IAMC Weekly News Roundup - October 22nd, 2012 - IAMC
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IAMC Weekly News Roundup – October 22nd, 2012

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

Communal Harmony

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Communal Harmony

Hindu-Muslim leaders resolve to bury differences (Oct 16, 2012, The Hindu)

A clash that erupted during the Vinayaka idol procession after some miscreants allegedly hurled footwear on September 27 and subsequent incidents, now can be dismissed as a bad dream. The small village now has become a role model for communal harmony. The leaders of Sunnath Jamaath in Berigai and leaders from the Hindus, who took part in the meeting, called to remove ill-feeling between the two groups.

The Muslims were led by M. Mohamed Ayub, secretary of Sunnath Jamaath in Berigai and the Hindu group was led by E.V. Nanjappa Gowdu, district vice-president, Congress, and Chinnabbaiah, Berigai village panchayat president.

Mr. Chinnabbaiah told The Hindu on Monday that a resolution in connection with the peace meeting would be adopted at the panchayat meeting soon and would be sent to the government through the district administration and the police. Mr. Ayub and Mr. Gowdu said that the village had never witnessed hatred between the communities for the past two centuries.

Though the Sunnath Jamaath decided to ostracize four Muslim youth for three years from the village, the leaders of the Hindu community opposed the move. Following this, the youth were pardoned by the Jamaath leaders.

B. Basha, joint secretary, Sunnath Jamaath, denied the allegation that footwear was thrown in the incident. Meanwhile, over 1,000 villagers took a pledge to maintain communal harmony. The Hosur Sub-Collector has convened a peace meeting on October 18.


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No change in our stand on Modi’s Gujarat, says Germany (Oct 17, 2012, The Hindu)

Making it clear that Berlin’s stand remains unchanged, Germany’s Ambassador to India Micheal Steiner has said the country will not follow Britain in re-engaging with Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s Gujarat or his administration when the State is in the midst of Assembly polls. (Last week Britain, in a departure from its earlier stand, announced normalisation of ties with Gujarat. It was among the many governments, including the U.S., which boycotted the Gujarat government in the wake of the 2001 communal riots.)

“Our stand remains unchanged. There is a domestic election that will start in Gujarat next month and we don’t want to make any kind of statement on it. Britain had informed us before making their announcement. However, our stand is not affected by the U.K.’s decision,” Mr. Steiner said, on the sidelines of a reception-cum-cultural evening, held in honour of a visiting German business delegation, at the Ambassador’s residence here on Monday.

Talking about the latest round of reforms unleashed by the Manmohan Singh government, Mr. Steiner said these initiatives changed the investment climate. “The negativity surrounding the investment climate in India has faded as decision-making has once again begun to move in the right direction.”

The decisions allowing foreign direct investment in retail and opening up the aviation sector helped India improve its image and atmosphere of investments, he said. “I am confident about India-Germany bilateral trade taking an upswing and reaching the 20-billion euro mark by the end of this fiscal. The high level 35-member business delegation led by First Mayor of Hamburg Olaf Scholz is in India to discuss opportunities in renewable energy, port development and environmental technologies. We hope that it would provide a big boost to the business sentiment between the two nations.”



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Nanavati dodging documents, alleges Sanjiv Bhatt (Oct 21, 2012, The Hindu)

Gujarat cadre IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt has complained that the G.T. Nanavati- Akshay Mehta judicial inquiry commission, probing the 2002 train carnage and post-Godhra communal riots, is creating “impediments” in his bid to inspect some official documents. (Mr. Bhatt had alleged complicity on the part of Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the State-wide riots.) Mr. Bhatt, who has been given time till October 27 by the Gujarat High Court to complete inspection of all 47 documents he listed in his earlier affidavit and to file his final affidavit within a month, has returned disappointed as the commission had not yet “indexed” the documents and submitted them for his perusal.

Moreover, Justice Nanavati informed Mr. Bhatt that he would be allowed to inspect only those documents which had not been marked by the commission “confidential or secret.” “No body can claim, as a matter of right, either under the Commissions of Inquiry Act or the rules framed thereunder, inspection of the documents which have come on record of the commission. Inspection of records of the commission is a matter of procedure and therefore, a matter of discretion of the commission,” he said in a note handed over to the IPS officer through the commission secretary.

