Friday, March 22, 2013

When (Wharton)Quakers Quaked ... And Then Crumbled

Someone needs to say it out loud. Wharton's current class blew it. And they blew it big time.

Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) has been an annual fixture since 1996 at Wharton business school. Some the most influential Indians, from various walks of life, are invited to two days of stimulating discussion about the promise of India, and how she can go about achieving it. One will be held this year too. Oh ... but the hash that WIEF's organizing team has made of it all this year.

WIEF organizers invited one of the most prominent, and admittedly, polarizing politicians of India - Narendra Modi - to deliver a keynote at this year's gathering. A few UPenn faculty members started a petition against this. The petition gathered some momentum - to the tune of a couple of hundred signers no less. WIEF buckled under the pressure and rescinded the invitation.

We are Quakers. We quake. Even to tremblors that are no more than 2.0. And then we crumble.

The organizing team, in its rush to appease the frail sensibilities of a few, failed to consider the very basic tenet of any decision making. A cost to benefit analysis. It may just be that the current class is still to get to that bit in their coursework. Oh, but this is Wharton. An Ivy-League b-school. These students must have strong fundamentals. That is precisely the point. It doesn't seem so. Go read the half-assed statement that WIEF organizing committee released, announcing its decision to un-invite Narendra Modi. Aah. Oh ... the mind numbing intellectual hypocrisy. Between that statement and the boasts about WIEF's goals (read the 'About' on WIEF's website -, you will not miss the point. For that matter, the petition that the few in the faculty had initiated, didn't set fire to any stationary either.

Of course the onus of this fiasco rests with WIEF organizing committee. WIEF organizing committee and it's members failed, miserably, not just to articulate and defend their position, but even to understand why they wanted someone like Narendra Modi to be speak at the forum in first place.

So what's the big deal you ask. Its just a bunch of students who may have mishandled a situation. The platinum sponsor of WIEF-2013 parted ways with WIEF - in protest. A gold sponsor followed suit soon after. At least two other prominent speakers of Indian origin decided, in protest, not to attend. WIEF had a hard time filling the suddenly vacant slots in it's agenda for this year's forum.

Who wants some future business leaders?

A lot has been said and written about why WIEF should or should not have, in the first place invited Narendra Modi, and subsequently un-invited him. What has entirely been missed are the lessons that can and should be learned from the fiasco that is WIEF-2013.

The question is: will the students of WIEF, and Wharton's current class at large, learn anything from it? They should, but they probably won't. Had this been an actual real world situation - as if it could get any more real than this while in school - one shudders to think what such gross mismanagement of a situation, especially one that is as hyperbolical and as insignificant as this one, would do to the bottom line and the reputation of the employers. The companies and organization that are bound to line up to hire these dolts must grill them. Or risk having to hire a bunch of incompetent twerps.

If nothing else comes of it, somewhere here there must be a case study about communication skills, conflict resolution, public relations management, situational awareness and strategic thinking. Gee. Only if this was part of Wharton's curriculum. But it was, and is. So what went wrong you ask.

Plain and simple answer? The ivy in ivy-league is not green anymore. It is confused. Confused between being socially responsible and generating profits. And it is withering. Withering under the vine of incompetence and political correctness that is sucking the very life force out of the mighty redwood that this nation, the US of A, once was. And slowly but surely this vine is taking over. All the way from the canopy (the government) to the deepest root (the citizenry). Its little wonder then, that Wharton's no different.

Go Fuck (Wharton)Quakers.

Monday, March 18, 2013

All of Spielberg in India ... in one place

Steven Spielberg recently visited India to meet and greet the who's who of Indian film industry. He must have talked to a bunch of people, but his conversations with Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan and the editor of 'The Indian Express' Shekhar Gupta are the ones that are in public domain. It is not at all difficult to google for videos of such events, but to save you all time and effort I've embedded the videos that I could find of those conversations here in this blog post.

