Brace for a battle of alliances

Nitish Kumar is eyeing a fourth term amidst waning popularity, growing anti-incumbency and rise of Tejashwi-led coalition

The tenure of the Bihar Assembly ends on November 29 and in an ordinary situation, a new Assembly should be elected before that date. Going by the character of the State, had it not been corona times, Bihar would have been witnessing huge election rallies, mass political movements, political realignment, cross-party movements, political allegations, counterclaims, etc.

Not that the political drama has not started already, but it is not at the scale Bihar generally witnesses. The game of jumping parties too has started. This season, the game started when five Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MLCs joined the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U). In response to it, the RJD snatched JD(U) leader and former Industry Minister Shyam Rajak. In the next level, the JD(U) responded by onboarding four RJD MLAs. As of now, this game is in its initial level and will mature as elections get nearer.

Game of Jumping
This political equation will not only be played by jumping parties, we will also witness cases of jumping alliance. On the one hand, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief in the NDA is angry with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and on the other, Jitan Ram Manjhi, upset with the RJD-led Grand Alliance, has switched over to the JD(U)-led ruling alliance.

If I am not wrong, the chief political strategist of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the initial days will play a very silent game in Bihar and ignite the voters without playing any active game of onboarding candidates from other parties or forging a fresh alliance. He will change his strategy only when the Election Commission announces the election dates. I believe he will play all his moves when the game reaches the matured level.

The political equations will change with each level and the last final levels are likely to throw up a complex political equation.

Dynamics of Date
The sentiment of political parties tells that the opposition in Bihar wants the Assembly election deferred but Nitish Kumar wants it on time. If the election is deferred, Bihar would be voting under President’s rule, and that will be advantage opposition. The main opposition parties are not in favour of holding an election till the threat of coronavirus is neutralised.

The principal opposition parties — RJD, Indian National Congress (INC), and the CPI — have written to the Election Commission seeking a deferment. The opposition wants President’s rule in the State for some time before elections. Interestingly, even the LJP has called for deferring the Bihar polls. It is important to understand that the LJP has never accepted JD(U) as its natural partner and the JD(U) also treats the LJP as one of the extended partners of the NDA.
The most critical player of all, the BJP, has not shared its view on the question. The BJP maintains that it will go by what the Election Commission decides.

Political Equation
It is a known fact that Nitish Kumar has more control over the government while the BJP has more loyalist voters. This political combination — of a clean image of Sushasan Babu and the loyalist voter base of the BJP — is the most potent political equation in the political landscape of Bihar. The major partner of the alliance is the JD(U) and the BJP is playing the role of a strong secondary party. Yet, it’s the JD(U) that is the weak part of the strong equation and not the BJP.
The political situation in Bihar is more like Maharashtra rather than Punjab. This is yet another State where the BJP is stronger than the alliance partners but has still opted to play second fiddle. Bihar is also one of the States where the combined might of the opposition can make a difference to the electoral outcome.

It is important to ponder what role the BJP will play in Bihar. Will it follow the Punjab model, or will it experiment with the Maharashtra model. Irrespective of the political stand the BJP takes, it is going to play a key role. The future political play of the BJP in Bihar is a function of the local leader it can project in the State.

The BJP cannot take an independent stand as it does not have a leader, who is acceptable to all. It is known to all that till Nitish Kumar is at the helm of affairs, it will be difficult for the BJP to announce an alternative. A few months of President’s rule may give the BJP a window, and Nitish Kumar knows it.

Fading Charisma
Nitish Kumar is known for his clean image and non-corrupt governance. This has helped him gain the image of ‘Sushasan Babu’. He, in his first two terms as Chief Minister, restored governance and law and order in the State. He extensively worked on infrastructure, women empowerment and education for girls, and other must-to-have things for a progressive State. But he could not deliver the same in the third term. His is now widely seen as an ineffective government.

There is a popular belief that the magic of Sushasan Babu is waning. Nitish Kumar eyes a fourth term as Bihar’s Chief Minister with receding popularity, rising anti-incumbency, changing caste equations, depleting voters’ confidence, rising corruption, new criminal networks, rise of parallel economy, unemployment, reverse migration, and rise of Tejashwi Yadav-led coalition.

