INDIA: An invitation, murder, and democracy 

When a business school invites persons to attend one of its functions, that too expecting the person to deliver nothing less than the keynote address, it must be taking into account many factors. Elementary is the invitee’s credentials, and in the background of the sponsors, who contribute to organise the event. It appears that the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania skipped a beat or two when it had to withdraw the invitation that it had extended to Mr. Narendra Damodardas Modi, the incumbent Chief Minister of Gujarat. Also in the process, the Wharton India Economic Forum lost one of its ‘platinum’ sponsors, the Adani Group, a business concern having its roots in Gujarat.

The Forum, launched in 1996, allegedly brings 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.” In fact, the invitation to Modi, justifies the true spirit of what the Forum wishes to achieve. Who else could better explain the socio-political challenges India face? Jurists would agree, that the person who committed the crime could best explain it.

The Forum will not completely miss out all of it though, that Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia is attending. The architect of India’s new standards of urban and rural poverty, has spent more than USD 50,000 to renovate washrooms in his office. Ahluwalia would definitely enlighten the audiences about what modern India’s immediate necessities are, from the urban and rural poor’s point of view and also how the country’s bureaucracy plans to address it. There must be a solution, as simple as flushing a cistern in Ahluwalia’s million-rupee toilet.

U-Penn’s ‘u’ turn concerning Modi however has pained a few. Adani Group’s withdrawal from sponsorship of the event is the least, though it must have hurt the Wharton School. But these guys teach how to do business, though a central question to be asked is how a business group based in Gujarat is justified in sponsoring an event for the state’s Chief Minister to attend to improve his desperately poor human rights record. Indeed, there is no proof establishing nexus between the sponsors and the keynote speakers.

Folks at Wharton are justified in claiming that they have absolute freedom to decide who should speak in the Forum. Yet, times are bad, that people are asking questions regarding circumstantial evidence and conduct sometimes suggests guilt or servitude. The only answer to this is transparency. Sometimes transparency does not go well with profits in business, which people at Wharton should know.

The best security for business investment is a functioning rule of law framework. In India, it is replaced by political connections. Therefore, what hurts the Chief Minister who by the nature of his job is empowered to decide upon licenses for a business group, hurts the business group as well. Right-wing fundamentalists like Shiv Sena leader Mr. Suresh Prabhu, who claims that U-Penn’s ‘u’ turn is an insult on India, is in fact the country’s disgrace, just as it was for the Holy See when it pleaded clemency for General Augusto Pinochet in February 1999.

What prevails in India is not the rule of law, but the rule by fear. Even senior police officers are not immune to this. Since the past two days, a former minister in the Uttar Pradesh state cabinet is facing allegations that he is involved in the murder of a Deputy Superintendent of Police in the state. Politics in UP is known for its barbarity, as it is Bihar, Manipur, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Nagaland, or Karnataka to name a few more states. Those who argue that it is pretty much of the entire country are not completely wrong.

How else can the country justify, more than fifty per cent of its elected representatives who warm seats in the state as well as national capitals having criminal records? Yet, we dare call it a democracy, a figment of Mr. Lee Kwan Yew’s and Mr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Asian value system.

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*The author demands a better India for all Indians. The author could be contacted at