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Tough message for Modi: Political winds are shifting, from nationalism to economy, jobs

Modi's popularity hasn't waned, but mood of the people has begun to change in 5 months. Too many are hurting too deep & want the return of economic optimism.

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It has been an extended monsoon this year. Finally, the wind patterns are now reversing. In the capital, they now become dry, come from the west, over Punjab — and Haryana — bringing along the stubble-burning smoke. Autumn is here.

Not quite as clearly as this, but political winds have also shifted. For a couple of years now, as the economy has stalled, the BJP has unleashed the winds of hyper-nationalism with religion (Hinduism) liberally thrown in. This peaked in the months leading up to the general elections, especially with Balakot and Abhinandan.

Then, a voter was convinced India had faced an existential threat from Pakistan for seven decades, nobody had done anything about it, and that Narendra Modi was nailing the problem, with a finality. And that while he would do it mostly by “decisive, deterrent and fearless” military punishment, he was also raising India’s global stature to “isolate” Pakistan. Once enough voters bought into these, they forgot their other, traditional political loyalties and binaries.

The rest then followed. Pakistan is Muslim, it spreads terrorism in the name of jihad, blood-thirsty jihadis are a pestilence for the entire world. Again, the implicit insinuation was that the threat was pan-Islamic, Indian Muslims were not immune, and Hindus needed to consolidate. Of course, all this would not have worked so well but for the spectacularly efficient distribution of almost Rs 12 lakh crore in visible welfare to the poor: Cooking gas, toilets, homes and MUDRA loans. I have written and spoken about these often in the campaign weeks.

In electoral terms, this was a devastating mix: Nationalism, religion, welfare. The opposition’s Rafale talk only invited derision and the issue of the day, even the post-demonetisation growth decline and rising joblessness, was overlooked.

The two assembly elections this week have given our first indication that those winds are shifting. It is definitely not as if Modi has lost any popularity. If he had, the BJP would’ve at least lost Haryana.

It was still his pull that kept sufficient numbers of voters still with the BJP. They’ve depleted substantially from five months ago: By 21.5 percentage points in Haryana, from 58 per cent to 36.5 per cent, for example. But enough still to enable Modi to hail a double-victory on the evening of counting day.

Also read: If anything can defeat Modi, it’s the economy

The early highlights of the India Today-Axis exit poll, the most trusted of all lately, give us some indications. In Haryana, the poll shows that while the BJP still has a healthy overall lead (almost 9 percentage points) over the Congress, in many categories — rural youth, unemployed, farmers, farm labour — it has fallen behind. It must be that in a largely rurban state, the middle class, upper castes and the sizeable Punjabi population have stayed committed and saved it greater embarrassment.

Similarly, in Maharashtra, where the party had run a pretty good government under a clean and well-liked chief minister, it suffered sizeable reverses rather than improvement, as was widely expected. Further, the opposition’s ranks were depleted, with key leaders from both the Congress and the NCP defecting to the BJP, or facing the wrath of the ‘agencies’. 

If this relatively indifferent victory came despite these overwhelming advantages, it is important to see who and what broke the party’s blitzkrieg. If it was Sharad Pawar’s NCP rather than the much bigger Congress that stood in the BJP’s way, especially in mostly rural western Maharashtra, it is evident that many farmers and the unemployed have now switched sides.

And remember, all of this happened within 11 weeks of the scrapping of Article 370 in Kashmir, five weeks of ‘Howdy, Modi!’, the talks with Donald Trump and the speech at UNGA. Add to these the TV spectacle of Mamallapuram with Xi Jinping, P. Chidambaram and D.K. Shivakumar’s arrests and key NCP leader Praful Patel’s inquisition for an alleged ‘terror-financing link with Iqbal Mirchi’. Moreover, the hearings on Ayodhya were going on on a day-to-day basis in the Supreme Court, bringing the issue back into national consciousness.

If so many voters shifted in spite of all these factors, within five months of May, it is sufficient indication that the bountiful winds of nationalism, anti-Pakistanism and religious fervour that overwhelmed with emotion the relatively ‘mundane’ concerns of economics and jobs, are now retreating. More voters are now returning to the basics.

