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APCO Worldwide: Blessing for Modi, Curse for India?

While known to be hired by the Government of Gujarat to promote and generate investor interest through the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ but alleged to be promoting ‘Brand Modi’ in the run-up to Lok Sabha 2014, APCO Worldwide – a US Lobbying Firm – with its fair-share of controversial clients – some dictators, some armaments benefactors – is suddenly in the eye of storm for its questionable agendas in controlling public opinion globally. GoaChronicle.com investigates…

Two-days ago in a national business daily, spokespersons of APCO Worldwide denied allegations that the organization is working to promote Narendra Modi – Chief Minister of Gujarat – or promoting him as India’s Prime Ministerial candidate. APCO Worldwide came into the eye of the storm when some Congress leaders and some social activists started questioning Modi’s claim of rescuing 15000 people stranded during the Uttarakhand Flood devastation.
According to APCO spokespersons, “APCO Worldwide does not work for Narendra Modi but the Government of Gujarat on the the Vibrant Gujarat initiative to create awareness amongst international investors and promote Gujarat as a destination for global investments. We are also in talks with other state governments to offer our services”.

Who or What is APCO Worldwide?

APCO Worldwide in as simple a description as possible is a Public Relations (PR) firm. Sometimes however, large PR firms also form the lobbying arms for clients with the public, government, media and decision makers or breakers. India recently witnessed such furore over political lobbying by a PR firm – Vaishnavi Communications, an episode which got better known as the ‘Raadia’ tapes.

In the global PR space, APCO Worldwide is considered to be the ‘Goliath’ of lobbying. It offers professional and rare expertise to governments, politicians and corporations both in domestic and international affairs.

Margery Kraus founded APCO Associates in 1984 as a subsidiary to Arnold & Porter, one of Washington’s
largest law firms, and from where APCO’s name is derived.

The Lobbying Mantra

APCO is known to have globally former government officials as part of its team of experts and advisors.
For example:- APCO is known to have deep ties with Israel, its parent company Arnold & Porter, one of Washington’s largest law firms, represented several Israeli officials in US courts and due to the presence of Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador, on the International Advisory Council of APCO Worldwide.
Former Indian diplomat, Lalit Mansingh, and former US ambassador to India, Tim Roemer form a part of the IAC.

Lobbying is legal in the US and a booming one at that. Companies and their lobbyists must inform the US Senate about their activities, but the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold limitless political donations from companies allows interest groups, businesses and trade associations to push their cases with abandon.

An understanding of the global lobbying industry will show you that it represents a wide range of clients – NGOs, labour unions, corporations, governments – and most are controversial by definition.

The advice would range from devising strategies to derail government restrictions to helping them wriggle out of unpleasant situations. That is APCO’s core competency.

Lobby groups sometimes aim at delaying or even derailing a legislation by convincing a politician to raise questions in the parliament. Such groups are also handy for attacking the government without fear of retribution against an individual company.

PR is identified with promotions or disruptions – toadying up to journalists to prevent a negative story. Public affairs are more lucrative simply because the results are more valuable for clients. APCO has so far been content playing a business strategist and promotional manager in India.

APCO’s Role in Business Games

In 2010, APCO offered to start an image-improvement campaign for the US financial industry, which includes JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc.

APCO was hired by Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev to extricate himself from a four-year-long dispute with his former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev.

The company was approached by Hewlett-Packard Co’s board after accusations of harassment against its chief executive officer. It also handled crises as diverse as Merck & Co’s scandal involving Vioxx, the arthritis drug that killed thousands before it was withdrawn, and Ford Motor’s troubles with Firestone tires on its Explorer vehicles.

In 1993, Philip Morris hired APCO to organize a front group called the
Advancement of Sound Science Coalition in response to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling that secondhand tobacco smoke was a carcinogen.
Philip Morris also hired APCO to manage what it called a ‘massive national effort aimed at altering the American judicial system to be more hostile toward product liability suits’ and to build a coalition to advocate for tort reform. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the tobacco industry paid APCO almost a million dollars in 1995 to implement behind-the-scenes tort reform efforts and specifically to create chapters of ‘grassroots’ citizens’ groups called Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.”