On top of these challenges, there is hardly any new reform that has been pushed or proposed by him to improve the current status of education, healthcare, infrastructure, investment, industrialisation, employment, etc. This creates a perfect scenario for Tejashwi Yadav to pitch this election against him.

The political equations are changing rapidly. The voters of Bihar have started to believe that Nitish Kumar managed the governance of State well but failed to bring in development. The charisma of Sushasan Babu is fading and it is being aggressively challenged by Tejashwi Yadav. In this scenario, if the NDA fails to stitch an intelligent alliance, the result may surprise all of us.

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Jharkhand Election: Yet Another Hung Assembly in Making

Jharkhand Election: Yet Another Hung Assembly in Making

In 2014 for the first time Jharkhand witnessed an alliance getting a majority government with BJP winning 37 seats (in 2015, 6 MLAs of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) taking the party tally to 43) and the alliance partner All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU) winning 5 seats. This was the first majority government since the inception of the state and it had raised the expectation of the voters.  

The 2014 verdict was an opportunity given to its first non-tribal chief minister of Jharkhand – Raghubar Das to change the fortune of the tribal state. If I must go with the popular sentiment, he failed to meet the expectation of the voters. Post facto, the sentiment in the state is that the Tribal leaders like Hemanth Soren, Arjun Munda, Babulal Marandi ruled the state better than this non-tribal chief minister. Contrary to popular belief the party is of the opinion that, Raghubar Das has been a protagonist of development in the state; and he is the most popular face in Jharkhand politics. This overconfidence may prove to be an expensive affair for BJP. In all fairness, it will only be apt to say that the voters of Jharkhand are not happy with Raghubar Das but they have nothing against Narendra Modi, or the party BJP. 

Rise of Intellectual voters 

In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP defied the collective might of opposition alliance and improved its vote share from 35.5 percent to over 50 percent. It is widely believed that the rise in the voteshare was a function of the popularity of Narendra Modi. Most of the political analyst if not all in the state believe that though the party in parliamentary elections won 12 seats out of 14 in the state, but the discontent from the local leaders was visible in the conduct of the voters. 

In various occasions Indian voters have proved that the performance of the parliamentary election is not a yardstick to determine the performance of the assembly elections. The voting pattern of Indian voters has always been different in parliamentary and assembly elections. This election may not be an exception. 

It is an established fact that Indian voters are intelligent, and they know how to reward and punish the political leaders and political parties. The voters of Jharkhand are evolved and believe in punishing the leader for the nonperformance as they did in 2014 assembly election. In 2014, Babulal Marandi lost from both the seats he had contested, Hemant Soren lost Dumka seat but managed to win Berhat, Arjun Munda faced a humiliating defeat, Sudesh Mahto lost at his home turf. The voters of Jharkhand punished ex-chief ministers in last assembly election, but they rewarded prime minister in the recently concluded parliamentary elections.

Where do we stand? 

At the outset it looks like BJP and alliance partner AJSU has the upper hand and as the second largest national party, INC has no mass leader in the state. In absence of a strong mass leader INC is banking on Hemant Soren of the JMM to do wonders for the alliance. JMM on the other hand is desperately trying to retain the party’s core vote base – STs. The third critical political force in the state election JVM is banking on the combined might of Babulal Marandi and the disgruntled leaders of JMM, INC, and BJP. These three prominent political entities in the state will decide the future of the 2019 election. 

In recent times, INC has lost its two former party presidents to the rival parties – AAP and BJP

 In my views, the 2019 assembly election in Jharkhand will not be fought on the development plank. It is going to be a classic old school election that will be fought on the backdrop of cast equation. This election, furthermore, will be all about the athematic of vote bank rather than the sentiment of development and growth. This election is all about the hyperlocal issues. It is about Jameen, Jal, and Jangal. This election is also about the identity of Jharkhand. In this election the recent verdict on Ram temple will also play a critical role. This election is not about the development of Jharkhand. It is not about the personality war. It is also not about the charisma of the political leaders. It will not be wrong to say that this is one of the rare elections of recent times where Modi may not play the critical role. 

