Modi Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Greetings from San Jose, CA. I am back and ready to get cracking. I have not been writing much of late (how’s that for an understatement) but the little grey cells have been busy. My colleague Rajesh Jain asked me to write an opinion piece on the Wharton India Economic Forum fiasco and I said, “I don’t have anything to add but if you say so, I will drag my lazy knuckles across the keyboard.” So I went over to twitter and wrote a few tweets (follow me @atanudey) about how I felt about Modi being un-invited. Then I wrote a piece that I sent to NitiCentral. They published it. I am pleased to report that the twitterati liked what I wrote. So alright, you should go read my opinion piece — Modi Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — at I append the piece below the fold here, for the record.

Narendra Modi, the Man Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
from Mar 5th, 2013

The specifics of the minor storm surrounding the Wharton India Economic Forum 2013 (WIEF2013) to be held March 22-23 are common knowledge. The organising committee first invited Chief Minister Narendra Modi to be the keynote speaker at the event and then a couple of days ago withdrew the invitation which Modi had graciously accepted. Predictably this led to much rejoicing among Modi’s detractors (they are legion) and much outrage among his ardent supporters.

Allow me to address one relatively minor matter first. As in all similar cases, someone or the other decides that this is a case of stifling of free speech. The speaker’s ‘right to free speech’ has been violated, goes the cry. Voltaire is immediately invoked and quoted as having said, “I disagree with what you have to say but I will defend with my life your right to say it.” Just for the record, Voltaire didn’t say that ever but that’s beside the point.

This is not a matter of free speech at all. By their action, the organisers of WIEF are not preventing Modi from speaking. They just don’t want him to speak at their venue. His ability to speak freely elsewhere is not compromised in any way. Freedom of speech means that the speaker is free to speak but it does not impose any obligation on anyone to listen. If WIEF people don’t want to hear what Modi has to say, they are well within their rights to not provide him a platform. So Modi’s supporters, well-meaning though they may be, should tone down their free-speech-violation outrage a bit.

Now to the more substantive matter of whether it is right to invite someone and then retract the invitation after it has been accepted. Under extraordinary circumstances one may be compelled to do so. It could be due to an honest mistake. For instance, you thought the speaker was a highly qualified doctor and therefore most suited to address your medical conference. But then you realise that he’s not a doctor of medicine at all but rather a doctor of philosophy. It’s embarrassing as all heck but not life threatening. You apologise to the invitee for your mistake and life goes on.

That’s not how it happened in this case. The WEIF2013 organisers – business school students at a prestigious highly-ranked US university – must have known everything there is to know about Modi, one of the most celebrated and prominent public figures in India. No new information about him could conceivably become available to them. They must have known that they would face opposition from those who hate Modi. So what happened?

The proverb ‘he who pays the piper, calls the tune’ can provide some clues. Universities rely to some extent on external funding – from benefactors outside the state or alumni. Times are hard and one cannot afford to antagonise those who help one pay the bills. Wharton management perhaps found it was politically (and financially) imprudent to host Modi given that he has been declared persona non grata by certain influential groups with deep pockets. Remember: The Government of India and its agents have deep pockets, not to mention foreign bank accounts.

What the organisers of the conference did in retracting their invitation is understandable. It must be that on weighing matters, they decided that is better to incur the wrath of one camp rather than the other. Understandable but that does not mean that it is not churlish, spineless and lacking the courage of conviction. Besides, it may be terribly myopic. More about that in a bit.

Some consider the WIEF’s action to be an insult to Modi and indeed to India itself. It is nothing of the sort. First, Modi is a big man. For 10 years he has been the target of an unrelenting witch hunt by the Union Government and its agents in the mainstream media, various NGOs with questionable objectives, and foreign Governments who would like to see India embroiled in domestic discord. Yet he has not only survived, he has prospered and helped the people of the State of Gujarat prosper. He cannot be insulted by something as trivial as the retraction of an invitation to speak at a conference, however prestigious the venue.

Second, it is not an insult to India for different reasons. Modi is not India. An insult to Modi – which it isn’t as I argue above – cannot be an insult to India. The WIEF is too inconsequential compared to India for it to be capable of insulting India. What is indeed an insult to Indians is that India is an impoverished (meaning ‘made poor’) country, and it has been made so by bad governance. Lest we forget, India has been misgoverned by the Nehru dynasty and the Congress for most of its post-British Raj existence. The rape of India, not just figuratively, has intensified in the last nine years.

One indicator of India’s impoverishment – and there are too many to list here – is the dismal education system. India’s education system has failed because of bad Government policy formulated for the most part by the Congress and the Nehru dynasty. Not one university in this land of 1.2 billion people is ranked in the top three or four hundred of the world’s universities. Thus tens of thousands of Indians have to go abroad at enormous cost for higher studies. That is why Wharton Business School (like many others) have an annual ‘India Economic Forum’ conference and no Indian university has an ‘US Economic Forum’.