Travelling in the general election campaign, we would often run into poor, jobless people who’d complain they were hurting, that the promised boom hadn’t come. Yet they said they will vote only for Modi: ‘Desh ke liye’ (for the nation). That sentiment has not receded. But see it like that voter: I have already overlooked all my personal challenges to vote for Modi to protect my nation. The nation is safe. Now tell me what are you doing for what is really hurting me: Falling incomes, unemployment, and for farmers, mostly static procurement prices.

Also read: Mohan Bhagwat throws a challenge at Modi, revives ‘Swadeshinomics’ amid economic crisis

My central proposition therefore is that the winds of nationalism laden with religion will now yield to those of concern over the stalled economy, unemployment and a general malaise and unhappiness. Fresh noises and action on Pakistan, Kashmir and terror will not be able to reverse these. Except, in the most unlikely event of a larger armed conflict.

Will a favourable Supreme Court decision on the temple make a difference? Maybe some, in the Hindi heartland. But not enough. Too many people are hurting too deep now. They want the return of economic optimism.

We complain often about frequent elections in India. The BJP is in the forefront with the idea of one country, one election. Yet, it is the Modi government that didn’t want elections in Jharkhand simultaneously with Haryana and Maharashtra. Maybe it had sensed trouble? More likely, it understands that it has only one vote-getter, so it is better to give Narendra Modi sufficient time in all three states.

Whether it proves counter-productive now, we will know soon enough as the Jharkhand polls will be announced soon. Will the early winds of change from distant Haryana in the north and Maharashtra in the west reach there, we can only guess. But definitely, the opposition will have its tail out of its legs at last. Cruel thing is, in an all-conquering personality cult, where all victories are credited to one leader, it is tough to immunise him from setbacks. Especially today when it doesn’t even take defeat, but a narrower ‘points’ victory rather than a knockout of the rivals to be seen as disappointing.

The best thing with India’s never-ending cycle of elections is, politics never freezes. Not long after Jharkhand, elections will come to Delhi. The BJP will then need to take a big call: Whether or not to put Modi in front again, risk its becoming Modi versus Kejriwal and go for broke. Will it be worth the risk for a prize that is a small semi-state where the Centre already controls all municipal corporations, land and police? All I can say is, Arvind Kejriwal looks way better prepared than the Congress was in Haryana next door.

Politics in India takes years, sometimes epochs to change. But political seasons do. You can sense that in the dry autumn air now.

Also read: The economy is India’s most potent weapon, but it’s losing its power


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  1. Eventhough not directly linked with this subject ,I may please be permitted to attract your attention in a much more important subject for your perusal and mobilise opinion on need to amend electoral process In our country.
    I strongly believe in direct mandate for CM,PM and ministers for major portfolios and one miscellaneous portfolio,and ward representatives alone.It is also required to identify some wards as minority wards based on population of members of minority sections in the ward to shed fear among the minorities which should not be amended in future.A person can be allowed to compete in more than one ward .Those who win from more than three wards shall be considered for selection as MLA and MP. Those who get more votes shall be selected as MP or MLA. The ward should be divided to have 5000 to 6000 voters and the elected ward representative shall be posted and work as a social worker for five years.The elected members should be eligible for employing a personal staff as his representative in all wards in which he had won to work on behalf him and shall be eligible to get salary and pension benefits for each ward he won.The weightage of voting power of MLA and MP in state assembly and parliament shall also can be fixed based on number of total votes he got from all wards he had won and total voters in those wards. If you agree with me please like or vote and share in their social media accounts.

  2. Whether Congress improves or not depending on R Gandhi, this is for sure. The national economy will improve if Modi goes back to Gujarat, It should not take 6 years to realize CM and PM are not same job. He has done his world tour. Time to rest and give more educated a chance to be a PM.

    • I think you are living in a cocoon. Probably you do not read the international news particularly the economic news which talks about the state of world economy which India cannot escape in this era of globalisation. The Indian economy was doing very well until the last year and was the fastest growing economy as per world Bank estimates. People like you were saying much the same thing even then. The basis of you view is that you hate people who are adulated because you have not achieved much yourself.

