Last week when I heard that Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi would be speaking at an India event at Wharton (albeit by video conference) I made only a fleeting note of it. A few years ago I may have been more excited. This time I wasn’t. I wasn’t because I thought – what’s the big deal?
Narendra Modi is a premium political figure and Wharton is a premium academic institution. So if Wharton and its super brainy students invite him, what could be more natural? They are interested in India and its development, and nowadays how can anyone anywhere in the world talk about India and its future, without talking about the gripping Modi phenomenon? Alas life, and especially life if you are a certain Narendra Damodardas Modi, isn’t that simple.
No sooner had the media picked up on the fact that Narendra Modi would be the key note speaker, then his motley band of detractors started to cry foul. They don’t want him to make his speech. They want him gagged. In fact their shrill is becoming more and more predictable. Predictability only comes when people are working to an agenda, a brief. And that brief is simple – stop Modi at any cost. They hate him. Simple.
His detractors are afraid, that may be, just maybe, Narendra Modi will convince his foreign audience that his politics of development will be good for India. That he may also have a few credible tips that will help the Western world get out of its current economic mess. It may lead to a more stronger, more vibrant India. How could they let that happen? For all these years they have peddled an image, an impression, of Modi as some demonic figure. Modi has kept silent. He has let his work speak. Now people who may not have had the chance to analyse Modinomics for themselves, will get the opportunity. Well, thats if he is not gagged.
I can live with people who are political opponents. Many of my best friends are my political opponents. Thats what makes the free world free. We may not agree, but we tolerate, we respect, and allow. Narendra Modi after-all has faced more sustained political opposition then probably any politician on earth. Thats what makes him who he is. But he is not mouse. He does fight back. He fights back through the political process. Through the ballot box. He is a democrat. He and his party face the electorate almost every year, in some election or other. And each time he comes out stronger and more respected, both in his home state and nationally. In fact the mother of democracy, the United Kingdom, and the world’s largest democratic bloc, the European Union, have come to acknowledge this fact.
So, if Modi is gagged, whose loss is it. Its Wharton’s loss. But no, its more than that. Its much more than that. Its democracy’s loss. Now if of all the countries in the world, the mighty United States of America, whose very foundations are laid on the principles of democracy and free speech cannot uphold them, then what hope do those who cry freedom in the most oppressive regimes of the world have? In gagging Modi they would be sending out a signal that democracy is an al a carte menu. That’s its an optional extra. What message will that give to those fighting for democracy in China, in the Middle East, and in Africa?
This is now a credibility issue. Not for Narendra Modi. But for the democratic world. Will the academics, students, and advisers of Wharton rise to the occasion? Will they allow a handful of pseudo-democrats with a narrow domestic Indian political agenda, damage the universal principles for which our forefathers – Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Sardar Patel, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, and the Suffragettes – dedicated their lives? I pray not.