Modi kicked the hornet’s nest

Modi kicked the hornet’s nest

Modi kicked the hornet’s nest

The specifics of the minor storm surrounding the Wharton India Economic Forum 2013 (WIEF2013) to be held March 22-23 are common knowledge. The organising committee first invited Chief Minister Narendra Modi to be the keynote speaker at the event and then a couple of days ago withdrew the invitation which Modi had graciously accepted. Predictably this led to much rejoicing among Modi’s detractors (they are legion) and much outrage among his ardent supporters.

Allow me to address one relatively minor matter first. As in all similar cases, someone or the other decides that this is a case of stifling of free speech. The speaker’s ‘right to free speech’ has been violated, goes the cry. Voltaire is immediately invoked and quoted as having said, “I disagree with what you have to say but I will defend with my life your right to say it.” Just for the record, Voltaire didn’t say that ever but that’s beside the point.

This is not a matter of free speech at all. By their action, the organisers of WIEF are not preventing Modi from speaking. They just don’t want him to speak at their venue. His ability to speak freely elsewhere is not compromised in any way. Freedom of speech means that the speaker is free to speak but it does not impose any obligation on anyone to listen. If WIEF people don’t want to hear what Modi has to say, they are well within their rights to not provide him a platform. So Modi’s supporters, well-meaning though they may be, should tone down their free-speech-violation outrage a bit.

Now to the more substantive matter of whether it is right to invite someone and then retract the invitation after it has been accepted. Under extraordinary circumstances one may be compelled to do so. It could be due to an honest mistake. For instance, you thought the speaker was a highly qualified doctor and therefore most suited to address your medical conference. But then you realise that he’s not a doctor of medicine at all but rather a doctor of philosophy. It’s embarrassing as all heck but not life threatening. You apologise to the invitee for your mistake and life goes on.

That’s not how it happened in this case. The WEIF2013 organisers – business school students at a prestigious highly-ranked US university – must have known everything there is to know about Modi, one of the most celebrated and prominent public figures in India. No new information about him could conceivably become available to them. They must have known that they would face opposition from those who hate Modi. So what happened?

The proverb ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune’ can provide some clues. Universities rely to some extent on external funding – from benefactors outside the state or alumni. Times are hard and one cannot afford to antagonise those who help one pay the bills. Wharton management perhaps found it was politically (and financially) imprudent to host Modi given that he has been declared persona non grata by certain influential groups with deep pockets. Remember: The Government of India and its agents have deep pockets, not to mention foreign bank accounts.

What the organisers of the conference did in retracting their invitation is understandable. It must be that on weighing matters, they decided that is better to incur the wrath of one camp rather than the other. Understandable but that does not mean that it is not churlish, spineless and lacking the courage of conviction. Besides, it may be terribly myopic. More about that in a bit.

Some consider the WIEF’s action to be an insult to Modi and indeed to India itself. It is nothing of the sort. First, Modi is a big man. For 10 years he has been the target of an unrelenting witch hunt by the Union Government and its agents in the mainstream media, various NGOs with questionable objectives, and foreign Governments who would like to see India embroiled in domestic discord. Yet he has not only survived, he has prospered and helped the people of the State of Gujarat prosper. He cannot be insulted by something as trivial as the retraction of an invitation to speak at a conference, however prestigious the venue.

Second, it is not an insult to India for different reasons. Modi is not India. An insult to Modi – which it isn’t as I argue above – cannot be an insult to India. The WIEF is too inconsequential compared to India for it to be capable of insulting India. What is indeed an insult to Indians is that India is an impoverished (meaning ‘made poor’) country, and it has been made so by bad governance. Lest we forget, India has been misgoverned by the Nehru dynasty and the Congress for most of its post-British Raj existence. The rape of India, not just figuratively, has intensified in the last nine years.

One indicator of India’s impoverishment – and there are too many to list here – is the dismal education system. India’s education system has failed because of bad Government policy formulated for the most part by the Congress and the Nehru dynasty. Not one university in this land of 1.2 billion people is ranked in the top three or four hundred of the world’s universities. Thus tens of thousands of Indians have to go abroad at enormous cost for higher studies. That is why Wharton Business School (like many others) have an annual ‘India Economic Forum’ conference and no Indian university has an ‘US Economic Forum’.