  3. The problem with age ( being polite, the defining adjective ‘old’ has been omitted), Mr Gupta, is that your life long assumed truths ( usually wrong) prevent you from learning and understanding new concepts and ideas specially contrary to your assumed world view. This manifests itself in nostalgia for long familiar systems, people and a bygone era.
    Therefore, a certain section of media, the so–called ‘LutyanGang’ and ‘Khan Market Gang’ are trying to paddle the same old narrative, fake outrage and hypocrisy-incarnate at every chance they get.
    I was wrongly assuming that one of the essential ingredient of belonging to these clubs was primary childhood education in the proper English accented classrooms. But watching your videos, Mr Gupta, you must be congratulated for breaching this barrier to gate crash to become a pillar of these gangs.!
    Continue to educate, entertain and keep the frustrated ‘had been’ in good humour. Good Luck !

    • Kuchh cheezein waqt aur tajurba sikhata hai. What exactly is so new / novel / extraordinary about a decisive mandate, which places it in an entirely new territory ? I think someone who has been around for at least thirty years, seen half a dozen administrations flower and flounder, gets a better sense of perspective. Looking back six years, if there is one thing that ought to have been differently was to treat the term as part of a relay race, not the start of a new historical era. If at all there was a sense of exceptionalism, that ought to have been used to break the mould of stultifying economic orthodoxy that had held the nation back. Not get bound up in personalities and petty mindedness.

  4. 5.5 lakh diya in Ayodha. What if poor people have become poorer? Youth don’t have jobs or there’s no investment from investors? What if desh ka adhe se jyada janta bina chhat ke ya bhukha pet jiye. Ram ji ki Ayodha to rashn hai n!

    • You are right. The orgnisers of such events are to be taken on before the event occures. Now it is no use. These diyas have have used up the oil. If diyas replace the fire works, one way it is better for enviromnet. But in all probability diya lighting will be in addition to fire crackers. May be one can take a phillosophical view,that some economic activity has definately took place.

  5. I have been saying here for a while and will say it again, Modi is second coming of Indira Gandhi, Demo/GST is bank/corporate nationalizing, Balakot/370 is Bangladesh, and 2019 may well be 1972. Only difference is that by this time JP had emerged on national stage, and his movement eventually overthrew Indira Gandhi in 1977. There is nobody of similar stature on national politics today. Indira Gandhi imposed political emergency in 1975, I will predict that Modi will most likely have to impose financial emergency in future, if the bank and economic deterioration continues. Imagine if what’s happening to small regional banks like PMC today is required for national banks!!

    As Mark Twain famously said, history does not repeat but it rhymes.

  6. Yes, ‘rozhi, roti’ are the issues. Nation is definitely important but for survival, it’s important to generate jobs and revive economy soon. People will not wait more. BJP is just lucky in Maharashtra & manageable in Haryana. BJP must read writing on the wall. If FM is unable to deliver, please change to bring in right person on this job. Piece meal solution after damages is not doing any good to the sentiments of the citizens and uplifting the economy.
    Presently BJP has every thing proper on their hands. Important states having BJP govts., majority in LS, reasonable nos in RS, good leadership, good prople’s support, good cadre, good rains in most part of India. What more any party can ask. Now, just do it dear PM!

  7. This analysis is a perfectly reasonable attempt to explain the results of the recent elections. The problem is that it is still a thesis which isn’t backed up by data. So, there are no interviews and surveys of voter concerns to back it up. There are a lot of other theories floating around in the comment section as well, that suggest caste or governance as factors. They may all be true. But the most striking thing about Indian opinions is that nobody goes back to data to validate our theories.

    A few days ago, there was an article by Yogendra Yadav about how economics and politics are disconnected and how it will lead to a great BJP victory. That too was a good theory, even though we now know that it was wrong. It too wasn’t backed up by any data either. Theories are great but they must be backed up by data. Shekhar Gupta has a good theory but he needs to back it up with data and only then he can claim victory for his analysis.

  8. The story of India is over. The economy will is going down the gutter and Modi cannot save it. Actually Modi cannot think beyond pakoda economics.

  9. As the saying goes: you can fool some of the people all the time. You can fool all the people some of the time. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.

    This is what is happening with Modi now.

    He spends 1/3rd of his time abroad, 1/3rd campaigning for elections and 1/3rd for Kashmir/Pakistan/Muslims/Gandhi family.

