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.
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 ‘VibrantÂ GujaratÂ , 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?…..”