Illustration by Arindam Mukherjee |
Illustration by Arindam Mukherjee |
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The Modi government has run out of intellectual capital and this explains its stall in key sectors and fading momentum.

Let’s set it up with three questions. Is the Narendra Modi government talent-averse? Second, if so, is this the most talent-averse leadership in seven decades? And third, does it really matter, for Modi, BJP, and the voter?

The answer to the first and the second is yes. The third, we can then debate once the basic postulates are established.

Shekhar Gupta, chairman and editor-in-chief of ThePrint

First, the cabinet. You can understand it being largely inexperienced. The BJP had been out of power for 10 years and most of Vajpayee’s cabinet colleagues were a bit old and consigned to the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’. The younger ones, like Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar were included. There is also Nitin Gadkari with relevant experience (infrastructure-building) as a minister in his state, Maharashtra, and hard-working Piyush Goyal who grew into a man for all seasons, holding four or five key portfolios in a mostly full-strength cabinet. Beyond these, name 10 more members of Modi’s council of 73 ministers, without calling a friend, or googling.

Here’s a cruel ploy I’ve used in my many public speaking interactions with diverse audiences, from journalism students to blue-chip CEOs, since the Modi government entered its fifth year. Can you name your country’s agriculture minister? I am yet to see a hand go up. When you say Radha Mohan Singh, the question is, but who’s he?

Good question. But does it matter who he is when farm growth under his watch has been just about half of the average under the often-maligned Sharad Pawar in the UPA? If the prime minister’s 2017 promise of doubling farmers’ income in five years was to be met, India needed something rivalling the Green Revolution. Instead, now India has seen the most bizarre rejection and suspicion of science and agricultural research.

Unless a course-correction is made now, India is headed for a crippling new wave of brain drain: In its agricultural labs. There isn’t much future “discovering” the enormous virtues of cow excreta, liquid, semi-solid and fermented, and Vedic organic agriculture.

When Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi wanted the Green Revolution, they put as agriculture minister a man as brilliant and modern as C. Subramaniam. Shastri brought in champion plant-breeder Norman Borlaug and Indira not only persisted with him until 1967 but also supported two Indian giants, M.S. Swaminathan and M.S. Randhawa. Who does this government have driving Green Revolution 2.0?

Also readIf only Modi had more Gadkaris, Goyals & Prabhus in his government

The agriculture ministry is a good metaphor for the situation in other segments. I have had similar blank responses from diverse audiences when I ask for the names of health, chemicals and fertilisers, heavy industries, science and technology, social justice, and micro, small and medium enterprises ministers. This is without doubt the most faceless and nameless cabinet in our history.

Which would have been fine if a great team was built around the prime minister, since all governance, ideas and implementation flow from his office. He surely has efficient and devoted civil servants, but from where does the ballast of creativity come? Surely the prime minister is brilliant, has travelled through every district of the country as he says, but not even the greatest leader can do all the thinking for a continent-sized country.

It cannot be a coincidence that practically all the pre-existing discussion and advisory groups around the prime minister have been wound up, or diminished. The National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) is a tiny, relatively invisible five-member shadow of its past when it was a premier strategic powerhouse producing key national policies, the draft nuclear doctrine being one of these. It had members from diverse backgrounds, including public intellectuals and strategic thinkers. Now, the members work discreetly in their own areas of interest. The larger debate and engagement, cross-fertilisation of ideas, a process that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Brajesh Mishra had founded, is over. The small, new NSAB is purely an in-house resource reporting to the National Security Advisor.

The two scientific advisory councils, to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, have worked in fits and starts. The Modi government appointed its own chief scientific advisor only as it neared its fifth year, found a top scientist, but downgraded the position further from minister of state to secretary. It had been scaled down earlier from cabinet to MoS when noted nuclear scientist R. Chidambaram had succeeded APJ Abdul Kalam. The scientific advisory council to the prime minister was earlier headed by Bharat Ratna Prof. CNR Rao. It is more or less defunct now.

The Modi government lost three of its four internationally known economists within its four years: Raghuram Rajan, Arvind Panagariya and Arvind Subramanian. The fourth, current RBI governor Urjit Patel, from all accounts, is now chafing and fighting back for professional honour and institutional autonomy, done with being compliant, if not complicit, with the monetary embarrassment of demonetisation.