    That leaves him with 1% of time for running the country: just a round-off error.

    And with the economic team that he has, one can’t expect much.

    And he’s spending money like there was no tomorrow, using up all the resources he can lay his hands on (RBI, LIC etc.)

    The writing is on the wall.

    • Here are two takes from the Haryana election results: (1) no one anticipated an impressive performance from JJP; AND (2) till last minute no one expected BJP and JJP to tie-up for government. Both happened. And for those who believe that coalition governments could be the solution for good governance, this Haryana coalition is neither dubious, unethical nor unimpressive. Therefore statements such as “The writing is on the wall.” are just opinions, wishes and not necessarily facts and something that would turn out to be true. That said, I am NOT saying that Modi and BJP cannot lose or that Modi is the greatest leader India has produced, but just this much that one may have to eat his/her words when making statements such as that.

      • RR: The writing on the wall only means: “The very apparent signs that something bad will happen in the future”.

        I think all the signs are pointing towards a bleak future. This is not about Modi. It’s about the future of India.

        I’d like to see who buys Air India with a debt of more than Rs. 50, 000 crores and dirty planes.

        Indian Railways has a shortfall of Rs. 30,000 crores and doesn’t have money to pay for cleaning trains.

        Let’s leave the banks out for the moment.

        Still feel optimistic?

        Sure enough, things can change, with or without Modi. But it requires a robust character to feel optimistic in these conditions.

      • You must be kidding RR or you don’t know Haryana politics at all. The coming together of BJP and JJP is unethical because the entire election campaign of the latter was based on an anti BJP platform . JJP gave voice and took the votes of Jats who were furious with the bjp. Now they are seeing their votes go to the very party they detested and all for a huge monetary payday and political gains to the young dynast running JJP. Do you know the history of corruption of the Chautala family? They are in jail for a reason. Now its a matter of timebefore they are released because hey they have tied up with the BJP, all sins are forgiven when one joins that great political laundromat that you blindly follow. Foolish bhakt.

    • Correct. Present PM is a control freak who believes government should do everything including running banks, businesses, temples, airlines, hotels etc. Everything except what governments are supposed to do. Don’t forget the latest splurge on BSNL-MTNL bailout. Good money after bad. Instead of selling off banks, the government decided to merge them, so that in future more tax payer money will be used to bail them out as they become too big to fail. After UPA2 wasted years, guess it’s NDA’s turn to waste more years.

      • Agreed, Vish. All the points that you have raised are pertinent.

        He doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what to do. He’s flailing his arms desperately to seem to be doing something.

  10. There is no need to read too much in Haryana s verdict. Congress leadership was using Jats to de-stablise Manohar government since 2015. With Chautala , which was sent toTihar jail during congress rule a leading Jat icon of congress party used Jats for his political revival. Firstly there was mobilsation of Jats against BJP government and its Punjabi CM in the name of reservation and all accompanied by brutal violence on national highways and area adjoining area of harayana surrounding his home town. Jats think it is their divine right to rule in haryana and non Jats are to serve them. in this election it is tactical voting by jats resulted in BJP not getting majority. All other talks of economy, farmer distress, unemployment are not much relevant in Haryana. Journalists may speculate and write on these after having good Patiala peg. Happy Diwali to all .

  11. PM cannot afford to have inefficient. FM
    PIYUSHNGOEL OR SHRESH PRABHU COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER FMs. Even Arin jaitley could. not price to be a good FM. If rural development is there all round economic development with lower migration rate will be there. Industries relocate in rural areas to save cost and time. Employees e joy pollution free air, cut transportation cost a d save time in commuting. Govt.shouls take agrarian marketing. here it procures the produce and arrange down.payment of.75% of the cost. Then govt. Should supply to customers export. Our weavers’ production can be exported.

  12. There is an old Hindi proverb : KAATTH KI HAANDI CHADDHE NA DOOJI BAAR, meaning, “a wooden pot cannot be placed on fire twice”.