In absence of a prominent opposition it is going to be a little easy for BJP to retain power but there is a chance for the opposition to win back the state. I believe, only if the opposition can create a groundswell based on popular sentiments like bad governance of Raghubar Das, trial issues around Jal-jameen-jangal, ignored Brahmins and Kayasthas, and all big talk by Raghubar Das and no development they can stitch a tight win. Otherwise, in Jharkhand in absence of a capable alternative the voters of Jharkhand will vote for BJP. 

In the given scenario, if the opposition manages to run an intelligent campaign based on theme – one, Jal-jameen-jangal to ignite the ST sentiment; two, influence disgruntled BJP voters with campaign like “Raghubar Teri Khair Nahi, Modi se Koi Baair Nahi” not to vote for Raghubar Das or avoid going to booth on the polling day; three, dissuade Brahmins and kayasthas by campaign designed around “Brahmins and kayasthas ka Dushman – Raghubar Das”; four engage Muslims and SC votebank by running a silent campaign “We are the only Hope” they can ignite the latent feelings of the voters, overturn their sentiment. But, unfortunately the opposition has no great mass leader to run the campaign. 

The bigger challenge is neither INC nor the alliance partner JMM has any mature or dependable face. The alliance is expected to depend on the face value of Hemant Soren to pull the election campaign in the right direction. But in my views, Hemant is yet to mature as the dependable force of Jharkhand Politics. He is still a mass leader in making. The alliance lacks a dependable face like Sharad Pawar in Jharkhand to spearhead the opposition’s campaign. In absence of the mass leader the opposition campaigns need to be managed by the voters and volunteers and not by the leaders of the party. The leaders should only support them and agree to the voice of voters. It is important to understand that when you don’t have mass leader who can carry the burden of the campaign, make voters your star campaigner. 

As on date, the voters of Jharkhand are not happy with Raghubar Das and state-BJP, but they don’t have any strong alternative. The opposition in the state is fragmented and two of the large leaders – Hemant Soren and Babulal Marandi are fighting their last battel of survival. If the grand alliance had all opposition parties – INC, JMM, JVM and others, Jharkhand could have got another stable government in 2019. As JVM is not part of the grand alliance it will play the role of an intelligent spoiler. The current situation may throw up a surprise where JVM will end up emerging as the party that will decide the future chief minister of Jharkhand.

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Madhya Pradesh may go Gujarat way

Madhya Pradesh may go Gujarat way

INC’s failure to offer a credible alternative or a robust alliance may help the BJP beat strong anti-incumbency

The forthcoming Assembly election of Madhya Pradesh in many ways can be compared with the recent Assembly elections of Gujarat — the election that the INC lost, not the one that the BJP won.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the key States of the Hindi belt, which sees a direct contest between the BJP and the INC. It is yet another State that has seen a strong BJP government for three terms and the INC has been struggling to claim the State back.

Even after the Gujarat debacle, the INC has not learned the art of communication and its communication in MP is as confused as it was in Gujarat. The popular perception suggests that the theatrics of temple run will not help it in Madhya Pradesh just like in Gujarat. This is one of those dramas that voters enjoy but don’t consider while voting.

Just like Gujarat, the caste and communal equation in MP is beyond the politics of the Hindu-Muslim divide. It is about winning each caste separately, including SCs and STs. A majority of voters of Madhya Pradesh, in their 40s and 50s, still have fresh memories of bad governance of INC Chief Minister Digvijay Singh. Voters of MP may not like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan of the BJP but they for sure still hate the INC. So, what is the mood in the State?

No clear alternative
It is widely believed that there is a strong anti-incumbency of three terms but the voters of the State are not in a position to find any clear alternative. Like in Gujarat, in MP too the INC has failed to identify one single face that can challenge Shivraj Singh Chouhan and build a credible narrative for the party.

A defined alternative will help the INC win more vote share than the state of ambiguity. It will not be wrong to say that in the absence of a clear choice, voters are still backing Chouhan as the preferred chief ministerial candidate. The problem with the INC is it has not yet declared its chief ministerial candidate despite having four candidates – Arjun Yadav, Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia.