The fact is that India suffers from an on-going insult from its Government and nothing that a bunch of misguided business school students can do ever match the injury that the Nehru dynasty has inflicted on India’s wellbeing.

The WIEF matter is inconsequential in the larger scheme of things but it is significant in what it signals. It signals that Modi’s opponents are shivering in their boots. Modi’s address last month at Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, scared the living daylights out of the Congress-led UPA and its fellow-travellers. They could well imagine how much more damage Modi would do to them in a talk that would only amplify his voice even more. Modi has to be stopped at every corner, on every street, and with all they can muster. He kicked the hornet’s nest at SRCC and they are buzzing with furious anger.

The Congress-led UPA wants Modi stopped not because he is bad for India but rather because he is bad for those who have misgoverned India for so many decades. Modi is good for India. If Modi continues on the trajectory that he is on, he will transform India from an impoverished country to one that is prosperous and powerful. That would mean that those who have profited from India’s misfortunes – namely, the corrupt domestic Governments and enemy foreign Governments – will be forced to abandon their fiefdom.

India has the potential to be as powerful as a nation of 1.2 billion is capable of being. To realise that potential what India needs is leadership. Modi has demonstrated that he is a man with vision, determination, intelligence and capable of superhuman effort. Every weapon they have fired against him has made him stronger. He is, to borrow a term from Taleb, “antifragile” – the stress is like exercise, building a more resilient body. When – not if, but when – he becomes India’s Prime Minister, India will finally be on its way to fulfilling its potential.

And in the end, this sordid event will be just a brief footnote. The students of the IEF at Wharton are myopic. They will be gone in a year or two. But for years to come Wharton will pay the price of having needlessly antagonised so many Indians, Indians who would be far, far richer than they are today and would have contributed to its success.

Offstumped Report

  • Abhilash

    Nice read. Can’t agree to the argument that it was not a case hampering freedom of speech becoz Wharton cited the protests of anti-Modi lobby of cancellation which either implies that they didn’t know about the arguments put forward by anti-Modi lobby or they succumb to the pressure for anti-Modi lobby. If latter is the case, which is obvious and as stated by Wharton’s stmt, it is against freedom of speech. The argument put forward by author is silly; with that argument there will be no violations of freedom of speech at all in this world! Of course, the audience and forum matters a lot when it comes to freedom of speech.

  • Ram Joukani

    Excellent article, especially the end 😉 Very well balanced viewpoint and puts this issue in the right perspective! Just one minor query; if not Voltaire, who was it?

  • Dinipc

    What a superb read!

  • srikanth

    Beautifully said! It was just India that got independence in 1947, not Indians. Modi is the best bet we have for Indian(s) independence.


    The Paid Media and the Congi looters doesn’t want Modi to take control of India towards a developed country and these are all part of a big conspiracy.
    Wharton or Farton does not matter at all,for a twister forming in the state of Gujarat which will sweep the whole nation soon..

  • Anup Nair

    Right said, Dr. Dey! I hold a similar viewpoint wrt WIEF’s supposed insult to Modi and India. WIEF’s volte face can be best described as an undignified, unmindful & ungracious act unworthy of its image. It could be perhaps be also construed as an insult in the sense that it disregarded the time and effort and graciousness on the part of Modi.

    That every roadblock Modi’s opponents created for him has served to make him stronger is good to hear. As did Modi envision in his Google hangout, I wait for the day when people/students from the US will be making a beeline to enter India rather than the other way around.

  • puran rawat

    More you criticise MOdi he becomes stronger. Truth need not a Mirror for its authenticity.