The note said the High Court had it left to the commission’s judgement to decide the “relevancy or otherwise” of the documents listed by Mr. Bhatt. He, however, contested this claim and alleged that the commission had “deliberately chosen to misinterpret” the court order. In a letter to the commission on Saturday, Mr. Bhatt quoted the relevant paragraphs of the judgment to point out that the Division Bench headed by Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, in its order earlier this week, had given a clear instruction that the commission produce all documents he had listed.

The order also pointed out that the Gujarat government had denied that any of the official documents listed by him, including the most crucial records of the State Intelligence Bureau then, had been “destroyed” and that these had already been placed before the commission or would be submitted within a week. Mr. Bhatt said: “It is very apparent from the wording of the note that you have singly chosen to deliberately misinterpret the judgment and order of the High Court.”

He requested the commission to “comply” with its directions and remove “all impediments being created by the state with tacit blessings of the commission” and facilitate his timely filling of the affidavit. Mr. Bhatt approached the High Court after the commission had turned down his request to issue a direction to the government to produce the documents which, the IPS officer had claimed, would enable him to authenticate his final affidavit before the commission.



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Sohrabuddin case: Guj HC sends case documents to Bombay HC (Oct 16, 2012, Business Standard)

The process of transferring the Sohrabuddin Shaikh fake encounter case to the city has started with the Gujarat High Court today dispatching records pertaining to the case to the Bombay High Court. “The papers of the case have been dispatched and would reach Mumbai by Wednesday,” special CBI prosecutor Ejaz Khan said. On September 27, the Supreme Court ordered the transfer of the case to Maharashtra from Gujarat on CBI’s application that witnesses were being intimidated and the trial could not be held in a free and fair manner in Gujarat.

The CBI has alleged that former Gujarat minister Amit Shah was the kingpin of the conspiracy in the case. The agency had also prayed for the transfer of Sohrabuddin’s close aide Tulsi Prajapati fake encounter case saying both the cases are closely connected and their trials should be held together. While the Gujarat High Court has already dispatched the records of the Sohrabuddin case, the charge sheet filed against the police officers in the Prajapati case is pending before the special court in Gujarat for taking cognisance.

“Soon the CBI will also seek to transfer the Prajapati case to Mumbai for trial along with the Sohrabuddin case since both the cases are interlinked,” Khan said. Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi were allegedly abducted by Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorism Squad from Hyderabad and killed in a fake encounter near Gandhinagar in November 2005 in an operation involving the police forces of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. Prajapati, the key witness to the encounter, was also allegedly killed by police at Chapri village in December 2006.



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After 7 months in Tihar, Kazmi gets relief from SC (Oct 20, 2012, Indian Express)

The Supreme Court on Friday granted bail to Syed Mohammad Ahmed Kazmi, who has been in custody since March 6 for allegedly aiding the February 13 attack on an Israeli diplomat on Aurangzeb Road in the capital. The court said Kazmi, who claims to have been writing for an Iranian publication, has acquired his statutory right to bail on July 17. Allowing his appeal, a bench led by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, set aside a magisterial court’s order of July 20, extending the time of investigation and custody of Kazmi by another 90 days with retrospective effect from June 2.

Kazmi had challenged the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s (CMM) order. He said he had moved for bail on July 17 when Additional Sessions Judge S S Rathi had quashed the magistrate’s order extending his detention and the probe period from 90 to 180 days. Rathi had said the order was passed “in a most reticent and clandestine manner” since Kazmi was not heard. The CMM did not hear his application on July 17. A day later, the prosecution filed another application for extension of his remand. The CMM issued a formal notice to Kazmi this time. On July 20, the CMM again allowed the extension of time from 90 and 180 days with retrospective effect from June 2.

Kazmi challenged this order at the sessions court and in the Delhi High Court. But his pleas were rejected. Challenging these orders, Kazmi’s counsel Mehmood Pracha told the apex court that the CMM could not have extended his custody once the 90-day period was over on July 17 and he acquired the legal right to be released on statutory bail. Additional Solicitor General (ASG) H P Raval countered his arguments, stating that once the period for completing investigation was extended, Kazmi’s bail plea was rendered null and void. Hence, his appeal was to be dismissed.