At times, one gets a feeling that the INC is planning a decisive, focused and determined campaign, especially since there is some amount of anti-incumbency and an opportunity for the party to cash in.

‘Unhappy’ farmers
Farmers’ concerns are the biggest political pitch. The party that manages to win the trust of farmers and has answers to suicides and offers good policies related to farm and farmers will have an edge. Further, the party with strong grassroots workers — who can take the message of the party to the farmers and the rural households — will hold an advantage.

Scams aren’t big issue
Big scams such as Vyapam, sand mining, dams and ponds, mid-day meals have still not hampered the image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan. He is still seen as progressive, development-oriented, humble, down to earth and man of the masses. It is the failure of the INC to build a successful groundswell around these large scams.

Soft Hindutva bad strategy
Madhya Pradesh can’t be polarised on the Hindutva agenda. The position of hardcore Hindutva leader is already occupied by Shivraj Singh Chouhan and soft Hindutva will not work. I wonder why the INC is not focusing on the issues of development, big scams and other progressive issues that attract eyeballs of the millennial.

Caste plays a big role
The positioning of the INC as a party that believes in soft Hindutva is not an effective positioning. Madhya Pradesh prefers to votes for caste. Religion is not the core issue here. Roughly 60% of the voters evaluate the caste before casting their vote. Caste-based social engineering is key to the success in the State.

ST, SC central
In Madhya Pradesh, STs, SCs and Muslims (roughly 21%, 15% and 6% respectively) are the big vote banks of the INC. The State has a strong ST and SC population, which is a traditional vote bank of the INC, but the BSP has been successfully consolidating them to its advantage.
Moreover, the BJP has been working hard for the last few years to win over these voters. This move has disturbed the traditional vote bank of the BJP — upper castes and OBCs — but this may help the BJP win over a new set of ST and SC voters.

No Hindu-Muslim divide
MP cannot be polarised on the lines of Hindu-Muslim divide. This is one of the States like Gujarat that has a negligible Muslim vote bank. Over 90% of the voters are Hindus. It will only be apt to say that the caste and communal equation in MP is beyond the politics of the Hindu-Muslim divide.

Alliance was key
The tribal vote has a strong presence in 35-40 seats in MP. In these tribal-dominated areas, the combined might of the INC and the BSP would have won almost all seats but now that the INC and the BSP are not together, the result will be different. Moreover, the voting patterns in the last three Assembly elections indicate that the INC has a loyal voter base of over 30%, the BJP enjoys 35%, and the BSP roughly 5%. This basic arithmetic of voter’s loyalty suggests that an alliance was one of the safest ways for the INC to romp home.

The win and loss in MP will mostly be decided by fence-sitting voters who decide their preference in the final leg of the election campaign. In such a scenario, the last leg of political campaigns will change the dynamics of the election result. The BJP with the political campaign expertise of Modi and Shah, and the positive image of Shivraj Singh Chouhan will be able to challenge the INC once again. Well-crafted campaigns of Modi and Shah in last 15 days could swing a minimum of 5% voters to their fold.

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Millennials Key to Next Government

Millennials key to next government

With about 34% or 400 million of the country’s total population, political parties will do well to address their needs

Kiran is an IT professional, who works at Google and holds a postgraduate degree from a leading US university. She is an early adopter to technology, doesn’t hesitate to present her views on social media and engages with the other millennial on them. Born in Ranchi, she has also studied in Ranchi and Delhi. In Hyderabad, she lives with her friend. She orders food home, buys fashion online, hires a shared cab for her daily travel, watches movies once in a while with friends, and visits temple every Saturday. She is a young independent woman who is proud of her culture, religious views and tradition. She is also aware of her rights and duties as an Indian citizen.

On the other hand, 25-year-old Reshma doesn’t believe in early marriage, strongly advocates the right to education, is very proud of her religious views and tradition. She is an amateur cook and makes her living by cooking at three different houses in the Gachibowli area of Hyderabad. Reshma goes to PVR for movies with family, orders her fashion on Amazon; has an active presence on all social media sites that she accesses on her Redmi. She is a young independent Indian woman who is brand conscious, proud of her culture, religious views, rights and duties as an Indian citizen, including the power of her voting right.

A few basic traits of Reshma or Kiran, or any other millennial from any part of India make them a dominant force that is reshaping culture, business, and politics. The Indian millennial does not mimic their older generation when it comes to taking important decisions such as voting. This generation is development-oriented and does not blindly believe in an old-political twist of caste and religion. It believes in result-oriented politicians and the politics of growth and development.

Internet Generation
Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, have grown up in an age of rapid change. The incessant change this generation has witnessed has made them demanding.
Millennials spend around 17 hours a week on the internet and widely use digital methods to research a product before taking the final decision. Their decisions are not necessarily based on online reviews or ar einfluence by social media channels but are mostly a function of in-depth research. It is also based on the availability of information and the convenience of reaching the product.

Thy want the best in the world at their fingertips. Their expectations and priorities are completely different from those of the older generations. This generation is also extremely opinionated and desires authentic conversations. Reaching millennials through advertisements and brand marketing is not enough for they do not appreciate a just on-the-surface monologue and wants to engage in a dialogue. In fact, it will not be off the mark to say that marketing and branding agencies have not matured in their communication to win the heart and mind of this generation.

Millennials seek instant gratification from almost everything, right from information to entertainment, shopping needs to political decisions. They have become the juggernaut that enjoys the power to rewrite the culture, influence the way businesses are run and change the direction of the politics. It is extremely important to understand their preferences and be their companion just to be relevant.

Dominant, Restless
In India, millennials constitute roughly 34% of the population. This number translates to around 400 million — more than the total population of the US and more than the total number of millennials China has today. It will not be wrong to say that these people will decide the direction of the economy, politics, and culture.

Millennial and the post-millennial generation makes up a clear majority of voting-eligible adults in India. Their voting share in most of the States in India is over 45%, thereby holding the key to the success of any election. This vote share does not belong to any of established political equation or political parties. They are in search of new dynamic leaders and political parties, which can take them to the next level of growth.

Political parties need to work to capture the changing aspirations of the millennials, their voice of development. Simply relying on anti-incumbency, polarisation, caste equations and hypernationalism is unlikely to help.

Changing Politics
The ambition, anger, attitudes, anxieties, and aspirations of millennials in the recent past have played an active role as citizen, consumer as well as catalyst in shaping the political environment of India.

We saw their power when they took to the streets to protest and support socio-political issues that were spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal, Hardik Patel, and others. We have also witnessed how this generation supported Narendra Modi as a Prime Minister candidate in the 2014 election.

The election season in India is about to start shortly. Five States – Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana — would go for Assembly elections in November-December. The story to win the heart and mind of these ever curious, demanding, and volatile voter segment would change with States but their dominance must never be ignored.
In all these five States, the win or loss of any candidate or a political party will be decided by the voting patterns of the millennials and the post-millennial generation. The party that manages to meet the demands of this generation would form the government in these State.

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Andhra Pradesh to Witness a New Political Equation

Andhra Pradesh to Witness a New Political Equation

Andhra Pradesh is a young state with roughly 42 percent voters who are below 34 years of age and 65 percent of voters below 45 years of age. These young voters have very different requirements, which is beyond the traditional vote bank requirements. They are restless and hungry for growth. I strongly believe this election, the state will vote for the party that will demonstrate commitment to development and growth. This election will not be about Cash, Caste, and Charisma but will only be about commitment of great future, growth and development.

As we know that in the last election all districts were dominated only by two regional parties TDP, and YSRCP and the national parties BJP and INC had no greater relevance in the state. In my views, this election the dynamics of the political campaign will be different. The state will get into exploratory mode and they will experiment beyond the dominant parties TDP and YSRCP. I have very strong feeling that this election we will also witness emergence of a new regional party and the national party, BJP establishing itself as a strong force in the state. The path to victory will not be easy this season. Let’s explore the possibilities.