The fact is that India suffers from an on-going insult from its Government and nothing that a bunch of misguided business school students can do ever match the injury that the Nehru dynasty has inflicted on India’s wellbeing.

The WIEF matter is inconsequential in the larger scheme of things but it is significant in what it signals. It signals that Modi’s opponents are shivering in their boots. Modi’s address last month at Shri Ram College of Commerce, New Delhi, scared the living daylights out of the Congress-led UPA and its fellow-travellers. They could well imagine how much more damage Modi would do to them in a talk that would only amplify his voice even more. Modi has to be stopped at every corner, on every street, and with all they can muster. He kicked the hornet’s nest at SRCC and they are buzzing with furious anger.

The Congress-led UPA wants Modi stopped not because he is bad for India but rather because he is bad for those who have misgoverned India for so many decades. Modi is good for India. If Modi continues on the trajectory that he is on, he will transform India from an impoverished country to one that is prosperous and powerful. That would mean that those who have profited from India’s misfortunes – namely, the corrupt domestic Governments and enemy foreign Governments – will be forced to abandon their fiefdom.

India has the potential to be as powerful as a nation of 1.2 billion is capable of being. To realise that potential what India needs is leadership. Modi has demonstrated that he is a man with vision, determination, intelligence and capable of superhuman effort. Every weapon they have fired against him has made him stronger. He is, to borrow a term from Taleb, “antifragile” – the stress is like exercise, building a more resilient body. When – not if, but when – he becomes India’s Prime Minister, India will finally be on its way to fulfilling its potential.

And in the end, this sordid event will be just a brief footnote. The students of the IEF at Wharton are myopic. They will be gone in a year or two. But for years to come Wharton will pay the price of having needlessly antagonised so many Indians, Indians who would be far, far richer than they are today and would have contributed to its success.

Author: Atanu Dey


10 thoughts on “Modi Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”

  1. Atanu,

    It is true that donors have played a role in this fiasco. You are missing another insidious and hideous thing about social scientists. Majority of these professors who signed that petition are not on Indira Congress payroll, nor are they getting any financial incentives for signing that petition.

    Don’t write off these professors as sympathizers of Christianity. Most of them hardly read Bible; many of them don’t go to Church. All of them profess to be atheists. Here, you need a different explanation than what is sold by all anti-Congress-I people as well as Modi sympathizers. This is where Balagangadhara’s research comes into the picture: Indians have not understood the Western culture; Indians have accepted the Western descriptions of India as facts of Indian culture; Western culture is a product of Christianity; western common sense is secularized theological claims.

    Why social sciences are not producing knowledge: check,

    The other issue with BJP is that it lacks a narrative. Today, Modi’s narrative is development, which many other regional parties can latch onto. Sure, India needs development; I am all for it. BJP needs more than the narrative of development to trash these social scientists: It needs alternative theories in every domain: religion, ethics, political theory, etc. Again, Balagangadhara is right on this count as well:


    1. Fantastic comment Mr. Kumar

      Indians have not understood the Western culture; Indians have accepted the Western descriptions of India as facts of Indian culture

      It needs alternative theories in every domain: religion, ethics, political theory


    2. I was watching Advani’s recent speech on youtube and it occurred to me that Advani and may be BJP as a whole is stuck with Swami Vivekananda ideologies. Sure, Vivekananada was a great man, enlightened and well read – but that does not make him know all there is to know about everything – example, Western culture.

      I agree that the development story is not enough. If you remove Narendar bhai (and may be Shivraj Chauhan) from the equation, BJP is just another party like congress. While the secularists make their money defending minorities from a ‘religion’ that doesn’t exist, the hindutva guys do their best to defend that same imaginary religion. Why doesn’t BJP just say – “hey seculars, you know what, we don’t have any religion around here (except for the monotheistic ones that came from outside) and we don’t need your secularism. Go fuck yourself!”


  2. You brought in funding issues.

    You brought in an Indian Congress apparently scared by Modi’s recent popularity that it had to stop a Wharton address lest Indian voters be influenced by it.

    I am sure you must have a clue about the real reason Modi was dis-invited from giving the address!

    The same reason he was denied a visa by the Bush administration.

    The same reason Thomson revoked an award they gave him a few years ago.

    The same reason numerous US State officials keep saying there is no change in their decision on Modi.

    Yes, the mechanics and optics come across as a little clumsy, but that is frequent in these kinds of situations.

    The reason, as you know, is that hate is uncool in the US. Despite what the Islamists say, the US is a fair land that does not entertain or tolerate leaders who are seen to be culpable in their citizens murders.

    And it is a bipartisan thing. Obama’s State has not moved an inch from Bush’s State as regards Modi. Some things are just not done in the US.

    Looking forward to whatever else you have to throw at this!


    1. “US is a fair land that does not entertain or tolerate leaders who are seen to be culpable in their citizens murders.”



