We wonder why these three astute advocates of democracy and their supporters feel so intellectually unequipped to engage Modi, who recently was reelected in a landslide, in an open public debate on these questions at a forum on their own territory.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton India Economic Forum recently revoked an invitation to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to deliver a video-speech on March 23 after three Indian American professors mobilized campus and online protests.
Several Indian activists have long accused Modi of complicity in the deadly Godhra communal riots of 2002 and overseas Indian groups have frequently rallied in opposition to his planned visits and speeches in the United States. He was denied entry in 2005 by the U.S. State Department for violating religious freedoms and remains person non granta, although he has spoken via videoconference to Indian trade groups from time to time.
The United States has a long and ignominious history of suppressing leftist scholars, activists and artists, for which it has been frequently excoriated by international human rights groups. So, when progressive Indian groups seek to censor Modi by invoking those same discredited immigration laws and by intimidating the University of Pennsylvania, it is particularly odious and perverse. Censorship of political speech, no matter how objectionable its content or repulsive the messenger, is always reprehensible.
We are no fans of Modi. Indeed, we believe he needs to be publicly grilled about his government’s failures and possible personal complicity in the Godhra massacres and the economic and political indignities Muslims still experience in his “vibrant” state.
Toorjo Ghosh, an assistant professor at UPenn’s school of social policy, who mobilized the campaign with Ania Loomba and Suvir Kaul, two colleagues from the English department, was quoted in the media as saying: “The model that Narendra Modi has put forward is seriously flawed and is based on some extremely egregious flouting of human rights.” The petitioners complained that they found it “incomprehensible” that the Wharton students forum “wishes to celebrate [him] as an exemplar of economic and social development” or “endorse ideas about economic development that are based on the systematic oppression of minority populations” and help “whitewash Modi’s grim record and to grant him respectability.”
They advocate “conscientious and efficacious modes of economic organization, not to piggy-back onto the inhuman policies of politicians who not only lack a commitment to human rights and to ideals of social justice, but whose political success is based on the suppression of substantial sections of their own citizens.”
These are ringing words and exemplary goals. We wonder why these three astute advocates of democracy and their supporters feel so intellectually unequipped to engage Modi, who recently was reelected in a landslide, in an open public debate on these questions at a forum on their own territory.
In a disingenuous “official statement,” the organizing committee asserted that it seeks “to present multiple opinions and ideas to our audiences and supporters across the world and constructively contribute to the intellectual milieu,” clarifying that “we do not endorse any political views and do not support any specific ideology.” All of that logically should prod them to welcome controversial ideas and speakers. But in UPenn’s Orwellian world, these students are as hapless as the ignorant faculty that seemingly tutor them, and so “must consider the impact on multiple stakeholders in our ecosystem.”
Let’s get to the doublespeak, shall we: “Our team felt that the potential polarizing 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....”
The censorship of Modi by Wharton is borne of the same loom of intolerance his opponents inveigh against. Nothing, as they say, so resembles the North Pole as the South Pole.