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UPenn Cancels Speech by Controversial Indian Politician

The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton India Economic Forum was set to feature Narendra Modi, the governor of Gujarat state in west India, as a keynote speaker. Yesterday, however, Modi’s speech was cancelled after students, teachers, and “multiple stakeholders” in the wider university community denounced him.

“This is the same politician who was refused a diplomatic visa by the United States State Department on 18 March 2005 on the ground that he, as chief minister, did nothing to prevent a series of orchestrated riots that targeted Muslims in Gujarat,” reads a letter sent to the Forum organizers.

The incident reflects lingering anger in the United States over Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. A state inquiry in 2008 exonerated Modi from responsibility, but doubts remain. One of his close aides was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in the rioting.

Modi plans to a run for Prime Minister in next year’s elections, and he might win, given widespread dissatisfaction with the ruling Congress Party. Whatever the outcome, the US may find itself in a similar position as UPenn: caught between “multiple stakeholders” at home who strongly dislike Modi on the one hand, and the need to maintain a good relationship with New Delhi, which is critical to security in South Asia, on the other.

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