APCO NaMo Namah: The Truth Behind Narendra Modi’s Ressurection!

By Fawaz Shaheen:

Over the last 5-6 years, a man who was once on the fringe of Indian politics, considered by many an unacceptable pariah, the relic of a fading era of communal chauvinism, has emerged as a potential candidate for the post of Prime Minister.This man is Narendra Modi (NaMo for his net-savvy fans). Long derided for his role in the horrific communal riots of Gujarat, he has been re-born in the avatar of Development-Man, titled a Knight of the Order of Progress, leading the charge in service of the Holy Growth Empire.

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The media sings his praises, the corporate world demands replication of his policies, and he has gained an army of fans in the urban middle class who admire his supposed ‘decisiveness’ and ‘efficiency’. (He definitely must have a lot of both, as its takes quite more than a bit of decisiveness and efficiency to slaughter a couple of thousand human beings).

What is behind this change? This growth in popularity and acceptability, and the projection of a larger than life image of Narendra Modi?

His admirers, of course, say that it is because of his performance and the growth of Gujarat under his watch. But facts do not completely bear this out. For one thing, there are many other corporate-friendly CMs, those who have scored high on the ‘development’ plank. And then there is also the fact that many considerable holes have been poked in Modi’s narrative of development, particularly with regard to the condition of tribals and human development markers like hunger and malnutrition.

The reason behind Modi’s particularly rising popularity and larger than life image may lie in the dedicated efforts of a global Public Relations and lobbying giant APCO Worldwide.

What is APCO?
APCO was founded in 1984 as a subsidiary of one of Washington’s premier law firms Arnold & Porter. It is basically a lobbying firm, but that is far from a complete description. In their own words, they offer “professional and rare expertise” to governments, politicians and corporations. This professional and rare expertise comes from a 70-odd member Advisory Council, which includes a former president, many lawmakers, administrators, bureaucrats and captains of industry from various parts of the world.

And what exactly does this illustrious council advice? Broadly speaking, APCO undertakes a range of activities meant to influence public opinion and government policy in favour of its clients.

For instance, in 2010 this firm offered to start an image-improvement campaign for the US finance industry. They have handled issues as diverse as starting a grassroots campaign against smoking regulations for tobacco giant Philip Morris to handling crises like the harassment accusations against Hewlett-Packard Company’s CEO to Ford’s troubles with Firestone tyres to shielding Kazakhstan’s President-for-life Nursultan Nazarbayev from attacks by his former son-in-law.

Apart from these and many more, APCO Worldwide has been directly involved with the American military-industrial complex and its war machine. They helped British Prime Minister Tony Blair gain support for his decision to enter the Iraq war, and then in May 2003 launched a task force to help American companies win contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq. This task force was headed by a former US Ambassador to Morocco, Marc Ginsberg.

More recently, two lawyers from their parent firm Arnold & Porter prepared a report meant to provide a legal basis for attacking Iran. This firm is also the largest known foreign agent of Israel.

APCO Worldwide and NaMo
Sometime near August 2007, APCO Worldwide was hired by Narendra Modi to rebuild his image before the second assembly elections he was to face as Chief Minister. Since then, APCO has handled Modi’s makeover and projection for an estimated monthly retainer of 25,000 USD a month. Since 2009, APCO has been selling Modi’s flagship event ‘Vibrant Gujarat , and as a result the events returns have gone up by a few hundred billion dollars.

The question that will undoubtedly be raised here is; so what? What is wrong with a politician approaching a P.R. firm to boost his image and credentials? Apart from the moral ramifications of dishing out thousands of dollars tax-payer money for personal projection, there are a few other issues to be considered here.

APCO is a global agent of neo-imperialism. As the hired voice of many autocratic rulers, exploitative corporations and imperial wars around the world, its job is to wash the sins of power and protect its clients from the consequences of their actions. It is an entrenched part of the neo-liberal manner of exploitation, acting like a sweet after-course to wash away the bitter taste of blood-soaked profit-pies, the flavourful topping over monstrous doses of exploitation-soup.

Its initial steps in India have already marked a bloody trail, for its primary task has been to make the Indian public forget the killing of over 2,000 innocent civilians and the displacement of nearly 140,000 human beings behind the facade of development. To put a velvet glove over the bloodied hands of Narendra Modi, Hindutva’s 21st century champion, and make us concentrate on the wonderful exploits of Development-Man NaMo.

In this it has been hugely successful, and a huge section of the popular consciousness is ready to shrug it off as a mere ‘blot in the past’, a regrettable but ultimately insignificant incident in the larger scheme of things.

In a democracy, the only real guarantee against authoritarianism is the consequence of public opinion. If a crime causes agitation in the public conscience, punishment will be meted out. APCO is a specialist in dulling the consequences of criminal action, in keeping the public conscience occupied elsewhere and creating consent for their client’s actions. The coming of such esteemed institutions of imperialism to India, and their success at manipulating the ballot box will probably be the greatest hammer-blow to democracy we have known so far.

The next time you hear a NaMo bhajan, it might be well to ask: “APCO pata hai?…..

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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