The very last video is one where the brain trust behind Lincoln, the film, discuss all things Lincoln. This a an extended conversation with Lincoln's director Steven Spielberg, screen writer Tony Kushner and Lincoln historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Now this is a conversation worth a listen and a watch. If you were to watch just one video ... choose this one!

Steven Spielberg with Shekhar Gupta

Steven Spielberg in conversation with Amitabh Bachchan - Part 1 (courtesy: moifightclub's YouTube channel)

Steven Spielberg in conversation with Amitabh Bachchan - Part 2 (courtesy: moifightclub's YouTube channel)

Brain trust behind Lincoln - the film
Richmond Forum - Steven Spielberg (Director), Doris Kearns Goodwin  (Lincoln Historian) and Tony Kushner (Screenplay Writer) - courtesy Richmond Forum's YouTube Channel

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Memo to Narendra Modi: Deliver the keynote anyway. Via YouTube.

Chief Minister Modi,

Your office's website says, "Good Governance is Good Politics". It is now time for good smart ahead-of-the-curve politics. So you can get to applying your guiding motto to the rest of India. After the general election of 2014 that is.

So you won't be speaking at Wharton India Economic Forum. Good riddance. Please deliver the keynote anyway. Do it via YouTube. Or Google+. Or facebook. But, do it. Better yet, do it on one of the days of the Wharton Forum. Wharton may not be, but the internet is your friend. Do it for those of us who want to listen to what you may have had to say. Wharton may not have. But the rest of us do.

You have been presented with an opportunity here to kick start your, and your party's, campaign for 2014's general elections. You and your party may not, and likely will not, get another opportunity like this one in run up to the general elections next year. There is only an upside to exploiting this situation.

You talked to your party cadre at Talkatora Stadium a few weeks back. The videos of your speech that day have been put on the internet. They have gotten thousands of hits. Imagine the viewership that a live speech from you via YouTube or something such would garner. You literally will have the ear of millions of Indians and Indian expatriates. It is bound to go viral. Indian media will ofcourse go bonkers. The world media will not be behind. You will have set a precedent.

Your keynote address to Wharton would definitely have focused more on your vision for economic growth and development of Gujarat. And how you must envision extrapolating, adapting and applying that model and thought process to the rest of India. But, that keynote probably would not have allowed you to talk about issues that really matter to most Indians.

Furthermore, there are still a few more state assembly elections that are pending for this year. All of them before the general election next year. After your speech, you can hit the campaign trail in right earnest. And go to those states to help motivate your party cadre there, and help them turn in the vote.

All this in an effort to begin to organize the party better before the general election, so it can be ready when the time comes. Once the mud slinging, the free for all, of the general election campaign commences, you will not get a chance to do something such. To be able to talk to so many people without the mind numbing "background noise". So lets set the tone for your and your party's campaign. And lets do it right now.

It'd seem that your party is uncertain about it's leadership and the direction that it is going in, if not about its very existence and its future. So you also have an opportunity here to bring your party, and possibly other potential coalition partners, together. That is before the die is set in the form of your party's agenda for the general election. Lets not wait for things to happen. Lets make them happen.

If you are still not convinced, may be this will help: You have a chance here, to take the fight to the other camp. A chance to throw the first punch. A chance to kick them in the balls. A chance to bite their ear. So they don't know what hit them. And while they try to recover, hit the road for the campaign. With your speech you'd already have grabbed them from the scruff of their neck. Now you will be able to drag them through hell. The whole dynamic of the general election will change. You will be able to channel the popular opinion, and possibly the vote too, if not dictate the issues that should be debated in the run up to the election.

If that hasn't persuaded you, may be this will: Wharton, Wharton India Economic Forum, and others who did not want to hear what you had to say - both in the US and India, have shot themselves in the foot. That is for sure. Why not poke a finger in that wound, and then twist it some. Just for the fun of it. Lets see them squirm a little bit. Those politically correct self important jackasses.

If nothing else, then do it just for the fun of it. Indian politics is getting too predictable. And boring. A handful of families have been governing us since independence. It is time to show them that the rest of us are not there to slave. We the people made them. They are there to serve us. Its not the other way around. They better get their act together. Or be ready to face the consequences.

