On December 14, 2009, public relations giant APCO Worldwide was hired to promote Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's investment and development showpiece ‘Vibrant Gujarat’. In the four years since, its team of 45 experts in 20 countries has also given the Gujarat chief minister just the push he needed to open doors globally.
An RTI query shows Steven King as one of the members of APCO’s “global project management team” for Vibrant Gujarat. While APCO claims they don’t work for Narendra Modi, and that their brief is limited to promoting Gujarat as a destination for investors, King was named as an official spokesperson for the Chief Minister in a report by The New York Times.
For her report ‘A divisive Indian official is loved by businesses’ in February 2011, NYT correspondent Heather Timmons had sought Narendra Modi’s comments. “A spokesman for Mr Modi, Steven King, with the Washington public relations firm APCO Worldwide, wrote in an e-mail responding to questions: ‘The government has very highly developed grievance proceedings’,” said the NYT report.
The Narendra Modi government signed a deal of Rs 2.25 crore per year at the prevailing dollar rate in 2010 with APCO. An RTI query shows that APCO’s brief was not restricted to building Gujarat as an investment destination alone. “APCO will also gauge the tonality of coverage and identify journalists who can further be Media Ambassadors for Gujarat. The idea is to expand and build on the ‘Friends of Gujarat’ circle so as to have a sustained programme of endorsement and outreach,” the agreement stated.
A grouping of Gujaratis living abroad, Friends of Gujarat, didn’t exist incidentally at the time APCO signed the agreement. According to the filings with US tax authorities, which can be availed from the US Internal Revenue Service website, it was formed 10 months later, in September 2010.
Since then, Friends of Gujarat has often served as a platform to promote Narendra Modi and his government’s governance record. It was also used by the CM to reach out to the Gujarati community in the US.
The ‘Swarnim Gujarat’ function held by Friends of Gujarat in