Divided & left in the lurch
Out of Ghani�s shadow to be fourth-time lucky
Where a vote is a ticket to dignity
Back-to-front czar sees red
Sonia pitches truce ball in Atal court
Congress cracks down on rebels
Kharagpur kickoff for Sonia
Poll boss blocks Trinamul graffiti arrest
School shuns scarred sex-site student
Cornered Karunanidhi faces enemy within

Malda, April 30: 
It was an election that was held in 1997 that could now determine the fortunes of most of North 24-Parganas� 28 seats.

No, there wasn�t any Assembly poll in 1997; neither was there a Lok Sabha poll nor was there any election to any local body. 1997 was actually the year of an election to the CPM�s North 24-Parganas district secretariat.

For the first time, the bickering which was always there in the district unit came to the surface. An anxious Biplab Dasgupta called up Jyoti Basu, then holidaying in London, and urged him to do something to avert a down-the-middle split. Basu promised to look into the matter when he came back.

Basu has had to look into the matter continually since then. He has succeeded in what he set out to do � there hasn�t been a split in the district party unit till date � but Basu isn�t laughing.

For that matter, no one is laughing; according to the compromise formula which kept Chakraborty in the party before the CPM candidate announced its list of candidates for the Assembly polls in February, he managed to get a few seats for his followers in the 28-number list for North 24-Parganas. Chakraborty, however, isn�t overjoyed; he could have done with a few more seats, feel his confidants. And the loyalist axis isn�t too happy either; Chakraborty has got more than his due, they feel.

The sulks came out in the open when, a few days before the list was finalised and after Chakraborty�s opponents � in the CPM � had got a whiff of what was going to happen, the district committee adopted a resolution asking for the sternest possible action against dissenters. Chakraborty wasn�t named but the barbs were clearly aimed at him.

It remains to be seen which lobby manages to get more MLAs into the Assembly and who has the last laugh after the polls. But a laugh for Chakraborty may not a mean a laugh for the party; Chakraborty will be laughing if most of his baiters, who are also CPM candidates, in the district unit lose.

And a laugh for Chakraborty-baiters may not mean a laugh for the CPM either; they will be laughing if most of Chakraborty�s proteges, who are also CPM candidates, lose.

Despite the poll-forced semblance of unity, the divisions still run deep. Ajit Choudhury�s nomination from Dum Dum at the expense of Rekha Goswami hasn�t really pleased the dominant anti-Chakraborty faction. And a win for Amitava Nandy or Asim Dasgupta, at loggerheads with Chakraborty, won�t be very pleasant for the latter.

The situation which the CPM will be hoping for, a situation where Chakraborty-baiters and prot�g�s win, isn�t really realistic given the ground realities; in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the CPM got a lead from only 12 of the district�s 28 Assembly segments.

That doesn�t mean that the Trinamul-Congress alliance has got smoothly off the blocks. There were a plethora of choices for most seats and some choices � like those of Abdur Rauf from Deganga or Sujit Bose from Belgachhia (East) � didn�t please everyone.

But the coming together of the Congress � and the minority votes which are likely to come with it � and Trinamul has come at an inopportune time for the CPM. The BJP is expected to eat away some anti-establishment votes in areas bordering Bangladesh � its first MLA, Badal Bhattacharyya, comes from Ashoknagar � but it is mostly limited to the fringes to make things significantly easier for the CPM.

But there has been one saving grace for the beleaguered CPM: the PDS isn�t actually a force in the district. That gain, however, is insignificant when compared to the number of potentially-harmful enemies within.

The largescale dissatisfaction in urban areas and the anti-incumbency mood in some of the rural areas can only be offset by a unified show. Proverbs � like the one that reads �united we stand, divided we fall� � have rarely been so important for the CPM.


Malda, April 30: 
His wife Swati doesn�t know where he is. �He hasn�t been home for the past few days,� she says, a bit tersely.

The Ratua CPM party office, too, doesn�t know where he is. Nor does the Baharal camp office.

It takes over 24 hours of endless phone calls and rounds of party and camp offices to trace Sailen Sarkar.

The district party secretary and CPM candidate from Ratua has hit the dirt track 5 km inside Bhadu.

