Literacy witch-hunt in name of conversion
McKinsey vision sown
Left claws out of bandh pit
Stage five-star, script rural
Gujarat heat baptism for Kalam
Tutors toil, pupil speaks his mind
Mobile shield against mini-nukes
Wanted, a dock for adrift Abdullah
Hurriyat takes first step to talks
‘Homecoming’ for Vajpayee

Behrampore, June 19: 
Not even literacy campaigns and flood-relief societies are safe from the reconversion efforts of the VHP-RSS combine — if recent events in Murshidabad are any indication — leading prominent church leaders to see the larger ripple-effects of Gujarat in the district.

The Telegraph had reported last month the campaign by the Sangh Parivar to wean away Christians, especially tribals, “back to the Hindu fold”.

“Over the past few weeks, reconversion efforts and plans to disrupt development projects have become more and more blatant,” feels Don Bosco Yuva Jyoti director Father N.T. Scaria. Just two examples of what the VHP-RSS combine has done to two projects taken up by the Catholic church in collaboration with the administration will suffice to show what he means, he said.

One is the Adivasi Development Society, a project undertaken by the church along with the district administration to reach literacy to backward and tribal-populated areas in Nabagram and Sagardighi belts of the district. Soon after its inception, tribals — even those who have not converted to Christianity — started receiving threats to back away from the project.

Number two on the combine’s hate-list was the Adivasi Sahara Committee, a similar project with similar ends in sight. This project is also losing steam, say local-level managers too afraid to be quoted.

Shuddhikaran (purification) ceremonies were organised — where every Hindu had to apologise for joining the church-mooted project and then had gobarjal (cow dung-mixed water) sprinkled on him — in the entire Nabagram-Sagardighi belt to exorcise the ‘evil spirits’,” one of the project’s leaders in a Nabagram village said.

However, VHP leaders are unapologetic about the ceremonies. “We are now much more alert to the church’s machinations and the ceremonies were a means to show the simple and easily-gullible tribals where they had erred,” a senior VHP spokesperson based in Behrampore said.

Church leaders have always targeted the tribals of Murshidabad — “poor and uneducated” — feels Ajay Thakur, the president of VHP’s unit at Brahmapur (not Behrampore, considered to be an anglicised version). “Jobs and financial security used to act as baits for these tribals,” he said.

But not any more. Referring to the reconversions now going on in the entire district, Thakur said it was just a visible manifestation of Christians, now wiser to the church’s “falsehoods”, coming back to the fold. “More Hindus who converted to Christianity are going to come back to us,” he claimed.

Other VHP leaders said the organisation had decided to shun the big reconversion melas of the past. “They bring only negative publicity from ‘secular’ newspapers which have secret tie-ups with the West-funded church,” one of them explained, referring to the widespread pillorying in the media of the mass reconversion drives in Malda and Rampurhat in the last decade.

“Instead, we have decided to do a 365-day campaign in the villages, taking the help of everyone (from Hindu neighbours to village ojhas) in the process,” a VHP leader said.

The church, said Father Scaria, was watching the scene with apprehension.

The “tactical shift” made it more difficult for the church to get wind of what was happening, another Catholic church leader in Nabagram said.

“Whenever we object, we are asked to shut up and stop interfering in people’s personal affairs,” he added.

The move, admit both Hindu and church leaders, is paying rich dividends. Both differ on various points but concur on two facts: one, that the number of Hindus converting to Christianity is rapidly declining; and, two, that the number of Christians — especially in the tribal belt — reconverting to Hinduism is rapidly increasing.


Calcutta, June 19: 
If Boston can be the model for Calcutta, why not the Netherlands for the rest of Bengal?

International consultant McKinsey has given shape to the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government’s ambition of engineering an industrial revival in Bengal, drawing its strength from agri-business and information technology.

The 2010 Agri-business and IT Vision prepared by McKinsey was unfurled before a gathering of business leaders and government officials at the first meeting of the state advisory committee on industries today.

Commerce and industry minister Nirupam Sen said after the two-hour meeting: “We informed the committee about the work McKinsey has done in the past six months. The McKinsey team was present to answer queries and note suggestions.”

