"We do not endorse any political views and do not support any specific ideology. Our goal as a team is only to stimulate valuable dialogue on India's growth story," the forum said in a statement on Sunday. It added: "As it stands currently, Mr.Modi's keynote address at Wharton India Economic Forum has been cancelled."
The forum is an annual student-run India-centric conference hosted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
A group of professors and students at Wharton had written a strong letter saying they are outraged to learn that the forum had invited Modi as a keynote speaker.
"This is the same politician who was refused a diplomatic visa by the United States State Department on March 18, 2005 on the ground that he, as Chief Minister, did nothing to prevent a series of orchestrated riots that targeted Muslims in Gujarat," the latter said.
Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia is also expected address the Forum on March 23.
The forum said the student body was extremely impressed with Modi's credentials, governance ideologies, and leadership, which was the primary reason for his invitation.
"However, as a responsible student body within the University of Pennsylvania, we must consider the impact on multiple stakeholders in our ecosystem. our team felt that the potential polarising reactions from sub-segments of the alumni base, student body, and our supporters, might put Mr. Modi in a compromising position, which we would like to avoid at all costs, especially in the spirit of our conference's purpose," the Forum said. The Forum said even as it stood by its decision to invite Modi, "we believe that this course of action (of cancelling his address) would be the most appropriate in the light of reactions of the multiple stakeholders involved."
"Therefore, we as a team, would like to apologise for "Therefore, we as a team, would like to apologise for being a catalyst may have put Mr.Modi and the Wharton School administration ia difficult position," the forum said. The forum said it hoped to have Modi speak at a "more appropriate forum where he can interact with students without the distraction of this kind of attention".
The Forum said it was in the last stages of finalising an additional keynote address that would be delivered by a very prominent Indian leader and would be announced very soon.
Since its inception in 1996, the meet has emerged as one of the largest and most prestigious India-focused business conferences which provides a platform for leaders to discuss the opportunities present in India and the challenges that need to be addressed.
Among other eminent invited guests to the conference this time include Milind Deora, the Union Minister of State for IT and Communications; Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group; actor and avtivist Shabana Azmi, poet and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar.
Earlier keynote speakers at the forum have included former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, BJP leader Varun Gandhi and industrialist Anil Ambani.
The USA has been reasserting time and again that it would not soften its stand of not issuing visa to Modi in light of the 2002 Gujarat progroms although business representatives from that country recently praised Modi at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit in January.
Among other western quarters that had boycotted Modi after the riots, the UK has lifted its ban on Modi while the EU has shown eagerness to inch closer to him owing to economic considerations.
(With PTI inputs)