His detractors say Sarkar is running like the wind to escape Barkat saheb�s �bulky shadow�. That is why � the smile of the Congressman speaking gets even more malicious � you will find him beyond Bhadu, more than 50 km away from Malda town.

If he loses this time, it�ll be Sarkar�s fourth straight defeat. He lost to A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury thrice � in 1991, 1996 and in 1999 � from the Malda Lok Sabha constituency. So, say the smirking Congressmen, Sarkar has fled to another constituency.

Ratua falls in Priya Ranjan Das Munshi�s Raiganj Lok Sabha constituency though it�s inside Malda district.

A comrade, striking a Lenin-style chin-up pose, dismisses Sarkar�s three consecutive losses as being of no particular significance. Instead, he looks further back when Sarkar was on a winning spree. The people of Englishbazar had voted him to the Assembly three times in a row � in 1977, 1982 and 1987.

The comrade, too, smirks. His smile seems to say: now, how about that?

Blow for blow, statistic for statistic.

Some boost for the one-time minister and three-time loser who is going around Ratua, waving, bowing, doing everything possible to win hearts and � possibly � votes.

But he needn�t have tried so hard. His opponent and sitting Congress MLA Samar Mukherjee has done everything possible to put Sarkar back in the running after 14 long years.

Go to Ratua and you will hear the allegations of �corruption and nepotism� against Mukherjee. You will hear that he has got his son a gas agency, that he has got another close relative a cushy job and yet another close relative a contract with the state irrigation department.

Sarkar, on the other hand, has a squeaky-clean image. The man lives in a humble one-storeyed house in Malda town with four brothers. A true comrade. Even �better�, two of his brothers are jobless.

Besides � and this can have a telling impact � being the CPM�s district secretary, he has got the whole party machinery working overtime for him.

Still, it won�t be easy. Sarkar has not been able to shake off the �bulky shadow�, not entirely. The big chief was in Ratua for a day asking the Indians for votes. Ghani Khan had a simple message: �Don�t disappoint me.� Just three words, but it could make a big difference.

Then, there�s the formidable Habib Mustafa, a candidate for the Party for Democratic Socialism. He was the CPM MLA here for five years since 1991. That is why Sarkar is running like the wind in remote villages with folded hands. It�s going to be close � he knows it � and, finally, everything might depend on whether the people love Ghani Khan more than they hate Samar Mukherjee.


Coochbehar, April 30: 
Kunal Chandra Roy is not an Indian citizen. But he will vote again for Bengal. He doesn�t give a damn who he�s voting for. He�ll just obey those men and punch on the symbol they will ask him to memorise. How does it matter who comes to power, who wins, who loses, as long as he gets a ration card.

All he wants is a little human respect.

Kunal is among those Bangladeshis who fell off their country�s map and into Indian territory. At the time the border was being drawn, little Bangladeshi enclaves sprang up in Indian territory, small, insulated bubbles trapping a few for life. There are 97 of them now. Some 130 Indian enclaves were also formed in Bangladesh.

Marooned in a small island of Bangladeshi land in a large ocean that is Indian territory, Kunal wants to be absorbed into the mainstream. And he knows the local panchayat leaders hold the ticket to freedom.

During election time, these leaders sell these tickets for some bogus votes. It�s a quid pro quo deal � come, vote for our man, no matter that your name is not on the list, and we�ll give you something in return, something like a ration card. �Though we are technically Bangladeshi subjects, our hearts belong to India,� says Promod Chandra Roy. He was born here, after Independence, after the 1947 Radcliffe Award helped create these pockets of isolation on either side of the border.

But there are some, like 36-year-old Santosh Roy who has managed to break out of his capsule and enter Indian territory with full honours. Like Kunal and Promod, he, too, will vote, but his will not be a bogus one. His name features on the voters� list. How did that happen? �Oh, I built a house in Indian territory.� He�s proud of his house. He�s proud to be Indian. He also boasts of his connection. �I have been voting for the Left Front...� It�s obvious the party has taken care of this more prosperous comrade.

Others, however, are not quite as lucky. Trapped in their tiny enclaves � some like Baro Balapokhari in Cooch Behar�s Kuchlibari are as small as 2.4 square km � these people cannot even enrol their children in Indian schools. That is why Kunal and promod will vote for anybody, anything to get that ration card.