Belatedly, as the economy struggled post demonetisation, this government did revive the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council with fanfare. But you know what? The prime minister doesn’t meet the council. He only meets the two heads, embedded within the government—economist Bibek Debroy and former IAS officer and expenditure secretary Ratan Watal. For the remaining four, it may be good for their CVs, but little else. Most of the reports prepared for the prime minister by Debroy and Watal, I understand, aren’t even shared with these “outsiders”. This is purely a government of insiders. Outsiders write flattering columns and give interviews. So they are useful cheerleaders.

There is impatience with scholarship. We should have known this when the prime minister made his “Hard work beats Harvard” jibe in the Uttar Pradesh campaign. Never mind that it takes enormous hard work for someone to get to Harvard in the first place and a government, if it is open-minded, can have the best from Harvard, MIT, Yale (with real degrees) and even JNU to serve it. It was no surprise recently when the government made an important change in the minimum qualification for the appointment of Chief Economic Advisor after Subramanian’s departure. The new CEA no longer need have an economics doctorate. Just evidence of “hard work” would do, I suppose.

Also read4 years of Modi rule convinced me that we need presidential system: Shashi Tharoor

Both Modi and Amit Shah believed that the earlier NDA cabinet, under Vajpayee, wasn’t quite their party’s. Now that they had the majority, they weren’t going to give any outsider any space, no matter what unique talents somebody brought.

This brings us to our third question. Does it matter to the voter? Good leaders have great minds. But great leaders also have large hearts. Indira Gandhi too ran her government from her office, but think of the talent she collected around her. Or think of Ronald Reagan, a fine communicator, charming orator and an instinctive leader, but no intellectual giant. He built a super-talented economic and strategic team and won the Cold War.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah seemed to believe that the great matter they needed, they believed, was available within. But, all capital is limited. The Modi government exhausted its intellectual capital by its third year. It does seem that Modi did feel the gap. The induction of three former civil servants, Hardeep Singh Puri, R.K. Singh and K.J. Alphons, was probably his response. But it was too little, too late.

Two recent, but relatively less-reported reform roll-backs by this government underline this: The medical education reform bill which NITI Aayog had spent four years drafting, and sale of coal mines by private companies. It was a result of poor home-work, poorer implementation, and a subsequent loss of nerve. The failed Air India sale is a good case study of a lack of conviction and drive. The offer was so idiot-proofed it became a minefield even a hashish-smoking buyer wouldn’t get into.

This sums up the Modi government’s current travails, the stall in key sectors, fading momentum, irritability—I do not believe I have seen a cabinet minister admonish and tick off journalists as this defence minister routinely does, and when they are merely asking legitimate questions. This is why a second term which looked a certainty a year ago, now seems IFFY, in all capital letters.

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55 Comments Share Your Views


  1. For a while, one thought that a long experience as a CM would help be a PM. People have forgotten that Narasimha Rao was a failed CM and also a failed Home min, but was an excellent HRD min and his rating as a PM is known across parties.

    Manmohan Singh’s technical skills and Abdul Kalam’s helped in no small measure. The National Advisory Council with Aruna Roy deserves mention.

    Mr Modi is s good man, given to emotions like the rest of us, we like the punches at naamdars. But he needs a naamdari kaamdars

    We love the hardworking mules and cattle, but few know they are neutered into submission!

  2. In name of talent this govt is bankrupt, even parthan sewak some times behave like a petty politician when he gives more importance to Kabritans and Shamshanghats than about welfare of its people. This Govt is woried more about Bangladeshis residing in India than caring about its farmers.
    BJP is very havily banking upon its imagination of Majority community dislike for religious minorities. To achieve this it is propagating every possible happenings in this regard like a union minister garlanding lynching convicts. Such is the situation that even RSS is worried now. Lets Hope better sence will prevail soon in BJP which will be good for nation.

  3. Sir,
    With humble submission, I would like to ask you a single question, if the ministers of yesterday years has been so good, how is it that we are so poor in agriculture even today?
    If they have been so good, we could easily have some very incapable persons handling the affairs today, we can easily continue with persons who are not statesmen.