  • Kiran

    Fantastic rationale. India is a gold mine for Sonia Gandhi & goons Co.Even the britishers have not harmed India as much as the congress or Gandhi family has done. To top it all, most Indians are in a false lull that all is well with them.Life cannot be better/easier/happier than the current life of alms-receiving they are subjected to by the congress. Atleast during Britain rule, there was a clear enemy/ foreigner who had occupied india. Here there is a “deity” who is doing a favour on India by surreptitiously looting the country that which Indians cannot even fathom. If India elects modi, it’s for their own good. Modi is going to neither gain nor lose by it. However it would be the tremendous misfortune of Indians if upa comes back to power again. For the first time, I hope India were not a democracy. A huge bunch of ignorant innocent people not only have the power to destroy their future but also the collective destiny of the country.

  • anil

    lene ke dene padgaye.. sooper article

  • reddy

    Finally a comment on this issue that is well-considered and readable. Continue your good work.
    Most comment/analysis these days does not go beyond superficial evaluation and is generally a product of pre-set axes/agendas. Its tiring to read.

  • Manish Mishra

    Among a maze of articles authored on the Wharton fiasco, this one does stand out as one of the best for it’s balanced analysis.

    Dey, i commend you highly for writing this exceptinally good article, and must say that my expectations have multiplied manifold from your subsequent articles.

  • Saturnine Seven

    Well written Dr. Dey. I love your turn of phrase and style.

    Emotionally, if I may use that term, I am with you. Yet logically, I cannot fathom Na Mo becoming the Prime Minister of the country in the next 10 years, or 2 full election cycles.

    As you point out, the most powerful of foreign powers have it in their interest to keep India subdued. So all press evangelizing, free or otherwise, has to come from within India. You are helping that cause in a tiny way on forums such as your blog and niticentral. Their outreach is to the already sane and balanced, and those willing to use their brains and learning from the weighty lessons of both economics and history. You are preaching to the choir!

    Winning an election in India comes down to numbers wired to a challenging labyrinth. The way I see it, that requires appealing widely to three demographics: (i) the text-book literate but with use of brains turned off, who can only be fairly termed the retarded, (ii) the tragically illiterate who are mostly constrained to myopia and extreme short-term ‘relief’, due to their poor economic situation, and finally (iii) the corrupt who have rejected that societal progress is more valuable (even to them) than personal greed. The voting population squat immovably in these demographic buckets.

    There is no viable alternative in the next few decades but for the “winner” to string together a coalition. And that means champions-of-dysfunction from these classes wield all your political power.

    If you disagree with my pessimism, I would love for you to share your drawing sheet of vote outcome scenarios under which a Na Mo led BJP dominated coalition wrests control of the Lok Sabha.

  • Anup Nair

    I find you are being optimistic (rather than pessimistic) when you say Modi will become the PM in the next 2 election cycles.

    Modi’s acceptance amongst the general public would come to mean that they are indeed sick and tired of the current brand of politics and governance. It would also mean that a majority of the 1/6th of humanity will be open to the possibilities of their human life and look beyond narrow considerations such as caste, sub caste, religion, language, class and whatever else that the currently polity has divided the society into.

    Given how badly the country is divided at the moment with the divisive forces of Islam, naxalism,communism, foreign influences from China, Pakistan, US, UK and Allah knows who else I would be happy if the majority of the voting public endorses his vision of India and vote for him.

  • Hindu

    I am extremely impressed by this article, the columnist has hit the nail.

    Rightly said UK and US universities’ hey days is a history. Majority of these Universities are funded by External sources!

  • Dr. Sadhak Sen

    What percentage of students and faculty opposed Modi’s lecture? This is an open question which college must answer. There are always some sections of society who oppose and that is the beauty of democracy. It is the worst decision for the University ad should not be considered negative for Modiji. It seems four or five influential professors with lefist ideology have orchestrated this anti- Modi compaign and School administration have scumbed to their pressure. This is highly unacceptable. Modiji has not asked for a invitation to speak but to withdraw the invitation reflects only bad on the Wharton School.

  • Anand Kumar

    The whole thing of cancelling Mody’s speech is nothing but farce and full of double standards – a typical character of American jingoism. They speak of high standards in Human Rights and their own track record in tacit support for Dictators is well known. Eventually, it is Wharton which is the loser and not Mody, as being projected by vested interests.
    Shame Wharton and Shame America.