�We want the Indian and the Bangladeshi governments to sort out the enclave issue,� he says. But he knows that his is a small enclave. There won�t be any historic Teen Bigha corridor to link him to the mainland, though Baro Balapokhari is only 700 metres away from the Bangladesh border.

The year 1996 changed the lives of many people in two of the biggest enclaves � Angara Pota and Dahagram. Narasimha Rao, then Prime Minister, entered into an historic agreement with Sheikh Hasina and the corridor, approximately three bighas long, was thrown open to the people of these enclaves, linking them to Rangpur district in Bangladesh.

For some, mainland, freedom � freedom that�s limited to only eight hours a day when the corridor is open, but freedom nonetheless. For others like Kunal and Promod, nothing. Maybe the polls will make all the difference for them. Thank god for democracy.


Coochbehar, April 30: 
Who�s this Kamal Guha?

It�s like asking Malda who Ghani Khan is.

Ha-ha, but who�s he anyway?

Guha is the face of the Forward Bloc. And in Cooch Behar, he�s the uncrowned king, undefeated in elections since 1977. He�s won from Dinhata every time he�s contested. Like Ghani Khan, Guha�s word�s the law in the district.

Do their similarities end there?

You bet not. Both are angry old men. If the Malda monarch is upset with the seat-deal with Mamata Banerjee, the Cooch Behar king is cut up with the reports about him. �I�ll be better off if the media leaves me alone,� is all that he is willing to say.

But why is the red czar angry?

It�s actually about 1996, when he quit the Left Front to form the Forward Block (Socialist). He won but most of his men didn�t. Sorry, Mr Guha but isn�t that a fact?

Oops, that�s set him off

�The media keeps on highlighting the defeats of FB(S) nominees like Paresh Adhikary in ekhliganj in 1996. But you did not focus on the defeat of Trinamul�s Dipak Sen Gupta, whom I defeated by 33,000 votes. Dipak was the official Forward Bloc nominee from Dinhata. Today, he thinks he has a better chance by joining Mamata.�

Does he?

�Of course,� says Sen Gupta, Guha�s childhood chum-cum-former comrade. �Kamal is living in a fool�s paradise. He thinks he reigns supreme in Cooch Behar. Only he believes that.�

Answer that, Mr Guha

�Why don�t you ask the people of Dinhata about Kamal Guha? They�ll give you a clear picture on what they think of me. I have no time for the likes of you.�

So, what are the people saying?

�I think Kamal Guha and his type of politics is pass�. There is a definite need for change. The Forward Bloc leader has been at the helm in the constituency for far too long. It�s time that we see a change,� says 28-year-old Biswajit Saha.


New Delhi, April 30: 
The Congress wants Atal Bihari Vajpayee to take the first step to douse the fire in the Lok Sabha ignited by Sonia Gandhi�s emotional outburst against the Prime Minister.

Most Congress leaders today joined the chorus of attack against Vajpayee. But saner elements in the party said the Prime Minister should take the initiative to clear the air with the leader of the Opposition in keeping with his image of an elderly statesman.

The party did not spell out the �backroom� measures, but sources hinted that if Vajpayee called Sonia and discussed the issue, it would help clear the air.

They said that instead of issuing statements, Vajpayee�s efforts to defuse the crisis would have been more successful had he opted for backroom conciliatory measures.

�If the idea is to score points on the eve of Assembly polls, then we are game, too,� a working committee member said. �But if he really wants to put an end to the unfortunate incident in the spirit of forgive and forget, then intimidation and brow-beating would not pay much dividend.�

Sonia, he said, had been sulking for quite some time. �There were certain norms that were expected from the government towards the leader of the Opposition. She, too, is hurt that precedents were not observed,� he added.

According to the CWC member, lack of communication was one of the main reasons for the bad blood between Sonia and Vajpayee.

Sources said Sonia was so upset that she asked some MPs if her continuation as leader of the Opposition was causing embarrassment to the party. The MPs, however, were unanimous that she had done the �correct� thing in recording her protest. They said they were �duty-bound� to defend the �cherished memory� of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

Congress general secretary Oscar Fernandes today reacted sharply to Vajpayee�s Sunday statement that again accused Sonia of lowering the prestige of the House. Oscar said it was Vajpayee�s remarks that were lowering the prestige of Parliament. �Let them do what they want,� he fumed. �Nobody is stopping them.�

The Congress leader wondered how Vajpayee could complain of non-cooperation from the main Opposition party, especially when Sonia responded to Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi�s efforts to resolve the standoff in the House over the Tehelka revelations.

