Washington, March 4: The Wharton India Economic Forum revoked its decision to invite Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to deliver a key note address after three Indian-American professors from the University of Pennsylvania sent a petition signed by about 135 people "furious" against such a move.
Curiously enough, not a single professor from the Wharton School, one of the most prestigious business schools of the US, which is part of the University of Pennsylvania, was a signatory to this letter.
Modi was invited by the Forum to deliver the keynote address at its annual conference on March 23 via video conference but it was cancelled less than 50 hours after three Indian-American professors from the University of Pennsylvania organised and sent a petition signed by about 135 people.
The number of petitioners had jumped to more than 250 by last night, according to one of the authors of the petition campaign.
"It is the result of the pressure that we were able to bring over the organisers (Wharton India Economic Forum) in the last two days. I am very very proud of Wharton as well as the Penn University. But it still concerns us that he was invited in the first place," Toorjo Ghosh, Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the three professors, told PTI.
Ania Loomba, the Catherine Bryson Professor of English and Suvir Kaul, the A M Rosenthal Professor of English were the other two professors to have instantly organised the campaign after exchange of some emails Friday night.
"There was not one Wharton Professor who signed onto this letter. They were not involved till we brought on the pressure. The pressure was brought by a bunch of faculty members at the Penn, and also some community members, some attorneys," Ghosh said, acknowledging that this was quite strange. "I think it is strange. This could have been for a number of reasons," he said.
Organisers of the annual Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) confirmed that it was the petition that was basically instrumental in reversing their decision on Modi.
"Only one petition to our knowledge," Tanmay Mishra, on behalf of the WIEF said. "Modi's office was informed before the press statement," he said in response to another question.
"Our team felt that the potential polarising reactions from sub-segments of the alumni base, student body, and our supporters, might put Modi in a compromising position, which we would like to avoid at all costs, especially in the spirit of our conference's purpose," the WIEF organising committee said yesterday in a statement.
Asserting that it stands by its decision to invite Modi, the organising committee said it believes that this course of action would be the most appropriate in light of the reactions of the multiple stakeholders involved.
"Therefore, we as a team, would like to apologise for being a catalyst that may have put Mr Modi and the Wharton School administration in an difficult position," the statement said.
Arguing that they do not endorse any political views and do not support any specific ideology, the statement said their goal as a team is only to stimulate valuable dialogue on India's growth story, and to act as a forum where students and audiences interact with influential leaders from across India.
The student organising body was extremely impressed with Modi's credentials, governance ideologies, and leadership, which was the primary reason for his invitation, the statement said.
"However, as a responsible student body within the University of Pennsylvania, we must consider the impact on multiple stakeholders in our ecosystem," the organising committee explained.