“Once they invited him, they had a duty to hear his point of view”

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania should have stuck to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the keynote speaker at its India Economic Forum, scheduled for later this month, Union Minister Shashi Tharoor said on Wednesday. But he clarified later that it was his personal opinion.“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 Minister of State for Human Resource Development, told NDTV.

Terming the Wharton decision “unfortunate,” he said: “I disagree profoundly with Mr. Modi at every level, but I think it is far better to debate his record and views rather than… suppress his voice by disinviting him. Once they invited him, they had a duty to hear his point of view.”

Mr. Tharoor is the first Congress leader to publicly denounce the business school’s decision announced on Sunday. His senior colleague Ambika Soni had said the decision was not an insult to the country. “Some people say denying [him] a visa or cancelling his programme is an insult to the country. I do not subscribe to this view. We do not get stopped from getting a visa but if we are stopped, we should reflect on why it is being done,” she said.

But Mr. Tharoor said he agreed with Wall Street Journal columnist Sadanand Dhume, who decided not to speak at the Forum as he disapproved of the decision to cancel the invitation to Mr. Modi.

Wharton 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’.”

“I do not think it was a considered decision and I suspect that they are regretting both their decisions to invite Mr. Modi and to disinvite him,” he said.

On the other hand, he said, the hosts could have asked Mr. Modi uncomfortable questions. “That is what makes for a stimulating debate. On a university campus, that is what the entire process should be all about.”

Mr. Tharoor said he was invited to deliver the keynote address at the India Economic Forum a few weeks ago, but declined the offer because of his parliamentary commitments. He had addressed the Forum four years ago and since then had been invited every year, but could not go.

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