The Supreme Court refused to accept the ASG’s contentions. It said Kazmi “acquired the right for grant of statutory bail” on July 17 when his custody was held to be illegal by the ASJ. The court said Kazmi’s bail application was pending at the CMM’s court when the prosecution sought an extension of time for continuing the investigation. “Not only is the retrospective nature of the CMM’s order untenable, it could also not defeat the statutory right which had accrued to the appellant on the expiry of 90 days from the date when he was taken into custody,” the court said. Such a right could have been closed only if Kazmi had not moved for bail before filing of the chargesheet, it said.

“We are unable to appreciate the procedure adopted by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, which has been endorsed by the High Court and we are of the view that the appellant acquired the right for grant of statutory bail on 17th July, 2012…the right of the appellant to grant of statutory bail remained unaffected by the subsequent application and both the CMM and the HC erred in holding otherwise,” the apex court bench said. Kazmi was told to surrender his passport as the court restrained him form leaving the city without its permission.



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JM Road blasts: Delhi Police clean chit to Patil (Oct 17, 2012, Indian Express)




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Police arrested Irfan from Thane, told me to keep quiet: father (Oct 19, 2012, The Hindu)

Mustafa Landge is a man with no answers. The questions, though, haven’t stopped since the day the Special Cell of the Delhi Police picked up his son Irfan in connection with the Pune blasts of August 1. While the Special Cell announced on October 17 that they had arrested Irfan from Jaipur on October 10, Mr. Landge has alleged that he was picked up from Thane on October 5. The police have claimed that Irfan (30) along with three others arrested previously, is a part of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) module and conspired along with IM head Yasin Bhatkal to plan the Pune blasts.

“On October 5, Irfan was with his brother-in-law Mazhar Inamdar in Thane when an officer, who identified himself as Inspector Hriday Bhushan of the Special Cell of Delhi Police, took him away in a police van. He told Mazhar to wait for further instructions, and specifically warned him not to tell the media,” Mr. Landge, the 60-year-old retired BSNL official, stated. “This is just the beginning of a very long struggle,” he told The Hindu on Friday afternoon. Mr. Landge said that on October 8, he was told to come to the Juhu Beach along with Irfan’s father-in-law and two more persons of the family. “We met Inspector Hriday Bhushan who verified our identity and then took us to a hotel called Navotel in Juhu. There were three more police officers present there: ACP Manish Chandra, ACP Sanjeev Yadav and ACP Lalit Mohan Negi. They told me that my son was in their custody and if I didn’t co-operate they could deport him to Nepal or Pakistan, or even kill him in an encounter.”

It was at this meeting that Mr. Landge learnt that Asad Khan, his daughter Gauhar’s husband, was also in the custody of the Delhi Police. “They told me not to mention any of this to anybody else. They told me ‘Your co-operation will be good for you and your family’,” he said. The exact definition of the ‘co-operation’ though, was not conveyed to Mr. Landge. “Maybe they just wanted me to keep shut about the arrests,” he said. Mr. Landge stated that Asad and Irfan worked together, often arranging pilgrimage trips to Mecca for people in Maharashtra. Two days later, on October 10, the date of Irfan’s arrest according to the police, Mr. Landge was asked by Inspector Bhushan to come to Delhi immediately. “I was at the Pune airport to catch a flight. But then, I spoke to some lawyers who persuaded me not to go. I wanted to fight this battle legally. I received a call from the police again, saying that they knew I had changed my mind,” he said.

The very next day, the Special Cell announced that they had cracked the case and arrested three persons allegedly responsible for the Pune blasts. One of them was Asad Khan, his son-in-law. The second person, Feroz Syed, was also known to Asad and Irfan, through their business, he said. “I don’t know who Imran Khan of Nanded is,” he said. “It was then that I got really scared about Irfan and decided to go public,” he said. “I got a call from Inspector Bhushan again saying I had gone against his instructions. But I told him that I wanted to follow the legal route hereafter.” The news of Irfan’s arrest came on October 17 – the same day Irfan spoke to him. “He told me that I should have gone to the media. But I felt it was the police making him say that,” he said.

“I feel entangled. I cannot do anything. I fear, both for my daughter Gauhar and my daughter-in-law,” Mr. Landge said. He stated that Irfan had grown up in a religious atmosphere and would not do anything to harm anybody. “I give talks about the Quran and its teachings in front of huge public gatherings all around Maharashtra that comprise mostly of Hindus. My motive is to tell people that Islam does not teach violence,” he stated. “All I can do now is raise my voice. I hope my questions and prayers get answered,” he said. Inspector Bhushan did not respond to calls and text messages from The Hindu. Special Commissioner of the Delhi Police (Special Cell) S.N. Srivastava said, “The story has been cooked up to create doubt in the minds of people. The Delhi Police team had been raiding various hideouts and was able to arrest Irfan in Jaipur.”