    2. 1. I agree with your take on Indian congress role. Yes, 300 signatories on that petition have played a role. It is foolish to think that all these professors on the payroll of Indian congress or that majority of professors are sympathizers of Christianity or of Islam. The explanation for the action of these 300 professors have to be looked elsewhere.

      2. I heard that Modi was supposed to give that lecture via skype. So, no Visa issue here. So, your explanation of US officials involvement in the earlier visa denail does not explain this incident. So, stop selling this adhoc explanation everywhere.

      3. Yes, USA is fair. It depends on who you ask. It is fair to those who support American interests. Don’t we know this?

      If Modi were a Christian, and If India were to be a Christian-majority country, his visa would not have been revoked. Look at American red carpet invitations of dictators and killers everywhere: this is the notion of ‘fairness’ that people talk about on these forums. Don’t use fallacy of equivocation to sell your explanation: ‘fairness’ is a word, and has multiple senses. When people talk about American fariness wrt Modi, they have the notion (concept) of the fairness i have sketched above.

      4. Now, dont attack me as a Modi sympathizer. I am not sympathzier of Congress or BJP or even those 300 professors. All these groups (conrgess, BJP, these professors) have accepted the western cultural experience of India as facts of Indian culture. India needs a new set of intellectuals who can go beyond this. And people like u ask rhetorical questions: if the west has expereinced something, it must be veridical. Sure, no experience is false. People are asking for a different explanation: western expereinces are structured (and not-neutral); of course, there are no neutral experiences (thats the insight of 1950’s debates around positivist/empiricist debates). I dont discount whatever the west has produced: there is much to learn from the western culture in terms of natural sciences, technology, philosophy of sciences, philosophy of logic, philosophy of mathematics, etc.


      1. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to respond to this in detail, but thank you for a mostly excellent post. I went back and read your earlier post here and its links – and although I think I see an ideological leaning – to be honest, again mostly excellent and impressive content.

        Also, by admitting that the anti-Modi movement largely has nothing to do with Congress, Communists, Christianists and Islamists, you speak the truth that the author above and other ‘Internet Hindus’ like him are afraid to acknowledge, and why he/they beat about the bush on issues like Modi’s persistent un-welcome in the US (explained by communist lobbies, funding considerations, conspiracy theories, et al).

        I take issue with some of your assumptions and implications though, which I will try to flesh out later. For example, in one of your posts you use ‘science’ as a gold standard, which is problematic for several reasons.

        “Secularized Christian theology” is also to me suspect (and de-legitimizing) terminology, especially when used in fora that are always cooking up theories of Christian / evangelical takeover of India via Sonia Gandhi “aka Antonio Maino” : ) (that, besides the Islamist takeover of India). It has the flamebait ‘Christian theology’ in it but you use it to refer to secular agnostic academics, who are almost entirely hostile to dogmatic Christian theology. But my sense is that you are using the term to describe unconscious systemic bias and assumptions in Western thought, which is an attractive concept but I will have to read more of it to better understand it.

        Like I said, interesting ideas, but if you are harnessing these essentially academic concepts to defend an essentially pedestrian (caveat: IMHO) individual like Modi, I would be sorely disappointed : )

        Btw, you miss the point I am making about US visa officials – read again.


        1. Joseph,

          What you said looks very good on paper. What we observe is another world – you may call it pragmatic self interest or enlightened self interest. But USA is always careful to use the right kind of doesn’t falter on that.

          Take the example of Pakistan. USA uses that country beautifully, and to hell with India…USA makes all the right kind of noises but always defends Pakistan with all its might because herein lies its self interest.

          And mark you, the day Pakistan stops serving the interest of USA it will not hesitate to crush it if need be.

          So, Joseph, it was good to see what you wrote, but that is not how the real USA operates. If it ever suits it, it will send Visa to Modi through a courier!

          But, I only wish that someday India’s leaders become as enlightened as USA’s who are able to watch the interests of their country as USA’s leaders do — that day we will be proud of Indian Polity!

          USA is not doing anything wrong..but oh my my..why I am forgetting the financial peccadillos of Financial honchos of big corporates,with the active involvement of USA Government…


      2. “If Modi were a Christian, and If India were to be a Christian-majority country, his visa would not have been revoked.”

        I missed this part. The above is simply not true! Bad argument.

        As just one example, I present to you the US role in Bosnia in 1995 against Serb Christians and in support of Bosnian Muslims. It was a much stronger intervention than just visa refusal.

        There may be particular individuals in the US who are against Modi who have evangelical Christian credentials. But without empirical evidence on the ground from its own trusted sources, a US administration will not take a step as serious as revoking a visa to a democratically elected Indian leader, a very friendly country! The preceding act was and is a very serious act – and that is what makes Wharton and others like them (stuff that never make it to the news) refuse hospitality to Modi.

        In today’s America, ‘Judeo-Christian values’ talkers are mostly restricted to Fox news and Alabaman courthouses. Interestingly Judeo-Christian is itself a significant dilution from the original ‘Protestant values’ talkers.


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