Here's hoping that we get to hear you speak on either March 22 or March 23. Preferably March 23. For reasons that, hopefully, are obvious.

Jai Hind.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Prof. Loomba, you missed the point too, and here is why

Prof. Loomba,

I sincerely hope you get to read this and respond. If only to make your position clearer yet so the rest of us can understand it better.

In your responses to NYTimes blogger Niharika Mandhana's questions[1], you seem to have missed the point of inviting Narendra Modi, as controversial and as detestable as his actions - or some would argue a lack of actions, in 2002 and since may have been.

In one of your responses to Niharika's questions you ask, "Why did the organizers change their mind? Was it only because of us?" They just were not able to articulately defend their decision to invite Narendra Modi. Which is especially sad, given that Wharton is a highly regarded institution that purportedly produces the business leaders of future. I'd go so far as to say that members of Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF), the organizers and student body of Wharton at large, got suckered, may be even bullied into rescinding their invitation to Narendra Modi.

Wharton, and UPenn, are institutions of higher learning and intellectual advancement after all. WIEF-2013 provided precisely the kind of forum where Narendra Modi could and should have been questioned about his role and thought process, during the violent riots that followed Godhra Train Carriage Burning Incident, and since. You, and the other petitioners, lost out an incredible opportunity to hold Narendra Modi's feet to the fire.

Once again, Wharton is a business school after all. Narendra Modi is arguably the most progressive of all the state Chief Ministers in India, especially when it comes to pushing the agenda of rapid economic growth and development. The b-school students should have cried hoarse upon even learning of the petition that you and your colleagues initiated. May be even counter-protested the protest that you and your colleagues led. How else are they going to be able to hear the competing arguments about various policy decisions that are being made by both the federal and various state governments in India? Now, the line up of speakers is so one sided in favor of the ruling coalition led by Congress that Sonia Gandhi and her coterie would be laughing their behinds off. This year's forum increasingly looks like an exercise where India's ruling combine will be stroking their own ego, without so much of a whiff of a counter argument.

I found your use of Amartya Sen's name and the "quote" from him that you "quoted", particularly disingenuous and facetious. Amartya Sen, in his book Argumentative Indian, was effusive in his praise for the Mughal Emperor Akbar: "Akbar's overarching thesis that 'the pursuit of reason' ... is the way to address difficult problems of social harmony included a robust celebration of reasoned dialogues." That was Amartya Sen's analysis of Indian tradition of argument and debate, using an example from 16th century India. 500 years later, in the 21st century, the petition that you and your colleagues penned, took as backward. Didn't it? And it would seem that you, and the rest of you at UPenn and Wharton, purportedly the progressive thinkers, just shredded the incredible heritage of "the pursuit of reason ... with reasoned dialogue" together with the principles that are enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and flushed it down the toilet bowl full of shit that is political correctness.

Go Quakers!

Sincere Regards,
- aman


Monday, March 4, 2013


Note: If you do not begin to get what this post is about from the first few lines, you may want to read the 'essential background' at the bottom of this post first.
WIEF, you just blew it. And you blew it big time.

Do any of your members, or any of the "chairs at whartonindia dot com" for that matter, have any clue as to what WIEF's goal  is? It certainly doesn't seem so from the way you so quickly went about rescinding your invitation to CM-Gujarat Narendra Modi to deliver the keynote address at this year's WIEF. The 'About' page on your website[1] says that WIEF is a forum to " ... to discuss India's evolution from an emerging nation to a prominent global economic power ...". So you decided that you didn't quite want to listen to the guy who would inform you about exactly that. Bravo.

Not only did you lose out on the opportunity to listen to an Indian politician who is rapidly pushing through an agenda for economic development, you also missed out on the opportunity to ask him some hard hitting questions about his role, or lack there of, in the horrendous violence that followed the Godhra incident in the March of 2002. A ready question that could and should have been asked of CM Modi would have been: Mr. Modi, how do you envision making the growth in Gujarat inclusive - inclusive such that the minority communities of the state are also able to reap the benefits of that growth ... without fear? Now there is a conversation starter, isn't there?