The Congress, he said, had scaled down its demand for the government�s resignation and settled for a JPC probe into Tehelka. �Was not that a gesture of cooperation? Was it not the government that had agreed on a JPC?� he asked.

Oscar challenged Vajpayee to prove that the Congress had �abused� him inside Parliament. �Is there anything on record (House proceedings) to substantiate the charge?� he asked and added that his party would launch a nation-wide signature campaign against the Prime Minister from tomorrow.

In the Congress� scheme of things, about a crore signatures would be collected by May 20 and handed over to President K.R. Narayanan to express �people�s outrage� at the defence scandal.

Senior leader Arjun Singh also issued a strongly-worded statement, protesting the �campaign of calumny� against national leaders of the Congress.


Calcutta, April 30: 
The Congress today expelled four rebel candidates in Murshidabad, but defiant party MP Adhir Choudhury resolved to extend �moral support� to them.

�I cannot deny moral support to those contesting the elections as Independents after denial of party tickets,� the Berhampore MP said, hours after state unit chief Pranab Mukherjee announced the expulsion of the rebels, including former MLA Mannan Hossain and panchayat samiti pradhan Abu Taher, from the party�s primary membership for six years.

Mannan is contesting from Murshidabad. Taher is fighting from Naoda. Both are contesting against nominees of the Congress-Trinamul alliance. The other two expelled were Debashish Chatterjee and Nirmal Ghosh, who are contesting from Bhagabanpur and Hariharpara.

However, two sitting Congress MLAs � Habibur Rahman and Mohammed Sorab � who have resigned from the party and are contesting as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidates � have been exempted.

Congress sources in Berhampore said Mukherjee warned Adhir against backing the rebels. �Pranabda asked Adhir to work for the alliance,� said a district Congress leader.

Mukherjee, who was on a day�s visit to the district to oversee arrangements for a public meeting to be addressed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday, said those contesting against nominees of the Congress-Trinamul combine could not escape disciplinary action and this amounts to anti-party activities. �Soniaji has okayed the tie-up with Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamul Congress and those going against it will have to bear the consequences,� he added.

However, desperate to dissuade Adhir from backing the rebels, Mukherjee held an hour-long meeting and entrusted him with the task of organising Thursday�s joint rally, to be addressed by Sonia and Mamata in Berhampore town.

The move to rein in the rebels and Adhir�s open defiance of it assumes significance in Congress circles on the eve of Sonia�s campaign tour of the districts.

Congress officials said Malda MP A.B.A.Ghani Khan Chowdhury, who has put up Congress nominee Goutam Chakraborty against the combine�s Krishnendu Chowdhury for the English Bazar seat, will follow Adhir�s line.

Asked what the party will do against Ghani, Mukherjee averted a direct answer. �Nobody is above the party,� he said.

Determined to stem the rot in the party, a resolute Mukherjee said a list comprising the names of the expelled rebels is being prepared.


Calcutta, April 30: 
Congress president Sonia Gandhi is arriving here on May 3 and May 4 from Delhi to hold a string of rallies with Mamata Banerjee.

According to the programme that reached the state Congress office today, Sonia will arrive at the city airport at 9 am on May 3.

After meeting party leaders at the airport, she will leave by helicopter for Kharagpur at 10 am. Thereafter, she will go to Burdwan, Ranaghat and Serampore to hold meetings.

From Serampore, Sonia will return to the city airport and leave for Delhi. Sonia will return at 10 am the following day. She will directly leave for Berhampore in Murshidabad district and is expected to reach there at 11.35 am. Then she will go to Englishbazar in Malda. Sonia will also hold meetings at Balurghat and Goalpokhar before leaving for Bagdogra airport from where she will fly back to Delhi.

Mamata, however, is unlikely to accompany Sonia to Englishbazar as the Trinamul has been unable to reach an adjustment with the Congress for the seat. Veteran Malda MP, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, has firmly put his foot down against the alliance.