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Saudi sends Fasih Mahmood back to India (Oct 22, 2012, Hindustan Times)

Suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Fasih Mohammed was arrested at Delhi’s international airport on Monday morning within minutes of his landing in the country after being deported by Saudi Arabia.

Fasih is the third suspected terrorist to be deported by Saudi Arabia over the past few months, beginning with 26/11 Mumbai attacks handler Abu Jundal in June. On October 8, Riyadh sent back A Rayees – an associate of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) suspect Thadiyantavide Nazir – who was wanted in Kerala’s 2009 arms haul case.

“It is a very important catch,” home secretary RK Singh said. Fasih, who was working as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, has been accused of being involved in the Chinnaswamy Stadium blast in Bangalore and the shooting outside Delhi’s Jama Masjid in 2010. His name had cropped up during the interrogation of IM operatives arrested from Bihar’s Darbhanga in November last year.



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‘Faulty norms make schemes inaccessible to minorities’ (Oct 17, 2012, Times of India)

Demanding a change in the criterion for identifying districts with minority population, former parliamentarian Aziz Pasha on Tuesday said that the Centre has to designate districts with 15 per cent minority population as Minority Concentration Districts (MCD) as against present criterion of 25 per cent to bring Muslim concentrated districts of Andhra Pradesh under the ambit of Multi-Sectoral Development Programme (MSDP).

Currently there are no districts in the state designated as MCD. Pasha was speaking at a conference organized to announce countrywide all-party conventions to highlight socio-economic and educational backwardness among the Muslims. The conventions will be held from November 15 to December 15. Under MSDP, various schemes like construction of Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) houses, anganwadi centers, industrial training institutes (ITIs), polytechnic institutes in addition to a host of other infrastructure development schemes have been envisaged to improve the living conditions of minorities.

Quoting Planning Commission figures, the CPI member said, “The government spent Rs 194 crore out of the earmarked Rs 3,780 crore for development of infrastructure in MCDs amounting to only five per cent of the outlay. As a result only three polytechnic colleges as against 23 sanctioned, and only three ITIs constructed when 28 were sanctioned. And only 56 per cent of houses sanctioned for minorities were constructed during the last five years. Most of the spending has taken place in areas where the concentration of Muslims is less.”



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Kandhamal riots case: 13 sentenced to six-year RI (Oct 22, 2012, The Hindu)

A fast track court in Odisha has sentenced 13 persons to six-year rigorous imprisonment for their involvement in the 2008 Kandhamal riots.

Additional Sessions Judge (fast track court-1) Sobhan Kumar Das acquitted six others for lack of evidence on Saturday. The judge fined the convicts Rs. 5,000 each or ordered them to undergo six more months of rigorous imprisonment in default of payment.

The prosecution argued that the convicts had torched houses of those belonging to the minority communities at Salagduda during the riots on September 9, 2008. The violence was a sequel to the killing of senior VHP leader Laxmananda Saraswati at his Jalaspeta ashram in the district.



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Kejriwal’s political strategy comes to fore (Oct 20, 2012, Rediff)

Through his exposes, be it on Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, Law Minister Salman Khurshid or Bharatiya Janata Party chief Nitin Gadkari, Arvind Kejriwal is slowly delineating his political strategy.

Through his much-hyped press conference on Gadkari, which disclosed what had already been mostly revealed by India Against Corruption activist Anjali Damania, Kejriwal wanted to come across as being even-handed, demonstrating that he could take on a BJP leader just as he had targetted Congress leaders, who have described him as the ‘B’ team of the BJP.

He even went to the extent of tarring many other politicians – he mentioned many by name, such as Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Khurshid, Gadkari, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, and those in the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam, All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam, saying they were all of a kind – with the same brush, to show he was not against any party. Kejriwal has already indicated that Delhi, where he has the highest visibility, will be his karmabhoomi in the state elections due in 2013.

