Started in 1996, the Wharton India Economic Forum stirred a controversy after it cancelled Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's address through a video link. The event would be held on March 23 in Penn Museum, Philadelphia, US.
Meanwhile, the Adani Group has said its pull-out had nothing to do with the fact that Modi's address had been cancelled.
Colors sources said the channel would continue to remain a silver sponsor of the event. Hexaware Technologies Chairman Atul Nishar, currently in the US, said he wouldn't be able to attend the forum as a speaker, owing to business engagements. The Wharton India Forum website continued to show Hexaware as the bronze sponsor.
Incredible India, a central government campaign, is also a sponsor for the Wharton forum.
After the Adani Group pulled out as a sponsor, corporate India has been divided into two camps—while one supports Modi and projects him as the country’s next prime minister, the other refrains from taking a stand.
During the Vibrant Gujarat summit this year, industrialists from across the country made a beeline to Ahmedabad, pledging support to Gujarat by way of investment. Among Modi's prominent supporters are Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal and Reliance Group Chairman Anil Ambani. At previous Vibrant Gujarat summits, Mittal and Anil Ambani had publicly projected Modi as the next prime minister. "No war crimes have been proved against Modi by any court. He has all the right to present his side of the story to the rest of the world. Not giving him an opportunity to talk is not right in a country known for freedom of expression," said a chief executive, on condition of anonymity.
Corporate leaders say considering Gujarat's economic indicators, Modi's performance as chief minister is very good. By cancelling the event, Wharton has snubbed the Indian leader, they add.
A few leaders also see the tussle as a proxy fight between the Bharatiya Janata Party leader and the Congress.
Other speakers listed for the event are Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia (through video link), Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Milind Deora and President of the US-India Business Council Ron Summers. Former speakers at the event include Anil Ambani, Sunil Mittal, ICICI Bank Non-Executive Chairman K V Kamath, former president Abdul Kalam and Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
In a statement issued while cancelling Modi's address, Wharton said: "Our team felt the potential polarising reactions from sub-segments of the alumni base, student body, and our supporters might put Modi in a compromising position, which we would like to avoid at all costs, especially in the spirit of our conference's purpose."