 Rise of YSRCP

The party in opposition – YSRCP is working hard to win the state and if we have to believe the ground reports they may form the next government in the state. The YSRCP chief Jagan Mohan Reddy is working hard to win the trust and support of the voters. It is widely believed that his Praja Sankalp Padyatra is huge success but if I have to evaluate the campaign performance on the parameters of efforts, spend, visibility, and engagement, I will call it a moderate success.

I visited one of the pockets of Vijayawada to understand the on-ground impact of the padyatra and I was not much impressed by the return of investment or the return of efforts by Jagan. In my views, there was a sizable mismatch in campaign resource mobilization, the optics and theatrical of the padyatra and crowd turnout. Having said this, I still believe that the campaign performance was testimony of the popularity of Jagan and in way announcement that probably he is the tallest leader in current day Andhra Pradesh.

 Fall of TDP

As of now, the dominance of the Jagan can only be challenged by the current Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu (CBN) and his party TDP. We all know that the last election CBN was not winning on his own. He won last election as he managed to stitch a unique alliance with BJP, and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena and this alliance helped him win the 2014 election. Now that TDP is out of the NDA and BJP, and Jana Sena mostly will not support CBN in the 2019 election, the road ahead for CBN is not easy. It is widely believed that this election he may go solo; and if CBN is going solo he is bound to lose this election.

In recent times, CNB has been targeting BJP and accusing them of going back on the promise of granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh. This narrative has no unique identity and all other parties – YSRCP, INC, and others will also bank on the same storyline. It will not be wrong to say that TDP today has no unique storyline to win trust of voters and in the progressive state like Andhra Pradesh one can’t win election without a compelling story. Worst, CNB is hell bent on erasing the footprint of old stories by extending hands towards INC. This move will definitely be seen as CBN’s deviation from the ideology of TDP founder NT Rama Rao, who wanted to unite all non-Congress parties to forge an alliance. I believe these moves will only pull down the vote share of the party.

Ascend of BJP

I believe soon BJP will open up a battlefront in Andhra Pradesh against CBN, and YSR Congress will also support BJP in the fight against TDP. The central leadership, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Party president Amit Shah with Andhra Pradesh state BJP president Kanna Lakshminarayna are working hard to finalise political strategy to be adopted by the BJP in Andhra Pradesh ahead of 2019 elections. Kanna Lakshminarayana, in my views, would lead the party in Andhra Pradesh with an aim to win more number of Lok Sabha seats and position party as the largest opposition in the state.

The option of BJP working out a north-east like equation and attempting to form a government in the state can’t be ruled out. The party to achieve the objective mostly will work on their basic campaign framework strengthening the grassroots through panna pramukhs, booth-level committees and door-to-door campaigns and on-boarding senior leaders from other parties. I am quite certain that BJP, and Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena will forge a pre-poll alliance. If I have to believe the speculation and the on-ground movements there will be vertical split in TDP and the new group may join the NDA.

Survival of INC

BJP, on the one hand where we are witnessing assertive, agile and aggressive team committed to build party with help of organic and inorganic growth models; INC, on the other hand is surrounded by legacy, loyalty, and lethargy proposing to revive party. The party recently Andhra Pradesh pointed Oommen Chandy as party in-charge of Andhra and hoping to revive the state under his guidance. This veteran INC leader has a tough task ahead as the party failed to win even a single Assembly seat in the state after the bifurcation.

I believe that most of the people in Andhra Pradesh are congress supporters at heart just that they are deeply hurt and disgruntle. I believe INC still has a place in the hearts of the people in the state and, therefore, there is indeed a chance to revive the party but INC in the current avatar may still struggle to reach double digit vote share. The party needs young leaders who can outsmart assertive, agile and aggressive approach of BJP, and a strong storyline to win hearts of the voters. One of the ways for INC to win back hearts of voters of Andhra Pradesh by helping state get Special Category Status. Though this move will not help them get a lion share in the state but definitely will help party revive.

The new political landscape in Andhra Pradesh is going to be fresh and progressive but will the old artist script the story or new one will replace the old guards is yet another story in making.

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