McKinsey has listed the agri-centres that can be built and the focus crops for each, and drawn up the implementation plan that can be carried out through a combination of “market pull” and “government push”.

The vision is based on a study of leading agri-business countries like Thailand, Israel and the Netherlands.

Coincidentally, the plan has been unveiled at a time when the Left Front is caught up in a controversy over agricultural policy reforms that propose allowing contract farming, which will be crucial to the success of an agri-business strategy.

The McKinsey exercise is different from similar efforts in the past, which have never got off the ground, in that the consultant is taking the strategy beyond formulation to the first stage of implementation.

After systematic screening, the team has opened talks with 65 companies operating in agri-business. It has also created project prototypes and identified products like potato, pineapple, rice, fishery and poultry with business potential.

Similarly for infotech, the consultant has prepared a roadmap based on an understanding of leading IT centres like Boston and Dublin, the Indian market and the strengths of the state.

Discussions have been held with more than 30 potential investors backed by a marketing package dispelling myths about the state and highlighting instead its strong value propositions.

The chief minister, who is the chairman of the advisory committee, asked industrialists to help the government wipe clean the state’s negative image. Sen said he requested the business leaders to sell Bengal in India and abroad.

S.M. Dutta, the former Hindustan Lever chairman, suggested that the government create small committees that will implement the McKinsey’s recommendations.

The government also discussed the biotechnology policy announced recently.


Calcutta, June 19: 
Conforming to the Centre’s liberalisation process, the state government has drawn up a new mineral policy to usher in private capital in this sector.

Today’s announcement comes after the CPM and other Left parties had supported the nation-wide bandh on April 16 against the Centre’s privatisation policy.

“We have decided to review the existing state monopolies in mineral exploitation in order to go in for selective de-reservation,” said industries minister Nirupam Sen while formally announcing the policy at Writers’ Buildings.

This is the second policy document —the first was on bio-technology — released by the Left Front government since Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee took over as chief minister last year. The policy on agriculture is on hold following serious reservations expressed by Left Front partners like the Forward Bloc and the CPI.

Sen said the West Bengal Minerals Development and Trading Corporation would seek to optimise mining operations and encourage private investment. The state has large reserves of minerals like rock phosphates, fire clay, china clay, tungsten, dolomite and varied types of stone, granite and clay.

According to the minister, one of the thrust areas would be to exploit the reserves of coal-bed methane in the Ranigunj area. “We have four billion cubic metres of coal-bed methane which will serve as an eco-friendly fuel for coal-based industries,” Sen said.

Agencies like ONGC and Essar have already spent crores in coal-bed methane exploration.

In a bid to woo private capital, the minister promised that procedural bottlenecks would be removed. “We will ensure that private investors get their licences without delay and that the entire process is transparent,” Sen assured.

To keep pace with the rate of mineral exploitation, the government will step up its research and development efforts.

The industries minister pointed out that illegal mining was a major problem in the state. “We will see to it that there is strict vigil to prevent illegal mining, transportation and storage,” he said.

The policy on minerals, according to the minister, emphasised on protecting the environment. “Mineral extraction has to be done with all precautions so that the environment, including forests, is not damaged,” Sen said.

The minister said existing mineral extraction rules would have to be amended to accommodate private capital, both in the joint sector and for individual participation. “We have to promote the necessary linkages for smooth and uninterrupted exploitation of minerals,” Sen added.

The new mineral policy will help open up Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum and Jalpaiguri districts where mineral deposits exist.


June 19: 
All state MPs, including two from the BJP, will soon meet at a five-star hotel to discuss the development of telecom network in rural Bengal.

Minister of state for communication Tapan Sikdar, who has taken the initiative to involve the MPs in improving telephone services and expanding the network to villages, said he would urge legislators to provide money from their local area development fund for the purpose.

“We planned to bring all major villages under the telephone network but it could not be materialised for want of sufficient power supply. In some places, we built telephone exchanges and completed all technical work but services could not begin as there was no power,’’ Sikdar said.

The Union minister added that his department was ready to provide telephones as well as fax, e-mail and cellphone services to any village as soon as power supply was ensured.

