Union Minister Shashi Tharoor has said that once Wharton had invited Narendra Modi to be the keynote speaker at the India economic forum, they should have heard the Gujarat Chief Minister out, even grilled him with tough questions, but should not have cancelled the invitation.
Mr Tharoor, who is the Minister of State for Human Resource and Development, described the Wharton decision as "unfortunate" and told NDTV, "I disagree profoundly with Mr Modi at every level but I think it is far better to debate his record and views rather than to try and suppress his voice by disinviting him. Once they had invited him, they had a duty to hear his point of view." (Why Wharton cancelled Narendra Modi's keynote address)
Many in India have slammed the prestigious US business school for dumping Mr Modi unceremoniously, but Mr Tharoor is the first Congressman to say publicly that it should not have done so. His senior colleague Ambika Soni had earlier said Wharton dropping Mr Modi was not an insult. "Some people say denying a visa or and canceling his programme is an insult to the country. I don't subscribe to this view. We don't get stopped from getting a visa but if we are stopped, we should reflect as to why it's being done," Ms Soni had said.
But Mr Tharoor said he agreed with Wall Street Journal columnist and writer Sadanand Dhume, who decided not to speak at the Forum as he disapproved of the organisers' decision to disinvite Mr Modi.
The minister said Wharton had perhaps cancelled Mr Modi's programme as "they just did not want the bother. They got so much of heat. They said...we cannot cope with this trouble. Let us get ourselves out of it," adding, "I do not think that it was a considered decision and I suspect that they are regretting both their decisions to invite Mr Modi as also their decision to disinvite him," he said.
But, he said, the hosts could have asked Mr Modi uncomfortable questions instead. "That is what makes for a stimulating debate. On a university campus, that is what the entire process should be all about," he said.
The articulate junior HRD minister said he was invited to deliver the keynote address at the Wharton India Economic Forum a few weeks ago, but declined because of his parliamentary commitments and suggested that Wharton approach someone else. Mr Tharoor said he had addressed Wharton India Economic Forum four years ago and since then had been invited every year, but could not go.