  4. Mr. Gupta is writing as if India did exceedingly well under Congress. You praise Indira Gandhi. Do you know India, with a very young demography, grew just 3.5% in first 40 years of Congress. Indira ruled for 17 of them. Why? That bloody Pakistan did better than us in those years. I am sure you are fuming as you have no answer to it. Mr. Gupta for god sake, educate yourself further.

    Anyway, Mr Gupta, can you justify why Rahul Gandhi is the Congress chief. On merit or because he is the relative of ex PMs. I assume you will not dare to chose the former. But if you chose the later, you know why we should choose Modi.

    The article is politically motivated. It is ordinary and written by a sub educated mindset for sub educated people.

    Thanks Mr. Gupta for glorifying wrong people and demeaning others.

  5. Even granting that it was Dassault – without any prodding from Modi – selected Reliance, what qualification did Dassault find in Reliance to be a partner? #mayWeKnow

    Could Dassault select any Tom, Dick and Harry and the Indian Government would just sit by? #justAsking

    Make no mistake, this is the most corrupt, dangerous, incompetent, regressive, violent, immoral, anti-democratic government in 70 years of our Independence! #oustBJP

    • Dassault can partner with anyone. The point that you have missed is that the the products produced by this company may not even be part of the offset clause. The Govt will accept this only in 2020 subject to conditions being complied. I think you are not saying that Rafale should consult you before doing business with Reliance. By that logic everybody who brought reliance phone, uses reliance products for their business etc are all corrupt.

  6. In a party where most persons half educated expecting an educated as a minister is wrong. Beside this when the top person wants every one only to Obey , there is no need for a n educated and experience d persons. And because you are the head and you know everything and you have support of some dedicated beurocrat s and you get them from your own state the Need is over. Saying more will attract you never no what ? Lesser said the better.

  7. Behold the power of the paychecks coming from 10 Janpath ! It can buy obedience from Pidi newstraders and mercenaries like no other.

    Na baap na bhaiyya
    Sabse bada rupaiya.

    Hai na Gupta Ji?

  8. Mr Shekhar Gupta, why should ministership be confined to only well known people? Who knew Manoj Sinha before? How do you rate his work? What about Narendra Modi’s administrative experience before he became CM of Gujrat?

  9. As per Thomas Edison, it is 99 percent hard work and 1 percent talent, which matters. Thankfully, the govt is of hardworking people as writer himself admits it. Indian politics was revolving around one Dynasty so the sycophancy was the only talent which was needed and get noticed. Since this govt is no longer feedings these chamchas, obviously one will miss the talent components.

  10. Since you’ve answered first two questions as “Yes”, the answer to third has to be a resounding “No” and for good reason. First, the so called intellectual talent, like the much veneered author was never part of Modi’s think-tank. Two, after the star studded decade long performance of UPA, all intellectual talent in India is glued with INC hoping desperately for the crowning of its Prince Harming! Hence, the answer to the last question… regardless of what The Print might like to believe, will be given in 2019 and it will be a resounding “No”.

  11. A party mirrors its supporters. you would not see many intellectuals in its support base either. mostly conservative upper caste who dont allow women to work , rigid and short of knowledge .

  12. Bloody how suddenly u worked up? How much u got the payment ? Comparing to u a prostitute is better she will be honest with she heart.
    If I could have shown efficiency in writing on scams that take place in UPA could have appreciated .

  13. The last video you were white washing the Rafael deal calling it stupidity, with the recent revelation by ex. french president Hollande, i’m expecting a follow up video on the issue and what’s your current stance on the Rafael deal.

  14. Shekarji you have hit the nail right and hard. Hope more of your tribe pen their views of the 4.5 yrs rule of the NDA (Modi Govt) and spell out fearlessly and frankly to reinstate the faith in Indian Democracy.

  15. This is one of the most biased article I have come across and it begins right from the beginning. The writer raises three questions and sums up the first two to the detriment of Modi government without even a discussion, as if it is gospel’s truth.
    In fact going by my experience of The Print and The Hindu my comment may never appear as the biased moderation will come into effect.

  16. Sir,
    Do we have any other choice ? Even if there are choices, the question remains, which is better ? Everyone who are reading your essay knows this answer ! Few things you should appreciate that not subsidising the oil price in an election year may be politically incorrect but economically correct. And it needs courage to continue this politically suicidal condition.
    The second correct decision is implementation of GST. Irrespective of all these ” tamasaha”, the Tax to GDP ratio is increased from 10 percentage to 11.5 percentage. ( this 10 percentage was stagnant for many years ) True that small scale industry is not in good health but the reason can’t be GST alone ! Most of the banks are not giving them any loan. Mostly they are getting loans from small savings banks at exorbitant rate. So there is hardly any liquid cash for operational purpose.
    This is also due to Modi government’s initiative to clear bank’s NPA. Yes it’s true that there are few scandals but most of those were started long before this government come into power.
    Now let us see what Mr Gandhi is going to do !
    1) He has announced that he will withdraw GST !
    2) Special status for AP , Bihar etc etc . ( God only knows what it actually means ! )
    3) Subsidy for this subsidy for that !
    But he does not know from where the money will come from ! No answer.
    So much so for congress parties intellectual capabilities.
    Best regards,

    • As usual the Congress ploy of subsidising a subsidy. The main portion goes to its own coffers and the rest goes to friends for keeping the Page3 party grow strong. Rest of the country rejoices in trickle down effect.

  17. For me, the key moment came when Yogi was anointed to run such a key state. What were his ‘governance’ credentials? How has the state done thereafter? That decision made it clear that playing to the base was more important than solid governance. Similarly, letting Defence be run as an additional charge for months altogether and having an acting Finance Minister also made it plain that there is a perceived shortage of talent.

  18. Shekhar Gupta said that PM Modi is brilliant. Brilliance is based on what one speaks or does. Modi is a consummate liar whose words carry no weight. He has only succeeded in dividing the country through malicious comments like khabrasthan etc. The less said about his disastrous policies the better. Demonitization & GST will go down as the greatest policy failures of an Indian Govt ever. His reforms are half hearted, lack strategic vision & smack of impulsiveness with no detailing whatsoever. Pray Shekhar what made you even think that a duffer like Modi can be referred to as intelligent from any angle.

  19. Too much of talents in cabinet could sprout heaps of scams in future. Public interest cabinet can make the day and build future of India.

  20. Sir BJP will win 2019 and you will continue to use your English writing skills to put ointment on your perpetual burn… go and f££ck yourself…

  21. They have also broken the world record for corruption, nepotism and poisoning the minds of the gullible majority of citizens of a large country.

  22. Because Modi Ji was in hurry to show results while other great experts might be giving only long-term solutions. So he is a pragmatist and more interested in executing many easy to implement policies. So he does not have many great intellectuals. However, his policies are being appreciated by many noted economists, agriculture experts and other technical experts. Except the demonitization, where there is a mixed opinion on its impact, most of the policies being implemented are what most of the experts were asking for. May be, many experts do not like him personally and many senior BJP persons were also not going to work under him. He did not include them in the cabinet. After all, he does not need strong dissenters to do things which he wanted to do.

  23. Points well taken. However, Shekhar Gupta may also please enlighten the readers as to actually was the real PM of India in 10 years of UPA rule? Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi and Co? A person who did not have the capacity to contest and win an MP’s election on his own remained the PM of the country for 10 long years ? And at whose beck and call? Was he not a proxy Prime Minister who gulped down the ignomy of his own Govt’s ordinance being publicly torn and thrown away by some one who was not even heading the UPA? Does it not signify lack of talent in the Congress that they had to pick up a pliant, meek or submissive person who could not speak a paragraph extempore? Means, Congress didn’t have a better candidate than him or did it deliberately choose a weakling as PM who commanded no support base in the party ? And mind it, we are talking of a party who ruled the country for almost 65 years against less than 10 years of BJP. Who would have got more talent nurtured Congress or the BJP? It’s simply laughable. May be if BJP too would have been in power for equal duration, a comparison might have been rational. Last but not the least, Sir, even after ruling the country for decades, Congress can only think of Rahul Baba! It’s an ironic situation. And no less sad when senior journalists write such pieces.

  24. Nameless, really!! Probably looking for a Gandhi or a Nehru.

    As for me, “No Thanks”. Already suffering from a severe case of dynastomania.

  25. Modi and BJP are against intellectuals, they themselves consider intellectual and wise enough to ignore every other view and fact, as seen during his 12 years rule in Gujrat. They want to send the country in the era of Chakravarti king Adhika.

  26. The only objective point that the author has made is about “There isn’t much future “discovering” the enormous virtues of cow excreta, liquid, semi-solid and fermented, and Vedic organic agriculture.”. The quest for organic food in the market and the premium they command clearly shows that the author is caught on the wrong foot. The future is not a green revolution powered by Urea, Phospates and pesticides. IMHO, the future of agriculture is the one powered by organic manure and orgainc methods of cultivation. The author should contact the octagenarian farmer, Mr. Raju Titus for some more understanding on this area.

  27. I think Shekhar Gupta Editor -in Chief of The Print is the Hardcore Supporter of corrupt Congress Party and Rahul Gandhi. I have read your many articles in the past and you have always been biased towards corrupt govt like Congress Party. You never supported good works done by present govt.

  28. Whether there should be Michelin starred chefs in the country’s premier kitchen, or khansamas, who chuck in salt and pepper by instinct, is a matter of judgment. Lekin cheese omelette fluffy banna chahiye; woh nahin ho raha.

  29. For the last several months I have been worrying about the state of affairs in this country and what future this country holds for aspiring youngsters who are in schools and colleges. I am afraid that their future is dark and so is the country’s under the able leader ship of the present dispensation. All top officials and politucians from all over India dispatch their children at school stage itself to foreign countries to ensure a very comfortable future. They are insulated from the merit and quota systems created by the power hungry politicians of this country. When once the they retire, they can cool their heels in the cool comfort of the foreign shores where the ill-gotten wealth has been stashed . It is the the common man who is crushed in the fight between the corrupt politicians whose only aim is to reach the seat if power. In the process they forget the issues and sufferings of common man. Every section of print and electronic media is shy of taking up the issues effecting the public at large in daily life. At least , this sort of novel media is able to show courage and high light the burning issues. Hope the country will be benefited in the long run with the active support of like minded public.

  30. Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist,Barnala (Punjab )

    Shekhar Sahib,
    You have failed to do justice with the National Interests by penning down this piece now !
    I think it is “late” if not ” too late” !

    Infact, this analytical study should have been brought in public domain from time to time following ministry formation to begin
    with, then with subsequent expansion or reshuffles of the Union Cabinet !

    Objectively speaking, the farsightedness and vision of the SUPREMO became crystal clear with the formation of the Union Cabinet after the mandate of 282 seats in the house of people in favour of BJP offered by the electorate for a change for the better.

    How the shape of things will take place in the times to come became quite obvious when Mr.Arun Jaitley who was discarded by the masses in the Amritsar Lok Sabha Constituency in Punjab was decorated with two very significant portfolios of Finance and Defence!

    Then it was also a bolt from the blue finding Mrs.Smriti Irani bestowed upon with the vital portfolio of Human Resources Development !

    The foreign policy of the nation has now been in doldrums facing the music as the Ministry of External Affairs was passed on to
    Mrs. Sushma Swaraj in the same fashion as Rafale Fighter Aircraft Deal was offered to Reliance Of Anil Ambani with Zero
    Experience in the manufacturing of aircraft snatching it at the last moment from the HAL with vast experience of seventy
    years !

    Very ironical state of affairs indeed ! Where the nation stands at present ? It is now the tale of bitter, dark and gloomy stark
    realities – an open secret that too in broad day light ?

    Undoubtedly, a golden opportunity to change the destiny of the nation has been frittered away and sacrificed at the altar of
    whimsical, impulsive, complacent, hollow populist and magalomaniac tendencies !

    Prof PK Sharma, Freelance Journalist
    Pom Anm Nest, Barnala(Punjab)

  31. It’s not only group of intellect capital that writer is referring but Country is full of them.It’s well recognised across the globe.Mr.Gupta come out of this syndrome&would find around you.You may not agree Rahul Gandhi is one of the least knowledgable president so far Cong had.As&when he would be in power,could be easily understood the admin country would have

  32. In my younger days I have had many bosses and many colleagues. I used to observe them — how some of my friends in an office would become close to the boss, how he would treat them as his confidants, how some beneficial situations would arise in the office which would not include all the boss’s favourites all the time, but would certainly NEVER include me. Etc.

