Whoever it was who blocked Narendra Modi's participation at the Wharton forum on March 23, the move is nothing but a strategic blunder. Actually, the issue of Modi not getting a US visa is being sensationalized too much by the media and the Wharton incident snowballed the American antipathy for the leader further.
But the fact is: no matter how much the critics of Modi try to derail him through the pressure tactics, he will continue to hit back at them for this ploy of trying to ignore a popular force doesn't work. History has ample evidence of such case.
Wharton actually shot at its own back by raising this anti-Modi cry.
The ‘about us' section of the Wharton India Economic Forum says: "Launched in 1996, The Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) is an annual India-centric conference hosted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, bringing together business and political leaders, professionals, academics and students from around the world to discuss India's evolution from an emerging nation to a prominent global economic power, and the key social, political and financial challenges which still stand in its way... Every year, WIEF has stimulated energetic dialogue between India's current and future industry leaders and policymakers, and has also served as a conduit for businesses to create and leverage professional connections."
Is Wharton a business forum? Really?
If this is about Wharton, then it does not have any right to judge Narendra Modi on the question of human rights record and take a stand which is politically partisan. Have the authorities of the institute forgotten that the country where it is located treats dictators across the globe as par its own convenience even while commanding respect as the most successful democracy in the world.
Narendra Modi is a democratically elected leader and is a successful administrator, in fact the most successful in India at this moment. So, what's the logic in overlooking the positives that Modi has to offer and express a superficial regret over decade-old riots? Even there is no judicial confirmation of any sort that Modi was involved in those riots. And what are Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar doing in a business school forum? Do they know the business of administration better than Modi?
Don't invite but don't uninvite and insult
The Wharton has insulted the Indian democracy through its act of scrapping Modi's name from the speakers' list. It has also mocked the much-revered judiciary of this country for the latter hasn't charged Modi for the riots. In fact, the so-called academics of this till-now prestigious institute has even tainted the goodwill of the American democracy by choking the right to free speech of a representative of another democracy, considered a close ally by Washington.
If there was indeed a sense of discomfort in the minds of these people, then they shouldn't have invited Modi at the first place. But by inviting him and then humiliating him, these ‘enlightened minds' (a few English professors kickstarted the anti-Modi campaign, which again is a surprising fact in a business forum) have made a mockery of themselves and their country before the entire world.
Interestingly, not a single signatory to the anti-Modi petition was a professor of the Wharton School, one of the most prestigious business schools in the US. May be the anti-Modi voices have a Leftist orientation but we all know, (fashionable) leftism itself is a dead coin in this age.
The role of the Indian government
This is more shocking. The Indian government itself is one of the sponsors of the Wharton event and it silently watched how a democratically elected leader from India was given a sorry treatment. It is indeed shocking to see that the country's government could not rise above domestic partisan politics even on the foreign soil and allowed the nation's image to take a beating.
The ruling party perhaps found a nice opportunity to avenge what the Gujarat CM had uttered about its perennial power centre at a party conclave just the day before. This is a sad commentary on the world's largest democracy. Will the ruling party back Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party, who has also caused it much inconvenience at the recent times, at the Wharton?
Not unlikely. Kejriwal, afterall, doesn't yet have a firm political root. The Wharton experience would just add some value to his CV. That's all. But for Modi, appearing at the Wharton, even if virtually, would mean that he has overcome the final frontier. This is something the ruling party would have found threatening before the next Lok Sabha polls.
Politics is eating into our democracy.
The role of the US government
The US administration might not have a direct involvement in the episode but was this silence desirable? The silence has only equated Washington's reluctance to grant a visa to Modi with the Wharton fiasco. The country is called the most suitable democracy on the earth but then how could it allow itself to be hijacked by some fascist minds?
The US government doesn't have the compulsion of coalition politics but yet it could not keep itself above the negative politics even when the spirit of its own Consitution was jeopardized. The way Wharton buckled under pressure from some undemocratic forces and the US looked on silently (or helplessly?), it proved that even the biggest democracy is yet to cover some distance to become the greatest.
The impact of the Wharton incident will not end here. If Narendra Modi indeed becomes the prime minister of India one day, it will be the same US which would have to engage with him for myriad reasons.
It would not be able to overlook a key ally just for one person. We could even see the Wharton courting Modi to make a physical presence and deliver a speech. Those ivory-tower academics who are occupying a moral high ground today will then vanish in the split of a second.
Politics is a game of uncertainty. Wharton played it, but does it know it?