The invitation was extended on the mistaken premise that a few macroeconomic figures are sufficient to judge the strength of an economy, regardless of the actual standard of living attained by the population. Despite the progress Gujarat’s economy has achieved under Modi, it has still failed a substantial contingent of the population. Modi was never a good choice for the forum because he is simply not qualified to speak about economics. The Wharton School is widely respected, and selection of speakers for economic forums hosted by Wharton needs to be conducted according to stricter standards.
Anand Sundaram is an Engineering senior.