The Reuters interview with Narendra Modi went viral because of his “puppy” comment, but another question asked by the agency also had Modi reaffirming what he has insisted in the past – that the much-reported “PR machinery” behind him is a myth.
“India is such a country that a PR agency will not be able to make a person into anything,” said Modi. “As far as a PR agency is concerned, I have never looked at or listened to or met a PR agency. Modi does not have a PR agency. Never have I kept one.”
Now, reportage in Open magazine has not only confirmed a public relations agency’s involvement with Modi and the Gujarat government, but also confirmed the detail in which the PR organisation would handle Modi’s press and interactions with journalists.
According to the report, the Gujarat government is in the process of finalising a new contract with a PR agency. The current contract, held by Delhi-based Mutual PR, is set to expire in a couple of months, while the international PR contract held by Apco, an American lobbying firm, ended in March of this year.
Apco, one of the top three lobbying firms in the US, has denied that it works for Modi, saying that their involvement only extends to the biennial Vibrant Gujarat Summit, which ended in March. This statement was issued after reports credited Apco with feeding the media reports of Modi “personally rescuing 15,000 Gujarati pilgrims” after the Uttarakhand flash floods. "Apco is not involved in any media activities relating to the rescue efforts," said the release, as quoted in the Economic Times.
Media analyst Wendell Potter wrote in the Huffington Post about the "dirty work" done by Apco. The agency has a history of taking on 'impossible tasks', such as restoring the American public's faith in Wall Street, to Merck & Co.’s Vioxx scandal, and handling WorldCom Inc.’s fraud.
The magazine gained access to the ‘Request for Proposal’ document, which details the task faced by a PR agency which would represent the Gujarat government – and its leaders. Besides acting as facilitators for the media, the firm should meet targets like “the publication of at least 6 major stories from the State in a quarter based on the input provided by the state government in national newspapers, publication of 6 major stories in regional newspapers in a quarter, publication of 6 major stories in a quarter in the major vernacular newspapers, publication of at least one major story in national magazines and coverage/ telecast of at least one major story every month in a major TV news channel.”
While this PR machinery is ostensibly for the Gujarat government, it becomes problematic because of how the contracts conflate the state government with the state’s leaders, i.e., Modi. This is evident in the details of one objective: “Crisis perception management and informing the Commissionerate of Information about impending stories about Gujarat State/leadership.” The inclusion of the word ‘leadership’ allows the PR agency to in reality, become a machine that promotes Narendra Modi as a leader.