The 18th Wharton Indian Economic Forum will discuss the upcoming national election in India - in absence of any Indian politicians.
With the theme “India: Time to Reboot,” the forum has decided to focus on the national election in India this May and the country's plans for economic growth under a new government.
Prominent entrepreneurs, bankers and technological leaders - but no politicians - will participate in the forum.
Last year, an estimate of 200 people protested across the street from the forum, which was held at the Penn museum, after the organizer rescinded its invitation to Narendra Modi . The forum made the decision because it received a petition from three Penn professors, who disagreed with how Modi, an Indian politician from the state of Gujarat who is currently running for Prime Minister of the country, handled the 2002 Hindi-Muslim riots in Gujarat.
Aditi Ravichandar , a second-year MBA student and one of the chairs of the organizing team, said it was not "a conscious decision" to pull together panels that do not include politicians. She would not comment if the forum had invited any politicians who were unable to attend.
“Speakers ... need to fit more to the panels and the team. Each of the panelists will be an expert on that topic.” she said, adding that because of the upcoming election in India, “Politicians are very difficult to get at this time.”
Keynotes speakers this year include Vikram Malhotra , chairman of the Americas and senior partner at McKinsey & Company, Ravi Venkatesan , former chairman of Microsoft India (via videoconference) and Arundhati Bhattacharya , chairperson of State Bank of India (via videoconference) .
Nominating the speakers was a “collective team decision” through a “rigorous process” completed by the committee, Ravichandar said. The committee is comprised of about 50 students, including undergraduates, MBAs and other graduate students, across four school, according to Nikhil Khosla , a College senior and another chair of the team.
Khosla added that the Wharton administration needs to approve the nominations.
The forum also has a number of new features this semester. Student entrepreneurs from both India and the United States took part in a Startup Competition, submitting India-focused business plans. The ten finalists, including three Wharton teams, will give an “elevator pitch” at the forum. Winners will be awarded with cash prizes worth up to US$10,000.
To foster discussion on India before the event, the forum has held two speaker events by Wharton alumni and professors on relevant topics earlier in the week. This Friday, the forum will hold a creative writing workshop, led by Chicago-based journalist and novelist Tulika Mehrotra , to teach the audience about reflecting on their experiences. Events leading up to the forum are a new addition this year.
The organizer estimated that over 300 people will attend the event, including a mix of students, professionals and people from Indian communities in the Northeast.
“We have a lot of professionals in the industry who will be coming down from Boston [and] New York, and students around the Philly area,” Ravichandar said. “The Indian community [in the Northeast] is very active.”
“This is a very apt theme for the current period that India is at,” Ravichandar added.