He tried to throw his net wider than the middle class professionals who have been coming to Ramlila grounds and to Jantar Mantar, when he went to an unauthorised colony in Delhi and burnt electricity bills or went to the home of a daily wage-earner to climb a 16-foot ladder – a visual that was tailormade for TV cameras and would stick in people’s minds – to reconnect the electricity which had been severed because of the non-payment of a supposedly inflated bill.



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Opinions and Editorials

Grass In The Wind – By K.C. Singh (Oct 29, 2012, Outlook)

The detente between the British high commission and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has raised speculation on whether the US—which has denied him a visa since 2005 for alleged human rights violations—is also on the verge of relenting. While a debate on the validity of such action against a democratically elected leader in a pluralistic nation is perhaps anachronistic, this sudden switch is well worth examining. Strictly speaking, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office can argue that Modi has had a judicial reprieve and that a direct complicity is yet to be established. His lack of contrition, though troublesome, is outweighed by his rising profile as a possible BJP prime ministerial candidate. Discretion is, after all, the better part of valour. The significance of this action, however, goes beyond the political fortunes of one player in a scenario complicated by the rising political vulnerability of the UPA government (corruption charges spreading to the very family of Sonia Gandhi) and the concomitant flexing of muscles by regional political satraps, who can themselves stake a claim for the PM’s seat.

It’s no wonder then that India’s friends abroad have begun spreading their bets. This hedging is not new or specific to India. Our diplomats do the same in their countries of accreditation. As ambassador to Iran in 2005, just before the presidential elections, I recall the six names in play I had never met. Ahmadinejad, then Teheran mayor, was not a favourite. Even so, I sought an appointment and was received by him. After he surprised everyone by his showing in the first round, he was no longer receiving ambassadors. In India, this has been a development more noticeable after the decline of the Congress and the emergence of regional leaders. One US ambassador used to recount how impressed he was with that then Bihar CM Laloo Yadav milked his cows (in the diplomat’s presence) before commencing on the day’s work. The attention of foreign visitors naturally shifts in response to the impending evolution in domestic politics. Sometimes it may herald a false start as was the case when Rahul Gandhi took the charismatic British foreign secretary David Miliband to his constituency Amethi in 2009 (before the Lok Sabha elections). Both then seemed headed for the top position in their respective countries.

Thus it was not surprising that US secretary of state Hillary Clinton visited Chennai in 2011 to pay obeisance to J. Jayalalitha, and encourage the two major US companies in the state: Ford and Caterpillar. Compare this to US ambassador John K. Galbraith in Madras in 1961 to oversee a “poor feeding programme”. That India has changed was confirmed again by Hillary’s detour to Calcutta on May 7 this year to make the acquaintance of the mercurial Mamata Banerjee, besides marketing FDI in retail. Former US ambassador T. Roemer wooed Nitish Kumar as has Wendy R. Sherman, US under secretary for political affairs (equivalent to India’s foreign secretary), who visited Bihar last April to assess the CM’s views on economic issues.

Meanwhile, there is also a corresponding urgency among some regional leaders, a feeling that they need to burnish their credentials on foreign policy and national security issues. For Modi, the need now is for the visa issue to dissipate so that detractors within the BJP do not use it to thwart a possible nomination for the top post. Nitish is headed to Pakistan on November 9-16 on an invitation from the CM of Pakistani Punjab. Perhaps Nepal or Bangladesh, much closer neighbours, would have been a better bet. And even though Imran Khan claims to be a fan, wanting to repeat his formula of good governance and development, surely he doesn’t need to go to Pakistan to give a tutorial. He perhaps is looking at killing three birds with one stone: please his Muslim votebase, indicate a growing convergence with the Congress and score a halo of statesmanship. CM Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh is headed to Melbourne to speak at a seminar with the rubric ‘Argumentative Indian’. His interest is understandable as he studied in Australia. Arun Jaitley and L.K. Advani were in New York, the former to speak at Columbia University and the latter at the UNGA, a task normally left to unknown MPs.

The two aspirants to the post of US president, Obama and Romney, will debate foreign policy on October 23 in their third and final debate. In India, the leaders of regional and national parties largely avoid taking specific positions on national security and foreign policy matters. On a TV programme I was on, the discussion had turned to whether or not aspirants to the PM’s position here should be made to debate domestic and international issues like in the US. They are now getting away with tourism masquerading as international experience, a visa as proof of international acceptability and a written speech as evidence of statesmanship.



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Communal violence Bill in cold storage – By Syed Amin Jafri (Oct 22, 2012, Times of India)

It is almost seven years that the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2005. The latest avatar of the ill-fated legislation – Prevention of Communal & Targeted Violence (Access to Justice & Reparations) Bill 2011, drafted by a working group of National Advisory Council (NAC)-is hanging fire. Nobody knows when this legislation will see the light of the day, even as communal violence occurs with regularity in some part of the country or other. The latest status note on “follow up on Sachar Committee report” merely mentions that the NAC sent the Bill to the home ministry on 25 July, 2011 and the draft bill is still under examination of the ministry. But the fact is that this Bill has virtually been put into cold storage. The UPA neither has the will nor the inclination to push it through in Parliament. The reason for this is not far to seek.

The UPA is afraid of the BJP-led NDA and some other parties which are opposed to this Bill. When this Bill came up before National Integration Council at its meeting on 10 Sept, 2011, the NDA, more precisely BJP and Akali Dal, as well as other parties such as BSP, Biju Janata Dal and AIADMK, had opposed it tooth and nail. The NIC dropped this issue in the face of stiff opposition from the Sangh parivar and their potential allies. The earlier draft of the Communal Violence Bill, introduced by the then Union home minister Shivraj Patil in November 2005, had similarly raised the hackles of BJP and other NDA constituents, as well as some parties which had, in the past, supported the NDA. Thereafter, in 2011, a working group of the NAC rehashed the Bill by fine-tuning its provisions.

Explaining the rationale and purpose of the draft legislation, the NAC points out “Evidence from state records and several of commissions of enquiry has confirmed institutional bias and prejudicial functioning of the state administration, law enforcement and criminal justice machinery when a non-dominant group in the unit of a state, based either on language or religion, or a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, is attacked because of their identity in the unit of that state. This prevents such non-dominant groups from getting full and fair protection of the laws of the land or equal access to justice.”

The key provisions of the Bill include wider definition of communal and targeted violence, action against public servants for dereliction of duty, culpability for breach of command responsibility, sanction for prosecution of public servants, monitoring and accountability, offences of communal and targeted violence, victims’ rights, relief and reparation for all affected persons and a national standard for payment of compensation to the victims. The Bill also seeks to put in place mechanisms that can make the administrative and criminal justice system work as it should, free from favour or bias or malafide intent. Monitoring and grievance redressal will be the responsibility of the National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation (NACHJR) and corresponding State Authorities for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparations (SACHJR).

Their mandate is to ensure that public functionaries act to prevent and control communal and targeted violence and also that public servants ensure victims have access to justice and reparation when violence occurs. Unless the UPA government builds so-called “consensus” by dropping the provisions unpalatable to BJP/Sangh parivar, there is little likelihood of the Communal and Targeted Violence Bill being enacted by Parliament. So, till the 2014 general elections, the Congress seems poised to dilly-dally on this Bill.



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Aam Army – By Saba Naqvi, Anuradha Raman, Prarthna Gahilote (Oct 29, 2012, Outlook)

At a time when the common citizen is so burdened by the all-pervasive corruption, there is something satisfying in seeing the high and mighty exposed. Arvind Kejriwal has given us some pretty thrilling moments in that regard and his targets have been impressive. A member of the first dynasty, the president of the national Opposition party and a suave Union minister. In a system that appears to be completely weighed down by the venal, where institutions appear to be debased, there is a natural admiration for someone who has the guts to expose the rot and take on the big fish. The defence of the ruling class has ranged from serious critique of the legal strength of Kejriwal’s charges to conspiracy theories about him being a front for a sinister cause or a general nervous carping: who is he, how could he, how dare he…. This is the mango man who has become a real irritant for the system in New Delhi. In political terms, he may well have inflicted serious damage to the Congress’s already dented image with the Robert Vadra charges and started a debate within the RSS-BJP on how advisable it is to give president Nitin Gadkari a second term in December. Sources in India Against Corruption (IAC) say it has more political targets, but their other big plan is to take on the corporates next: material is being collected on biggies who have interests in oil and natural gas. In the Kejriwal version of the civil disobedience movement against inflated power bills in Delhi, where he went about restoring connections that had been cut for non-payment, he has already taken on both the Sheila Dixit government and the Reliance-owned BSES. There has also been sharp rhetoric against Anil Ambani. Says advocate Prashant Bhushan, “Arvind has understood that anyone seriously interested in fighting corruption has to take on the corporates. So, analysts missed the woods for the trees when they did not realise this would happen ultimately and kept harping on the RSS presence in the early rallies and the grant given by the Ford Foundation.”

A lot of drama has unfolded before TV cameras ever since the Anna Hazare movement began in April last year. The transition from then to now is significant. Then Anna and Kiran Bedi were key players, and the movement was about pushing an anti-corruption legislation. Now Anna is no longer with the movement, and a new political party (name undecided) is set to be launched shortly. It is time to examine whether the fundamentals of this force, still in the process of evolution, are changing. There is an attempt by certain members of the core team to link the movement with people’s struggles across the country; they are establishing contact with the leadership of small parties and movements. Says political scientist Yogendra Yadav, “The idea is that this new party could become the instrument that people’s movements have lacked.” The vision document released by the group on October 2 made an argument for entering the political fray with these words: “Politics is the centrestage of the present system, the stage where the system is made or unmade…someone has to accept the challenge of stepping on this stage.” And since this group of citizens plans to take the plunge next month, it is also important to examine if it is indeed a mere front of the RSS. Given the current shifts and turns, one can discern a strong move from within to actually distance itself from the legacy visible at the beginning. Of course, certain idioms and symbols have been retained. For instance, Kejriwal and friends try to tap nationalism and repeatedly use slogans such as Bharat Mata ki Jai. “We need to reclaim slogans people identity with,” says Yogendra Yadav. “There is no denying that the RSS tried to infiltrate the movement as they intelligently saw the possibilities within it. But now we have taken a different turn.”

There is, of course, the argument that the movement will ultimately damage the Congress more than the BJP as the ruling party will have to battle the disgust and anti-incumbency at the national level. Kejriwal himself is at pains to say, “For those who feel we are targeting the UPA or are the B-team of the BJP, our aim is to expose the crisis of leadership across the spectrum.” Indeed, documents and papers about scams across the country are being handed over to the group and there is a feeling that individuals who may not have otherwise spoken out or acted in particular cases will be encouraged to do so now. Ultimately, though, politics should be about something more profound than just damning individuals. It has to be about a transformation that is deeper than the sensational and garners more than the immediate satisfaction from naming and shaming. Which is why trying to take on corporates and reaching out to social movements, several against land acquisition, seem good ideas. The question, however, is: if the energy of the Anna Hazare consciousness came from the basically aspirational middle classes, will it not be in social conflict with the rural poor who seek justice and preservation of jal, jangal, zameen through movements? Would the movement possibly risk trying to be all things to all men? Whatever the answer, the process is certainly worth analysing. Kejriwal himself is brimming with ideas, is open to them, is not ideologically brittle and seems to have the energy which makes for charismatic leadership. In the short term, the new party may not really be able to take on the big players but could certainly contribute to creating the atmosphere in which a new politics can be played. The national capital, of course, is the main stage and when the assembly elections take place next year, they will be the first the Kejriwal formation will contest. There are also plans to shift to start state-specific campaigns. Which is why Yogendra Yadav says “it is too early to say that the BJP will get the electoral advantage. Who is hurt by corruption changes from state to state.”