    Then over time I realized that there is species called a NEGATIVE BOSS. These people suffer from an inferiority complex, to the extent they always feel insecure. Whatever may be the reasons for such a complex, but such a boss feels comfortable in the company of “less competent” juniors; he even selects such persons if he is interviewing a group for a job. He forgets that his juniors are not his competitors. Such subordinates become his eyes and ears in the office because he always feels insecure, and his ego-massagers in whatever way possible. The boss feels happy with them, and makes them happy by extending step-motherly treatment to their more competent colleagues. This is how niches are formed in offices. Groupings, office politics, etc.

    Our prime minister Mr Modi appears to be just one such “negative” boss. I had a good laugh when I read the name of Prof. C.N.R. Rao in this article. He was our teacher at one point, and I remember his energetic way of striding in front of a giant blackboard, his expansive way of explaining a point, and his joviality! If CNRR were to be in full flow in a meeting our dear PM would be taken aback; he would perhaps immediately start planning a foreign trip to get away from it all! (Even for other reasons that is precisely what he has been doing for four odd years.)

    • At least he has a team of experienced persons, who he can rely on & they wud not be forced into “margdarshak” mandal, when their experienced is most needed

  33. I agree and also disagree. Yes talent is required. Agreed present government is struggling to find talented ministers. At the same time it is also true no other party has quality leadership.
    This is the best leadership we have at present.

    • Here is the exact part of the article “When Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi wanted the Green Revolution, they put as agriculture minister a man as brilliant and modern as C. Subramaniam.”

  34. Goa faces a similar crisis. Govt run from hospital bed and ruling party lacks a credible leader to take over. Nobody else was allowed to grow.

  35. Me Shekhar Gupta every coin has two sides if you criticize BJP then please prove that Congress party was the better one.I request you to write an article on the glorious years India had under the Congress rule. Also its current president Mr Rahul Gandhi has not even handled a single ministry in the past. If you are a true journalist you will accept my humble request..

  36. Modi govt is one of the most useless govt in independent india. Prof charan singh of IIBM should have been made Finance minister of lndia. It is a cruel joke that Manoj sinha is occupying Telecom which was once occupied by Sam pitroda. Modis cabinet is a pack of jokers

  37. You have hit the nail on the head. I came to know through ur post that we have 70+ Ministers and barring a few we can not even recall the names of many of the Minister’s name. Modi has chosen the mediocre and even a few talented person like Sushma has reduced to the level of a visa officer which is unfortunate. Still wondering how Smriti Irani got into the cabinet and got most important HRD in the fist instance. Most important Defence Ministry saw four Ministers in four years and the present incumbent’s time and energy is spent on defending Rafalle’s purchase and inventing new stories and theories every day. He has more NPAs than banks now.

    • It is a team work and not always one needs to know all the names. Do you remember all the names under APJ who successfully completed our nuclear programmer??

  38. Not that we had great intellect in UPA, it was more about gibberish talk. Few good ones were corrupt. Agreed Modi is short on politically uncommitted talent but this has more to do with politically aligned intellectual not able to work with BJP team. No matter , the fact that this government has been corruption free and done well, albeit not outstanding, will see them back in 2019

      • If you have anything beyond gutter level muck racking conspiracies like “evidence” for example – please go to the Supreme Court and put Modi in Jail. All the nationalist “Bhakts” will applaud you people for that . But since you SCAMgress people WONT then I proffer the adage “Put up or shut up” .

    • For a while, one thought that a long experience as a CM would help be a PM. People have forgotten that Narasimha Rao was a failed CM and also a failed Home min, but was an excellent HRD min and his rating as a PM is known across parties.

      Manmohan Singh’s technical skills and Abdul Kalam’s helped in no small measure. The National Advisory Council with Aruna Roy deserves mention.

      Mr Modi is s good man, given to emotions like the rest of us, we like the punches at naamdars. But he needs a naamdari kaamdars

      We love the hardworking mules and cattle, but few know they are neutered into submission!


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