APCO Role in War Games

Doing public relations for dictatorships is a known stream of business for APCO especially since it has a battalion of pro-war lobbyists under its wing. The firm is also a strong advocate of expanding armaments and the US military role in world affairs. In October 2004, APCO and Kissinger Associates (owned by Henry Kissinger) formed a strategic alliance. Beside Kissinger Associates, APCO also built a broad network or coalition of conservative pro-Zionist lobbyists and consultancy groups including Heritage Foundation, Frontier of Freedom, Jewish Policy Center, etc.

In the name of war against terror, APCO helped to coordinate government communications to convince the public of the necessity of war. Its job also included manufacturing public opinion and feedback in supporting the war efforts. Basically it exploited Islam-phobia in Western society to sell aggression as the solution to regain security

In addition to supporting George Bush, APCO also defended British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s unpopular move to enter the Iraq war. APCO had assisted Tony Blair to consolidate the war alliance. Together with the London-based Foreign Policy Institute, Apco prepared and published the pamphlet, ‘A Global Alliance for Global Values’

After the invasion of Iraq, APCO swiftly positioned itself to help American companies plunder Iraqi wealth and resources. In May 2003, APCO Worldwide launched a task force headed by Marc Ginsberg, the former US ambassador to Morocco, to help U.S. clients secure contracts for Iraq’s rebuilding.

The name APCO Worldwide gained fame in Malaysia after Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim drew comparison of the firm’s image-building campaign for its Malaysian client to a similar campaign by the Israeli government.

Anwar in his speech in the Dewan Rakyat on March 17 said that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s 1Malaysia concept was actually an imitation of the ‘
One Israel’ concept of the Zionist regime, who is also a client of APCO Worldwide.

Among its recent clients are Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former Communist youth leader-turned-Russian billionaire with mafia links.

APCO prides itself in taking contracts of boosting images of leaders who fell out of favour of their followers.

APCO India Focus

Here is what APCO has to say about India – after a series of significant policy changes that started in 1991, India today is a trillion-dollar market with an enviable rate of GDP growth. India’s economy is fuelled by the combination of a large services sector, a strong and diversified manufacturing base and a significant agricultural sector that continues to provide a framework for the growth of the domestic economy. The country’s resilience in weathering the recent global downturn and financial crisis has made governments, policy-makers, economists, corporate houses and fund managers
believe that India can play a significant role in the recovery of the global economy in the months and years ahead.
Today, India plays an increasingly important role in global geopolitics – not only as the world’s largest democracy, but also as an economic powerhouse that is coming into its own.

The 6 key industries they’re focusing on are :

1. Energy and Renewables
2. Food, Consumer Products & Retail
3. Information & Communication Technologies, Entertainment
4. Banking, Financial Services & Insurance
5. Healthcare
6. Services to Governments

APCO serves companies such as Dow Corning, Walt Disney, Mastercard, Cairn, Welspun and Facebook in India.

The Vibrant Gujarat Mantra

Many Modi detractors claim that by hard-selling Vibrant Gujarat, APCO is doing him a big service (it is said to charge nearly $25,000 a month as PR fees). Modi believes a large international audience, members who no doubt carry weight in policy matters back home, helps to burnish his credibility and image, given the cloud over the 2002 riots.

Until Apco appeared on the scene in 2009 to sell the event, Vibrant Gujarat was a modest show. At the first three events, investment promises were worth no more than USD 14 billion, USD 20 billion and USD 152 billion.

Enter Apco and in 2009 and 2011, the promises grew to USD 253 billion and USD 450 billion. The 2013 edition – from January 11-13 – is billed as the biggest yet. The United States-India Business Council (USIBC), along with counterparts from the UK and Australia, is sponsoring the event.

Modi would see great value in an organisation that has a great record in gathering important talking heads.

The support of trade groups from the US, the UK and Australia should be seen in this context. More importantly, acceptance from foreign governments that has long eluded Modi is finally coming. The US said he can apply for a visa while Britain is ending a 10-year boycott.

For the Gujarat chief minister, who is said to be gunning for the prime minister’s job, it all seems to be coming together.

The Big Question

Is APCO Worldwide a Blessing to Modi or a Curse to India? as it is being made out to be. For Narendra Modi it will certainly be considered to be a blessing as their expertise and lobbying prowess is global renowned; considering that Modi is gunning for the top slot in India’s governance. For India, the notion of APCO being a curse is at this stage speculative but their activities needs to be watched at with a microscope. In the end APCO Worldwide is a PR business and lobbyist firm whose services are offered to clients who can afford them, some are dictators, some are large corporations and some government. It is money that rules their decisions not ideologies.

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