Getting Sonia to campaign for the Congress candidate in Goalpokhar in North Dinajpur is a victory of sorts for Priya Ranjan Das Munshi as the candidate there is his wife Deepa.


Calcutta, April 30: 
Causing a flutter in south Calcutta this morning, a large police force went to Trinamul Congress MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay�s house to arrest him for allegedly �violating election norms�.

Chattopadhyay, who is contesting the polls from Rashbehari, was getting ready to go out for campaigning at 7.30 am when a large posse of policemen, including two assistant commissioners, converged on his house on Rupnarayan Nandan Lane.

The police arrived to arrest Chattopadhyay as he was named in an FIR filed by four polling personnel who were heckled by a group of people when they were wiping off graffiti from a polling station.

Unaware of his offence, Chattopadhyay contacted party leaders Pankaj Banerjee, Subrata Mukherjee and Subrata Bakshi, who rushed to his house.

The Trinamul leaders contacted chief electoral officer (CEO) Sabyasachi Sen and lodged a complaint. Sen instructed the police to withdraw from Chattopadhyay�s residence. The police left without arresting Chattopadhyay around 10.30 am.

Police authorities avoided all queries on the incident. When reporters wanted to meet police commissioner D.C. Vajpai, he declined to give an audience.

�The police went to arrest Chattopadhyay on specific charges but was asked to do so by the CEO over telephone,� a senior police official said.

Sen told reporters that he had advised the police that Chattopadhyay �should not be disturbed�.

�There are just 10 days to go for the polls and the candidate should be left alone,� Sen told reporters at Writers� Buildings.

He said Banerjee had called him up to inform him about the incident. �There is no reason to arrest the candidate as he had just been mentioned in the FIR filed by the polling personnel who were heckled while wiping off poll graffiti from a polling station, in this case a school building in Sadananda Road last Saturday,� Sen pointed out. He had spoken to Chattopadhyay on Saturday and sought details on the issue.

However, the CEO said pushing around of the revenue officers on deputation for polling duty was a �serious offence�. I have told the police that they should bring to book the actual culprits.

�The officers told me that they did not know when Sobhandebbabu had arrived. There were many people surrounding them and they mentioned Chattopadhyay�s named as he was the only one they recognised. They told me that the Rashbehari candidate did not touch them,� Sen clarified.

Chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee stood by the CEO�s decision. �The CEO knows all about what happened and he has done the right thing,� he said.


New Delhi, April 30: 
The 16-year-old boy arrested for creating a pornographic website, was today granted bail by the juvenile justice court after spending five days in remand in an observation home.

A student of Air Force Bal Bharti School, the boy had given graphic descriptions of girls and teachers of his school on the website.

His school principal, M. Titus and class teacher were summoned before the court today. The teacher described the boy as an average child � talkative and a computer wiz. �The boy has not been known for any kind of misbehaviour with girls,� she said.

�I taught him history in school and he was very worried about his marks. So we had a long discussion as to where he had gone wrong,� she added.

The boy was known to be suffering from a skin disease. His classmates would often tease him by calling him �patchy-patchy�. The boy had complained about ill-treatment by his schoolmates. However, the school authorities had not taken any action.

The principal said: �I did not receive any complaint from the parents or from the child.�

The court summoned the principal and the teacher to spell out what action should be taken, keeping the boy�s future in mind.

Refusing to put the onus on the school authorities, the principal said: �The child needs counselling and he needs love. He should stay at home for a few months.�

�The website was created by the child at home. He operated the Internet from his residence and his mother said he would frequent cyber cafes,� she added.

He will spoil the �moral tone� of the school, therefore, his name will be struck off the school rolls,� the principal said.

When asked about the child�s future, she said: �He should study as a private candidate through a correspondence course.�

His class teacher, who sounded slightly more sympathetic, said: �All the children in the school are concerned about the boy. They are not angry with him. In fact, they are all inquiring about the child.�

As the Juvenile Justice Board gave its verdict, the boy�s parents stood in a corner listening to the lawyers and the jury.