“Telephone services were launched in about 10,000 villages last year and our target is to bring 4,500 villages more under the telephone network this year. To meet our target, I have requested the state government to speed up the implementation of rural electrification programmes. I have also told power minister Mrinal Banerjee to arrange electricity supply for the rural telephone exchange which has been completed but cannot start functioning,’’ he said.

Sikdar said he had appealed to all MPs from the state to contribute funds to build infrastructure, including electrification, for telephone services in rural Bengal.

“The MPs get Rs 2 crore each year to spend on development projects in their constituencies. I will urge them to spend one year’s quota to launch telephone services in all villages,’’ the minister said.

Welcoming Sikdar’s proposal, Trinamul Congress leader Pankaj Banerjee said the party MPs had earlier provided funds from their local area development quota for the rural electrification scheme, but claimed that it was not utilised properly.

“We feel that telephones are essential in the modern age. If all MPs come forward as appealed by the Union minister, then the people of rural Bengal will be able to get the benefit of telephone services,’’ Banerjee said, adding that Trinamul MPs would be present in the meeting when convened by Sikdar.

Though the CPM leadership has not decided on sending party MPs for the meeting to be convened by the BJP minister, it supported Sikdar’s move to involve MPs in improving telecommunication.

“It is the duty of the Central government to provide telephone services to the people. At best, the state government can provide the required infrastructure like land and power. The government has given rural electrification top priority and has targeted to send power to all villages within a year. All the funds from our MPs and MLAs’ yearly quota are spent on various development projects, including rural electrification. If Sikdar has any specific project, our MPs and MLAs must consider it,’’ said a CPM leader.


New Delhi, June 19: 
The Missile Man today slipped into the Gandhian mode, giving lessons to politicians on how to avoid a repeat of Gujarat and Ayodhya.

President-in-waiting A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said a “painful” incident like Gujarat would not have taken place if the political leadership had compassion. A day after refusing the NDA’s offer to pay Rs 15,000 as security deposit for the presidential polls, Kalam’s interaction with the media reinforced his desire to serve as an “apolitical, independent and non-partisan” President.

Kalam’s 45-minute interaction with the media was sprinkled with a technocrat’s jargon and metaphors from missile technology. He skirted controversy, made all the politically correct statements and stressed that development, literacy and a strong value-system would solve political and social problems.

In Kalam’s social vision, national security and development were inter-related and security could not be strong if it was not matched by economic development.

Asked to comment on how Gujarat with a high literacy rate and development witnessed such an orgy of violence, Kalam underlined the need for compassion in the political leadership. He said the Gujarat incidents were “very painful” and “we should avoid it at all costs”.

At the crowded press conference, Kalam was constantly asked to comment on the Gujarat riots. “I can only say that we should try whether religion can graduate into spiritualism, political managers can graduate into leaders and political leaders turn into political leaders with compassion. And the education system works towards 100 per cent literacy,” he said.

Turning again to Gandhi, Kalam narrated an incident in 1947 that, he said, changed his life. Kalam said as a high school student leader, he was asked in August 1947 to gather 800 students at midnight when the country achieved freedom from British rule.

The next day, he saw two photographs in newspapers. While one showed Nehru unfurling the Tricolour, the other depicted Gandhiji walking barefoot in riot-hit Noakhali district. “The second photograph changed my life,” he said, emphasising that “we have to develop leaders with compassion”.

He denied the charge that as a father of weapons of mass destruction, his elevation as President would send “wrong signals”. “When I am in Rashtrapati Bhavan, I am going to endeavour to see that technology is used for the country’s development by working with Parliament and Cabinet,” Kalam said.

At the same time, Kalam claimed that had India not been a nuclear state, a war would have begun. “This nuclear deterrent on both sides has helped in not engaging in a big war,” he said.

It was wrong and improper to credit him with the nuclear programme alone, he said. “I served for 20 years in the Indian Space Research Organisation,” the technocrat said and pointed out the advancements in communication satellites in remote sensing. “You (the media) are a beneficiary of advancements in the field of communications.”

Presenting his vision for India, he said as a scientist, he wanted to develop a scientific temper in keeping with the constitutional provisions under Article 50 and 51(a). He said development was a multi-dimensional aspect with “five tools” to rid the country of many ills. They are: education and health care, agriculture and food-processing, information and communication technology, infrastructure development and self-reliance in critical areas.

Kalam disagreed with the view that he lacked political experience, pointing out that he had worked with six Prime Ministers. The would-be President said he would learn on the job and that he would handle any crisis in consultation with experts.

“Let me understand what is (a) political system. I have worked with six Prime Ministers in the last 10 years.... After the election, the intensity of work with the political system will increase and I will learn,” he said.

On how he would deal with constitutional crises, he said in any crisis, the President has to analyse and come to the right conclusion. “President is the custodian of the Constitution. When a state gets into crisis, he must analyse and come to conclusion what is right after consulting experts,” he said.


New Delhi, June 19: 
When A.P.J. Abdul Kalam faced the media for the first time after filing his presidential nomination, everyone expected him to sound like an apolitical missile technocrat and a political neophyte, uncomfortable with Gujarat and Kashmir.

When yesterday’s news conference was called off, the buzz in official circles was that he was being tutored on politics — both domestic and international — before being unveiled before the media.

However, the President-in-waiting, despite being accompanied by parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan — who jokingly described himself as Kalam’s “election agent” — managed to hold his own on most issues.

Constitutional and legal specialists like Subhash Kashyap and Arun Jaitley, along with defence minister George Fernandes and Mahajan, had been asked to brief him.

Kalam brought along a large sheaf of papers, giving the impression that he had been supplied with extensive notes to help him field sticky questions.

But when he began answering questions, it was clear the NDA primer had made little or no impact on the Missile Man. The replies were essentially his own and reflected the mind of a technocrat.

After describing the Gujarat riots as “very painful”, Kalam lapsed into religion and spiritualism. His only telling comment on the pogrom was: “Managers can graduate into leaders and political leaders turn into political leaders with compassion”. The word “compassion” threw into focus Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to show any remorse for the riots.

If the response to Gujarat was not quite music to Mahajan’s ears, Kalam’s answers on the country’s nuclear power echoed the BJP’s views. The President-in-waiting spoke of how India has been invaded over and over again for the last 3,000 years. “When guys were holding guns, you were holding swords,” he said. Then, when Pakistan possessed nuclear weapons, how could India afford to do “tapas”? Kalam asked.

But unlike the BJP, Kalam took a swipe at the US, saying: “If anyone was really concerned (about nuclearisation), they should do something about the 10,000 nuclear warheads across (the ) Atlantic.”

Deviating from the party’s stand that “coercive diplomacy” was responsible for reining in Pakistan during the latest standoff, Kalam said it was nuclear deterrence on both sides that had helped prevent “a big war”.

Kalam, however, gave no clue as to whether his apolitical moorings would help him cope with the constitutional crises he may have to face in office.

On the use of Article 356, he said the President has to “analyse, come to a conclusion as to what the people actually needed”.

In the fractured polity that has come to stay, political observers believe this is where Kalam’s political skills will be put to test — whether he plays by the Constitution on issues like Ayodhya and while dealing with governments the Centre believes are its adversaries and, therefore, wants dismissed.


New Delhi, June 19: 
India’s defence production establishment is focusing on designing and arming the services with protection gear in the event of a tactical nuclear attack.

A “tactical” nuclear attack — wargamed by military planners — envisages an attack on Indian forces by the enemy in the battlefield. A tactical nuke would have a yield of less than one kiloton.

In a scenario drawn up by wargamers, Pakistan might resort to a tactical nuclear attack if Indian forces threaten to overrun or degrade crucial installations.

The counter-argument against this kind of a scenario is — first, Pakistan (or any nuclear power) will not want to use even a tactical nuke in its own territory, and second, in the context of an India-Pakistan conflict, the proximity and contiguity of borders makes it almost impossible for either side to resort to a tactical nuclear attack without affecting its own territory.

It is possible that the army’s exercise in the Rajasthan desert last year called Poorna Vijay was designed around an NBC war scenario.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation has developed a mobile decontamination system that is being given to the services. The system is mounted on a Tatra vehicle with cross-country capabilities. Originally of east-European make, the Tatra all-purpose heavy vehicle has been indigenised and is produced by Bharat Earth Movers Limited in Bangalore.

The army uses the Tatra for ferrying much of their equipment and also to create mobile signals bases. The arming of the Tatra with anti-NBC equipment means they can be readily inducted by the army units.

