Saturday in the streets of Philadelphia, we got a much clearer picture of what it is that Modi’s supporters actually stand for. In a protest that was organized by a group describing itself as “Americans for Free Speech,” free speech seemed pretty low on the agenda.
A recent study session for an Urdu language exam took an unexpected turn when the Modi controversy came up. My Urdu tutor, who happens to be a Muslim woman from Pakistan, hesitantly asked my view on the issue. When I replied that Wharton was correct in its decision to rescind its invitation to Narendra Modi, she looked relieved.
Recently, several University of Pennsylvania professors made accusations in The Daily Pennsylvanian against the Indian politician Narendra Modi as part of a campaign of social pressure that managed to stop his presentation at the Wharton India Economic Forum.
We, scholars of South Asia in the United States, have been appalled at the extent of vituperation and the insults leveled against three distinguished scholars because they wrote a letter opposing the decision of the organizers of the Wharton India Economic Forum to invite Narendra Modi as a keynote speaker.
Since the retraction of Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to the Wharton School, events continue to unfold ominously. The opportunity for public discourse, multiple perspectives expressed in an open and civil manner, has been lost at least twice.
The episode at Wharton squelching the free speech rights of students is only the latest event in a long running campaign to shut out a billion Hindus from participating in political affairs around the world.
Opposing so strongly the invitation of an elected official because they feel that he is a dictator unfortunately gives me the impression that they have allowed personal opinions to cloud better judgment.
The events surrounding the cancelation of Modi’s invitation were not an inhibition of speech, but the product of dynamic free speech of private individuals without government intervention. Even if you disagree with the outcome, this was free speech in action.
Agreeing to speak at Penn was a political move for Modi — it would have assisted him in obtaining legitimacy for his “developmental” agenda, while simultaneously erasing his involvement with the Godhra riots.
I am dismayed by the lack of critical thinking evinced in The Daily Pennsylvanian’s editorial, which drew a specious analogy between what Narendra Modi’s keynote at the Wharton India Economic Forum could have been and what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2007 speech at Columbia was.
As members of the Penn faculty, we have shared our views on the mishandling of Modi’s invitation and are gratified that students at Penn rightly perceive this kerfuffle singularly as a matter of free speech.
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.
In response to a letter of protest written to them by a large group of Penn faculty and students as well as concerned citizens, the organizers of the Wharton India Economic Forum withdrew their invitation to Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. We wish to reiterate briefly here why we (and virtually every member of the faculty teaching South Asia at Penn) objected to Modi being invited to deliver a keynote: