New Delhi: It was a snub for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi from the United States when his keynote address at the Wharton India Economic Forum got cancelled. This came on a day when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) showered praise on the Gujarat Chief Minister at the party's National Executive meet.
The Wharton School forum said it fears polarising reactions if Modi is invited, after a group of professors and students at Wharton had protested at his invitation. Modi was scheduled to deliver that keynote address via video conference later this month.
The organisers have now said that a prominent Indian leader will delivering the address, whose name will be announced soon. The organising committee of the prestigious annual event apologised for putting the university and the Wharton School administration in a "difficult position".
Modi was invited to deliver the keynote address at the Forum to be held in Philadelphia on March 22 to 23 via video conference. "We hope to have Mr Modi speak at a more appropriate forum where he can interact with students without the distraction of this kind of attention," the statement said.
A group of Wharton's professors and students had written a strongly-worded letter saying they are outraged to learn that the Forum has invited Modi as a keynote speaker. The letter noted, "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."
Since its inception in 1996, the meet has emerged as one of the largest and most prestigious India-focused business conferences that 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 include Milind Deora, the Union Minister of State for IT and Communications; Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group; actress Shabana Azmi, poet and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia is also expected to address the forum on March 23.
Earlier keynote speakers have included former president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, BJP leader Varun Gandhi and industrialist Anil Ambani.
Modi takes centrestage at BJP National Executive meet
While there was no reaction yet from Narendra Modi on the cancellation of his address at Wharton, it all came on a day when his speech at the BJP National Executive meet earned him high praise. Modi set the tone for the party ahead of 2014 with a scathing attack on the Gandhis, and on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"The Prime Minister is a night watchman for the Congress leadership. The NAC is nothing but a group of 5-star activists," Modi said. "Had Pranab Mukherjee been made the PM, India today would have been in a better position," he added.
This is perhaps the last council of the BJP before the next Lok Sabha polls. Narendra Modi has for sure occupied the centrestage at this meet. His role in the run up to the next polls will be decided in the coming months. With praise from the party and a snub from the US, it now remains to be seen whether Modi will lead the party as its declared Prime Ministerial candidate or just as the chairman of the campaign committee.
(With additional information from PTI)