The Tatra-mounted system is meant to decontaminate terrain, vehicles, personnel and personal equipment. A defence ministry statement today said these systems have already been introduced into the services.

Last month, the DRDO announced that it had designed a shelter for 30 persons that could last 96 hours in the event of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

In battlefield conditions, such a shelter can be used by military planners to house crucial command posts. Away from the battlefield, a shelter of this sort can house VVIPs.

The DRDO now says it is also arming the services with nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) decontamination systems. Its laboratories in Gwalior and Ahmedabad have produced a personal decontamination kit (PDK), a portable decontamination apparatus (PDA) and a mobile decontamination system.

The Personal Decontamination Kit is used to decontaminate chemical warfare agents through physical “adsorption” if persistent chemical warfare agents are detected over surfaces such as exposed body parts, clothing, gloves, overboots and personal weapon, a defence ministry statement said.

“Adsorption” is a chemical process through which an element in the PDK will hold the chemical agents on its surface creating a thin film.

As part of the kit, troops will have sets that contain a puffer bottle with adsorbent powder that can remove liquid chemicals. The kit weighs just 480 gram — less than half a kilo.

The DRDO’s Portable Decontamination Apparatus can be used to spray NBC-neutralising solutions over buildings, vehicles such as tanks and ships.

The apparatus is made of stainless steel and has a nozzle fitted to a vessel powered by a compressor to allow the user to spray from a distance. The apparatus weighs 10 kg with a capacity of 14 litre. It can spray the solution in a range with a five-metre radius.

Decontamination Solution (DS-2) can be used for external decontamination of small and medium size arms and equipment.


New Delhi, June 19: 
The Centre is in a fix over Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Having promised the Vice-President’s post to the National Conference chief, the Vajpayee government has found that it could not deliver. A furious Abdullah has turned down the government’s consolation offer to make him a Cabinet minister at the Centre.

The Prime Minister’s advisers are now searching for an offer that Abdullah cannot refuse.

But the options are limited. Raj Bhavans, the usual first choice for rehabilitating political friends, were considered but Abdullah is not inclined to be one of the many faceless NDA governors.

An assignment as ambassador may be more acceptable to Abdullah. Though most key positions are now filled, if push comes to shove and the chief minister is willing, he could be offered an important posting.

However, these are still ideas being thrown around and no decision has been taken yet.

Abdullah, some believe, could do an effective job in Washington and his credentials for the post are impeccable. He is a Kashmiri Muslim, a hardliner on Pakistan and one who could be counted on to counter Islamabad’s propaganda on Kashmir.

As a Kashmiri, his words will have more credibility than the efforts of Delhi’s diplomats in the US. Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh is now in Washington, while the RSS’ Agnihotri is also India’s ambassador-at-large in the US. Whether the mercurial Abdullah will be able to work with the ex pat leader of the powerful Indian lobby in Washington is not clear.

Home minister L.K. Advani is a staunch supporter of Abdullah and believes that the government needs to use him effectively to get both political and diplomatic mileage.

New Delhi also knows that Kashmir will come more under the international spotlight in the coming months.

Britain could perhaps be more acceptable to Abdullah, who has a home there. But politically, Washington will remain much more important than London for the Vajpayee government.

The foreign option will be explored only if Abdullah persists in his opposition to a position in the Cabinet.

When the government first sounded Abdullah on the Vice-President’s post, Vajpayee believed that he had everything tied up. Maharashtra Governor P.C. Alexander was expected to succeed President K.R. Narayanan and Abdullah, a liberal face from the minority community, Vice-President Krishan Kant.

The plan, however, had to be redrafted overnight and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam became the NDA’s choice. Abdullah’s chances evaporated in the process as it was not considered politically prudent to find nominees for the two top posts from the same religion.

But, for the government, it is essential to get Abdullah out of Kashmir. The Centre is now busy finetuning a fresh initiative in Kashmir.

Policy-makers in Delhi believe that Abdullah carries too much of political baggage and that his son, junior foreign minister Omar Abdullah, is more acceptable to the people of Kashmir.

The Vajpayee government does not want to alienate the chief minister by closing all options for him. But the problem is whether Delhi can make up its mind on how and where to accommodate Abdullah.


New Delhi/Srinagar, June 19: 
The Hurriyat Conference today took a small step towards giving “peace a chance”, saying it was willing to hold talks with India, but failed to enthuse the government by calling for simultaneous discussions with Pakistan. For the last one year, the conglomerate had refused to talk officially with Delhi.

“It will be triangular talks instead of tripartite talks. The modalities for such a process can be worked out,” chairman of the amalgam Abdul Gani Bhat said at a press meet in Srinagar. “We can talk to India first and then go to Pakistan for a dialogue,” Bhat, flanked by six other Hurriyat leaders, added.

Officials handling Kashmir, however, saw no major shift in the Hurriyat’s stand. “It is just a question of semantics. Instead of saying tripartite talks, which they did in the past, they are now calling it triangular negotiations. The Hurriyat has no inclination to begin discussions without Pakistan,” an official said.

Bhat also said the Hurriyat would work for the safe and honourable return of all Kashmiri Pandits.

Though there has been no official decision yet on the Hurriyat offer, the Centre is likely to say its doors have always been open for talks with all sections of Kashmiri people. India is also unlikely to object to Hurriyat leaders going to Pakistan. Last time, when such a proposal was made, home minister L.K. Advani was against issuing travel papers to Geelani because of his pro-Pakistan stand.

Bhat wanted India to pull back its army and paramilitary forces to the barracks, release all political prisoners and help Hurriyat leaders visit Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to broker a ceasefire with the Mujahideen leadership.

Officials believe this is a take-off from Pervez Musharraf’s speech last month when he promised to stop infiltration. They said Hurriyat leaders realise that with world opinion against terrorism, their best bet was talks. They said the Hurriyat believes that Pakistan, which has helped them earlier, now has no choice but to change its strategy on Kashmir. The emphasis, therefore, would be on a political movement, which could grab world attention.

Former chairman Mirwaiz Omar Farooq said the Hurriyat was not talking of an immediate solution but was trying to initiate a peace process that could be carried forward.

“We are pointing out what is lacking is a process. We can facilitate all the parties in a phase-wise manner and then resolve the problem,” he said. “We have to give peace a chance,” Bhat added.

Bhat asserted that talks to resolve the problem would have to involve the Kashmiri people. “The international community must recognise us as a principle party to the dispute,” he said.


New Delhi, June 19: 
In a feel-good message to the RSS, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said attending a function organised by the Sangh’s Hindi mouthpiece Panchajanya was like “homecoming”.

Panchajanya held a special function today to confer awards on “meritorious” journalists. Such a function has been held for the last three years at the Prime Minister’s official residence, and the chief guest has been Vajpayee, of course.

Vajpayee — who was Panchajanya’s first editor — said: “This is like homecoming for me.” Punning on present editor Tarun Vijay’s name, he added: “When I was tarun (a youth), I also edited Panchajanya.” In yet another pun on the name of the venue — the conference hall at 7, Race Course Road which is called Panchavati —he said: “Now Panchajanya has travelled all the way to Panchavati.”

After advising the press to “rededicate” itself to giving “positive” news coverage without “sensationalism and negativity”, the Prime Minister announced that the birth centenary of Swami Vivekananda, which falls on July 4, would be observed as Rashtriya Chetna Divas.

He described Vivekananda as a “nationalist” whose vision was confined not just to maintaining communal harmony but encompassed social justice and social transformation. “His message was propagated by Gandhi and all nationalist leaders,” said Vajpayee.

The occasion saw a healthy turnout of ministers, especially those who seemed in danger of losing their jobs in the proposed Cabinet reshuffle, and aspirants to ministerial berths. In the first category were ministers Satya Narain Jatiya and Bijoya Chakraborty. The aspirants were T.N. Chaturvedi, whose name was mentioned as a possible replacement for finance minister Yashwant Sinha, minister of state for coal and mines Ravi Shankar Prasad, who could get independent charge or even be elevated to Cabinet rank, and Vice-President hopefuls L.M. Singhvi and K.C. Pant.

The only senior RSS leader to turn up was the joint general secretary and its pointsman with the BJP, Madan Das Devi. BJP sources said he would be consulted by Vajpayee on the shuffle.


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