    It is to the credit of Mr Modi’s oratory that he has succeeded in repeatedly pulling off a deception, by making the people look away from their real concerns. Present elections in two states mark a watershed moment in the people’s awakening. From now on, in whatever elections are held, in Delhi etc, we will see a more proactive expression of people’s resentment against BJP’s fake gameplans. People’s rising impatience due to a diving economy might make things unmanageable for Mr Modi well before the five years are over. Coupled with turbulence over Kashmir, the situation may warrant an imposition of the Emergency or stoking a war with Pakistan. I am not a pessimist by nature, but I just do not see how Mr Modi can ride out the five years without snowballing a major crisis for the country.

  13. The winds would have turned sooner, if the Opposition and the media had been floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee. A phenomenal asymmetry in resources. The economic pain is now so widespread and savage, no spin can possibly work against it. The Economist does not rate the economic team very highly. The RBI is reportedly selling gold, which touches a very raw nerve with Indians. One sense desperation – not reformist impulses – in the sudden love for privatisation / disinvestment. All those trillions spent on welfare, if they were transforming the lives of the poor, why would they need pocket money of five hundred rupees per month.

  14. Govt needs to plan now how to create jobs and control affect of recession in the country .PM is quite capable of handling this . This govt is capable of handling issues and take tough decisions.

    • Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, blinkered bhakths like you still believe that the «dhokla economics» of the PM would bear fruit.

      Dream on.

  15. I think Shekhar Gupta is predicting fall of Modi-gujarati dynasty.And it must get vanished before it wreaks any havoc in politics of South Asia.


  16. Shekharji, when was it that politicians shaped the economic fortunes of this country? Except may be the Big Bang liberalisation MMS, modern India’s economic success story has always been shaped by youngsters who took IT as a serious profession, and by those highly entrepreneurial young start ups and upstarts who sweated their way out of all this mess. With a large army of youngsters full of energy and passion you don’t need the government to do much to get to a $5t economy. However, what the government could do is not to become a hurdle in the process; by having archaic regulatory systems and processes that stifle enterprise, or by having a tax system that’s not fit for purpose. The ease of doing business index is a joke; doing business in India is a pain.

    Politicians make noises; that’s what they’re trained for. Modi is no exception. The current economic downturn will pass, and Modi’s contribution will be zilch. Politicians, except for some rare visionaries, don’t have it in them to redefine a country’s economic future. They can only go thus far as to install cooking gas in village houses so they get some votes.

    Modi does have a fertile mind that generates a million ideas per second, but economy isn’t his cuppa.

  17. By definition, hyper-nationalism of BJP as alleged by Shekhar, cannot be a forever issue. It is for sometime and it has to wane when conditions return to normal. It was Pakistan who handed Modi that opportunity on platter after Phulwama and the our opposition paid the price for it!! And of course, by now, hyper-nationalism has indeed waned. Day to day economic issues will definitely dominate in State level elections under normal conditions. However, assuming BJP has done very well on economic front, it may not still translate into votes directly, as some section or the other will always remain unhappy. Let us say India was growing at 10% p.a.( something which should be acceptable to Shekhar) but this growth rate by itself may not mean much to everyone- in fact, it will result in income inequalities, inflation, conspicuous consumption etc and may turn a majority of people against the ruling party! So safer bet is always to appeal on softer issues which can easily stick and BJP is doing this better than the others. So let us not grudge this. Now if as Shekhar says, voters are demanding better macro economic management, it is good for the country and Modi will have to work hard to deliver it. Why does Shekhar think that Modi will fail on this ? In fact, he will use this opportunity to come out with big bang reforms and still keep soft issues in the focus in next election. The real learning is for the opposition parties- what do they have to offer, other than criticize Modi? They had nothing to offer in May 2019 and even now, they have nothing to offer. Modi is a smart person and he reads the tea leaves very well. Shekhar should worry about opposition, rather than trying to teach Modi a lesson or two!

    • 10% growth produces inequality, conspicuous consumption, heartburn amongst the poor. Zara China ka record dekh lijiye.

    • There is always a collateral damage resulting from free market economy and free trade. One consequence is low paying, soft-skills jobs or low-skill jobs, as experienced in call centre revolution. However, is there any other route to attempting sweeping, albeit still modest prosperity for 1.3 billion humans? In any case the government will have no control on technological and competitive forces that will bring large scale structural transformation in the way people are employed, so why hold it back? Let’s ride the surf and then manage in an emergent way. Let both legacy firms and start-ups from India and abroad be given conducive environment. Why be insecure and frightened? Remember your first car that was NOT an Ambassador or a Fiat? It was NOT very long ago. Now let the government create conditions for millennials to buy a Rs 1 lac bicycle.

      • Unfortunately India now has a government that doesn’t wish to empower. This is a government that wants to enfeeble. Rather then encourage the government keeps creating obstacles.

  18. The conclusion of elections is that BJP the winner takes it all as it is set to form the govts, and rest is meaningless. The public doesn’t think on the lines of comments of these writers (liars). If you interview a common man, he is at a loss to articulate the issues he is dissatisfied with. It is the perception about the hardwork, honesty, integrity and good intention of the govt that weighs/ counts in the minds of people.

  19. Yes, I agree that the tide is turning and it is turning sooner than expected. I shall talk only about Maharashtra , which I am familiar with. Yes, the BJP-Sena alliance has retained power but with reduced strength and the BJP looks crestfallen. This is due to the following reasons: (1) They wanted to totally decimate the opposition and conquer NCP’s forts in Western Maharshtra. This has not happened. NCP has come back with renewed vigour and strength.(2) The ruderless, leaderless, inactive and passive Congress has displayed its basic minimum strength. This came as a shocker to the BJP, which presumed that the Congress will not be able to recover from its total defeat in the Lok Sabha elections (3) The Shiv Sena even with a reduced strength has gained a decisive upper hand within the alliance. BJP has got 105 , which means that it is far away from the absolute majority requirement of 145 seats. Independents cannot help the BJP to attain majority on their own. BJP is now depending on the Sena. The balance has tilted in Sena’s favour. If Congress, NCP and Sena come together they can easily form the government, with an offer to the Sena of CM post. The Congress has now openly made the offer. Furthermore, all is not well within the alliance. The Sena chief had openly declared that it was rotting in the alliance. Day after day, it was carrying out tirade against the BJP in Samana. The Sena now has an upper hand and will stop playing second fiddle. They are bound to take revenge of five years of humiliation and neglect within the alliance. They will demand Dy CM post and important ministries like Home and Revenue. Fadnavis has been cut to size. After five years of unchallenged dominance, the BJP faces uncertainty and competition.
    Here are few snippets that are worth considering by the readers of the Print:
    (1) About 25 seats were lost by the Congress-NCP by narrow margin. The spoiler was Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi led by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of late Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. This reflects the narrow nature of BJP’s electoral victory.
    (2) Though many of us may dislike it, caste-based politics is a reality. The Jan Sangh/ BJP was constrained for many decades due its perceived tag of being a Brahmanical party. This image may not now be very relevant. But in Maharashtra there is always a mild form of an undercurrent anti-Brahminism due to the Peshwa rule. In 2014 the voters didn’t know that the party would choose a Brahmin for CM’s post In 2019 , they knew. . It is rumoured that opposition had run a hidden campaign of ‘ Peshwa vs Maratha’. How much impact it had on the election results is a moot point. But as of now, there seems be no alternative to Fadnavis, as all the Maratha caste strongmen such as Vinod Tawade, Eknath Khadase etc. stand ineffective due to factionalism within the BJP. It is said that Fadnavis himself caused this elimination to secure his place, though Party has been weakened due to this phenomenon.

  20. Again jumping the gun. It was worse in MP and Rajasthan before general election. lol… Firstly anyways with Ayodhya, NRC issues which liberals do not like to discuss but are still important from Nationhood prespective. BJP can go on for 1 more term if not 2 with these unsolved issues. Secondly in economic bad times Indian become virtous and above issues are important enough that we will eat grass kind of politics. Lastly Havard quality insight free for you ..when Indian leader crosses a poltical threshold then he can move his agenda despite economics. Examples Nehru, Indira and now Modi. Thus GDP below 6% is also good for Modi as would be more than 9%. Danger zone is between 6% to 9%. People wont risk anyone else if they are doing badly but only when they are good or fine will they take risk for better. Something similar happened with Atal.

    • Absolutely. What else will the journalists write. Time and again they are getting it totally wrong. And rapidly slipping into irrelevance.

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