The jury said: �The child has a history of suffering from depression and we don�t want to loose a child. Though he has been released on bail, his parents will need to produce the child before the court whenever required. The parents will also have to pay a fine of Rs 5,000.�

�Children have a tendency to draw graffiti on the wall, in the bathroom, the elevator or on the backboard. However, in the present age, with children becoming computer savvy, they are using the Net.... The present case falls under the category of technografitti. It should not be taken seriously, because children from the age of 12 to 18 are known to be curious and experimental,� the jury observed.

�It is the duty of the school and the parents to teach Net etiquette to the children,� they added.

The anguished parents were only too happy to hear about the bail �We wanted our child to come back home. It has still not been proved that our son has created the website. The school has just taken a unilateral decision,� they said.

Ajay Jain and Ajay Bhalla, the lawyers fighting the boy�s case, said: �The police is not yet sure about who is responsible for the crime.� If the school authorities do not take him back, they will go to the high court, they added.


Madurai, April 30: 
The curtains have gone up on Chennai�s dynastic drama, Act II.

In an open rebellion against his father, Azhagiri, chief minister M. Karunanidhi�s elder son, has begun campaigning against official DMK candidates in several constituencies in the southern districts.

Azhagiri�s main target is Speaker P.T.R. Palanivel Rajan, who is locked in a close fight with the ADMK�s Valarmathi Jebaraj in Madurai West. Yesterday, he went around the city asking supporters to work against Rajan as �he is anti-DMK� and �should be defeated�. Observers, however, say the Speaker, a respected figure both inside and outside the House, could still scrape through.

Azhagiri later justified his move, saying that those he was targeting were anti-DMK and anti-people and had to be defeated, regardless of who benefited.

The rebel son appeared nonchalant when asked how he could undercut his father and younger brother, Chennai mayor Stalin, when Jayalalitha has vowed to uproot the Karunanidhi clan if the ADMK returned to power.

�So what? That�s just dessert,� he shot back.

�Have they not tried to damage her reputation with every means available for the last five years? What have they been doing since coming to power except to scheme her destruction� Naturally, she�s angry and would hit back when she comes to power� There�s nothing much to get worked up about � They all deserve it��

When pointed out that he, too, was part of the clan, Azhagiri said: �So what? I have nothing to fear, nothing to hide... I�ll face it��

His revolt has fuelled speculation that he has already opened a communication flank with the ADMK boss. Azhagiri �believes that Amma would come back to power with a massive majority�, said one of his confidants.

A few months ago, the DMK high command had told its cadre not to have any truck with Azhagiri, in effect expelling him from the party. His followers had gone berserk, stoning and torching buses. Since then, the father-son relationship has plunged from bad to worse.

To placate Azhagiri, Karunanidhi had accommodated some of his loyalists in the candidates� list. But angry that his younger brother has been projected as heir-apparent, Azhagiri is in no mood to relent.

Stalin�s growing clout in the party had also irked the chief minister�s nephew, Murasoli Maran. However, the Union commerce minister, who had announced his �retirement from active politics�, recently said he would campaign for the party.

Though he does not have a mass base, sources say Azhagiri�s rebellion would embarrass the chief minister no end, especially when he is fighting with his back to the wall. Despite Jayalalitha�s disqualification, opinion polls have continued to predict a massive victory for the ADMK-led front.

Jaya advice to partymen

Jayalalitha today told partymen to keep in mind that the May 10 elections were a question of �life or death� for the ADMK. �The coming elections are crucial. It is going to decide the question of life or death for the party,� she said.

Asking them to beware of bogus voting, she said booth agents should not leave booths unattended. �It will be a blunder and prove costly for the party if the agents turned lethargic on that day,� she said.

The ADMK chief said there would be no obstacle in her path to become chief minister of Tamil Nadu after the elections. Talking to reporters in Tiruchirapalli, she said she did not, at present, foresee any hurdle.

When a reporter asked if there was any perceptible change in people�s mood after her disqualification, Jayalalitha said: �The press has to analyse this point.�

�I will take suitable steps to remove any obstacle that comes in my way,� she added.

However, the one to face an obstacle was Chhattisgarh chief minister and Congress leader Ajit Jogi, who come to campaign for the ADMK-led front yesterday. Jogi was stopped by party workers and policemen, who did not recognise him. The Congress candidate for Tiruchi-I constituency, Selvaraj, was also �missing�. But Jogi later addressed the meeting.


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