There is something else that you did not think through. The official statement that you released announcing your decision to un-invite CM Modi says, " ... our goal as a team is to provide a neutral platform to encourage cross pollination of ideas as well as work towards contributing to India's success". A neutral platform? You have two speakers from the current Congress led coalition government - a 'Minister of State' in Milind Deora and Planning Commission of India's Deputy Chairman (and one of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's chums) Montek Singh Ahluwalia - as keynote speakers, don't you? But having un-invited CM Modi, you will not have any speaker from the any of the parties in the opposition (which CM Modi would been, owing his affiliation to the BJP). So much for the neutral platform. The cross pollination of ideas will surely go very well.

The statement goes on to say, " ... we hope to present multiple opinions and ideas ... and constructively contribute to the intellectual milieu for which University of Pennsylvania and The Wharton School stand." Multiple opinions and ideas ... huh. And the way you thought you'll do that is by not listening to someone whose opinions you don't like. You left out a speaker whose actions/policy some at your university disagreed with. So the intellectual milieu certainly got constructively contributed to.

"Our goal as a team is only to stimulate valuable dialogue on India's growth story, and to act as a forum where students and audiences interact with influential leaders from across India." You certainly did a bang up job of accomplishing that goal by un-inviting CM Modi.

There's more. " ... potential polarizing reactions ... might put Mr. Modi in a compromising position, which we would like to avoid at all costs, especially in the spirit of our conference's purpose." Now this is a good one. Mr. Modi will be put in a compromising position? Over Skype? What is this - Playboy India Economic Forum? Uncompromising the compromising position that you think you would have gotten CM Modi into, would have been his headache, now wouldn't it? Oh ... you did in the spirit of your conference's purpose no less. The same spirit, and the purpose, that you talk about in the first paragraph of your website's 'About' page[1] I presume.

Okay. So there was a petition circulated demanding that CM Modi not be invited to talk at WIEF[4]. Many UPenn students, faculty and alumni signed. What exactly in that petition led you to your decision to un-invite CM Modi? Pray tell me. I'd analyze the damn petition myself, but my stomach is petitioning me to go have my dinner now. Moreover, having read the thing, I think you guys just got suckered, even bullied, into this.

Essential Background

1. Per Wharton India Economic Forum's (WIEF's) website, it is "an annual India-centric conference hosted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, bringing together business and political leaders, professional, academics and students from around the world to discuss India's evolution from an emerging nation to a prominent global economic power, and the key social, political and financial challenges which still stand in its way."
2. Narendra Modi is the current Chief Minister (CM) of the Indian state of Gujarat. He is a particularly polarizing figure when it comes to Indian politics. And not just because he belongs to the "right wing" party in India - the BJP - Bhartiya Janta Party. One of the most horrendous bouts of communal violence in Indian history took place in March of 2002. Modi had been the CM of Gujarat for a little over six months by then. His role as state's top administrator in the run up to the violence, during it and subsequently, has come under the scanner. Many going so far to accuse him of something that would amount to "willful negligence". However, off late his work as CM of Gujarat has been applauded, especially by big business houses from India as well as abroad. Many see him as a potential Prime Ministerial candidate.
Mr. Modi's role as CM, or lack thereof, before, during and after the violence that took place in Gujarat did not go down well with the US. Bush administration denied Narendra Modi the visa to visit the US. Obama administration has followed suit.
3. WIEF invited CM Modi to deliver a keynote lecture at this year's forum.
4. A "segment of UPenn community" believed CM Modi should not be invited to speak at WIEF owing to his involvement, or lack thereof, in the violence in Gujarat in 2002. A petition was circulated online and signed by many at UPenn and Wharton.
5. WIEF decided to rescind the invitation to CM Modi due to protestations and the online petition. The statement declaring that is here.