A different kind of terror attack hit India on the evening of March 3, 2013. This was an attack different from the one we witnessed in Hyderabad a few days ago but it was an attack enough to shake the collective conscience of Indians. The victims of this dastardly attack were intellectual freedom, freedom of speech as well as the sensibilities of the people of India.
Finding the perpetrators of the attack was not at all difficult. In fact, there was plenty of ‘intelligence reports' predicting the attack. This was neither their first attack nor will it be their last. It is just one minor attack on as a part of their self-created ongoing struggle for ‘truth and justice' for the world at large. No prizes to guess that the event I am talking about is the highly deplorable decision taken by Wharton to cancel Narendra Modi's keynote address at the Wharton India Economic Forum. The masterminds behind this are the Intellectual Taliban of self-seeking 5-star activists, pseudo intellectuals and pseudo secularists who have made lucrative careers out of berating Modi.
The news by Wharton, coming after immense freedom from this Intellectual Taliban disappointed me in many ways. First and foremost, it convinced me that the writ of this Taliban runs even in the most reputed institutions, ironically in the land that prides itself as the land of free speech and liberal democratic foundations. When a reputed institution like Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) decides to call an event off, it is clear that such an institution has no right to sit on the high table of reputed world universities. An institution that cannot safeguard another's right to freedom of speech has little right to boast of any kind of excellence, academic or otherwise.
Going back to the dark forces that muzzled free speech at Wharton, one can see the consistent pattern in their modus operandi. Take the case of Ania Loomba, the activist who ‘spearheaded' the ‘do not invite Modi to Wharton' bogey.
Take a look at whatever is publically visible on Loomba's Facebook profile and you will see a very predictable schedule. In the beginning of the month, she was busy galvanizing protestors to oppose Modi's SRCC speech, which has now gone down in history as one of the most inspiring speeches that left thousands of youngsters mesmerized. A few days later, a large part of her precious time went in protesting Afzal Guru's ‘unfortunate' hanging (if this is unfortunate, I shudder to think what she defines as fortunate?). In addition to periodic outbursts against capitalism she then took the lead role in the latest Intellectual Taliban attack to prevent Modi from addressing students at Wharton.
The other major issue is that of free speech. As individuals and groups we are free to disagree with Modi, his views, his politics and his policies but does that merit such activism that denies him a chance to express himself? As Voltaire said, "I may disapprove of what you say but I will defend till death your right to say it."
Modi himself is the strongest advocate on the need to have critics. By not willing to listen to Modi, the self styled activists are simply displaying their own paranoia and lack of conviction in their arguments. It shows that they are not willing to debate ideas but only prefer to use arm-twisting tactics to make their shrill voices heard.
The arbitrary behavior of Wharton brings the rest of the participants and sponsors to the spotlight- is not high time they rise to the occasion and withdraw their participation from the event? I was very happy to read Gautam Adani and Suresh Prabhu cancel their participation. I wonder what is preventing Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Dilip Cherian, Milind Deora from doing so. Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi are among the invitees at the Forum- what is preventing them from withdrawing their names?
The entire fiasco brought uncomfortable questions to my mind. If Incredible India is listed as a partner for the event, does the Government of India give its support to the actions of Wharton? How can the Union Government allow a Chief Minister of a state to be treated in this manner by a University? Would things have been the same if Delhi University, Mumbai University would have prevented an American Governor from speaking?
The founding fathers of USA dreamt of a land that is the ultimate bastion of free speech and liberal democratic practices. Our founding fathers safeguarded the right to freedom of expression and gave a voice to each and every individual irrespective of caste, creed or religion. It is a crying shame that with the actions of Wharton and the Intellectual Taliban operating in India, George Washington, Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar would be turning in their graves!
(The views expressed by the author are entirely his own. You can follow the author on Twitter on @KishoreTrivedi1)