Mumbai, March 4: The Adani group today pulled out as the main sponsor of the Wharton India Economic Forum a day after Narendra Modi was dropped as the keynote speaker in response to criticism from some professors and students of the leading US business school.
Modi was to address the March 22-23 event through a live videoconference. His place will be taken by Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
The controversy underscores that the chief minister has not been able to shake off the stigma arising from his alleged role in the 2002 pogrom.
Modi has projected himself as a leader committed to Gujarat’s development as an investor-friendly destination, and tried to use that image to shed the baggage of the riots.
The Ahmedabad-headquartered Adani group wouldn’t immediately confirm that it had pulled out as a sponsor in an expression of loyalty to Modi. But late this evening, the group — listed as the platinum sponsor of this year’s event — no longer figured on the WIEF website. Sources close to the group said they were unaware of this development.
The Adani group spokesperson said Gautam Adani, chairman of the Rs 20,400-crore group, would not be participating at the conference. Officials from the group clarified that his absence had nothing to do with the cancellation of Modi’s address.
“Mr Adani had conveyed his inability to join the Wharton India Economic Forum long back as he has other pressing commitments,” a spokesperson said.
The WIEF is an annual student-run India-centric conference hosted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. It is one of the most prestigious India-focused business conferences, where leaders from various sectors discuss the opportunities and challenges before India.
The decision to withdraw the invite to Modi has prompted former Union power minister Suresh Prabhu to cancel his visit in protest at the “insult to Modi”.
The Adani group’s decision will not jeopardise the event as it has four other minor sponsors: Deutsche Bank, Colors, Hexaware Technologies and Incredible India, an Indian government arm.
The speakers include junior IT and communications minister Milind Deora, US-India Business Council president Ron Somers and Hexaware chairman Atul Nishar. Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi and actor Boman Irani will participate at a panel event to discuss “media as a vehicle of social change”.
Past speakers at the 16-year-old event include A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, P. Chidambaram, ICICI group chairman K.V. Kamath, Varun Gandhi and industrialists Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal.