Questioning the decision of Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF) to cancel its invitation to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, US India Business Council on Wednesday termed it as a missed opportunity for the students of the prestigious business school.
"Unfortunate and disrespectful. Since when is an American University against free speech?" asked USIBC president Ron Somers.
"The Wharton Forum would have given the students a chance to ask the Gujarat chief minister hard questions," he told PTI.
Expressing his dissatisfaction over the decision taken by organisers of the WIFE - which is run and managed by the Wharton students - Somers said he gives Modi credit for being willing to submit to a 'no ground rules' grilling.
"The fact this was cancelled by Wharton is a missed opportunity, and condescends the students in that why should Wharton Faculty or the Wharton Administration assume that Wharton students would have given the chief minister a free pass?" he said.
Representing more than 350 top US companies including those in the Fortune 500, USIBC is one of the three media partners to the annual Wharton India Economic Form event on March 23, while Somers is one of the keynote speakers.
USIBC is not withdrawing from the event and Somers intends to deliver his key note address to make his point.
"I still plan on attending to make this point about free speech, and about how young people in India and the United States share common ground, similar values: where your last name shouldn't matter, and that freedom and liberty bring with them the responsibility to insist on better governance and for active and participatory democracy," he said.
"Such a 'no holds barred' dialogue between future business leaders and a leader of chief minister Modi's capability and stature would have expanded the plane of hope and progress, on which the future rests. Do we stand for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Such questions asked and answered only advance democracy," Somers said.
Modi was initially invited by WIEF to deliver a keynote address via video conference on March 23.
However the students organising body of the Wharton school decided to cancel the invitation following a "furious" petition by a group of professors and students from University of Pennsylvania.