Which brings us to our next question: do Kejriwal & Co have a presence outside Delhi? The report card from across the country shows great curiosity value for the outfit but little presence on the ground in most states. The tricity of Chandigarh, Panchkula and Mohali has a unit of the IAC with about 500 active members. Says its president Kamlesh Bhartiya, “After Diwali, we are launching a membership drive and this office will coordinate our activities in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.” The fledgling party has certainly generated interest in the region, particularly as the Vadra scam involves land in Haryana. Certain groups are now exploring how they can associate with Kejriwal’s party. Says Rajeev Godara, president of the Haryana social activist group Sampoorna Kranti Manch, “Ours is a grassroots organisation which is inclined to support Kejriwal’s party, but the final decision will lie with our workers who are scheduled to meet sometime this month.” But Godara admits that the new party will be hobbled by the lack of an organisational structure and though it will get plenty of volunteers from all walks of life, they will have their own limitations and electoral politics is an entirely different game. In Mumbai, it’s not too difficult to find the IAC office in Andheri East. Commuters in the area respond eagerly to casual inquiries on the street, offering detailed directions to reach the IAC “back office”. Everyone seems to know the way to the one-room office. It’s the reference points that differ. The business executive stepping out of the Skoda showroom that is a landmark to their address on the IAC website offers, “The corruption guys? Down the road on the right.” For the paanwallah busy doling out paans for his customers in his shop across the IAC office, the recall value is simpler, “Anna Hazare office? Just ahead, on the right hand corner.” The Anna-Kejriwal split hasn’t registered in his head yet. Outside the modest building, children from the neighbourhood point to the back entrance. No boards announce the IAC’s presence here, but large cutouts of Kejriwal do. The five-odd volunteers in the office are clear about where they and the movement is headed. They say 9,000 people have signed up to become volunteers for the movement since the launch of the political party on October 2. They are a mix of young college students, housewives, mid-career executives working in MNCs and small-time businessmen who have filled forms and submitted photographs to become registered members of the movement. Big file folders hold these resumes, each with an attached declaration form filled by the member, confirming he or she will not align with any political party once they sign up with the IAC. Another section restricts members from interacting with media personnel without proper authorisation. The objective, repeated ad nauseam by volunteers in the office, is also stated clearly: Create awareness about the IAC’s mission, stage protests against corruption and search for and motivate honest, enthusiastic volunteers to join the mission.

By their own admission, volunteers recount how it is difficult to rope in people in a city like Mumbai, where there is great curiosity but no great conviction. A senior volunteer admits, “We were holding a protest march at Shivaji Park the other day. There must have been as many as 300 people sitting on the side pavement, looking at us walk past, staging a protest. But only about 12 came forward to join us. The rest just kept sitting and watching.” So what then could be the solution to break this barrier? For one, the volunteers slog over the IAC Mumbai website and the many phone lines that connect the curious to the IAC through its well-advertised helpline stay open 24×7. The group also has an active mobile phone number flashed on its website, a missed call to which ensures that information about the goings-on at the IAC are sent across as regular smses. The number of those availing this facility in the Mumbai region telecom circle has now dwindled to 7 lakh from the 13 lakh last year in December when Anna Hazare was fasting at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai. The group also works hard at organising induction programmes, attracting people with street plays and small rallies. For the regulars, Saturday meetings are held in one of the various 15 zones of Mumbai, where success stories of localised sit-ins are shared, complete with an inspirational lecture by Mayank Gandhi, the face of the movement in Mumbai. The most recent to be organised is on October 20 in Vile Parle. Haryana and Mumbai are all centres of great corruption. As is Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, the state said to have pioneered the path to crony capitalism of the politician-businessman. Here too there is great curiosity mixed with a sense that what the IAC is doing is sensational stories, not any serious political challenge to the established players. In fact, TDP president Chandrababu Naidu has not even mentioned Vadra or Kejriwal even though he is the midst of a padayatra that focuses mainly on corruption. Yet, it’s clear that a non-traditional political player has arrived, a demolition man determined to seize the moment and shape the future discourse. His journey is proving to be a fascinating one, creating in the short term ripples which in political parlance can be termed “hawa”. The challenge is to transform this to the long term and have an impact in the states.



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Realty comes back to bite the Pawar family – By Ashish Khetan (Oct 27, 2012, Tehelka)

In a recent interview to a television news channel, Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh spelt out what was until now an unwritten code in Indian politics. In a moment of candour, Singh said that the Congress never questioned the business dealings of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foster-son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya, though it had enough reasons to do so. The personal fortunes of Bhattacharya, who had started his career as a management trainee with Oberoi Hotels, rose exponentially during the sixyear- long rule of the BJP-led NDA. Today, Bhattacharya owns a chain of ultra-luxury hotels, besides prime properties in several metros. It is an astonishing rags-to-riches story, but one that has largely been confined to drawing room conversations. What Singh implied was that Bhattacharya’s extraordinary riches also warranted a similar public scrutiny and brouhaha as the one we are now seeing over Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s dubious real estate deals. But the Congress chose to remain silent. This long-observed code of silence among top politicians as per which they almost never darted arrows at each other’s families or questioned their business interests seems to have finally been breached. When India Against Corruption (IAC) members Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan started reeling off the staggering list of prime real estate amassed by Vadra in a short span of time, they were giving voice to what almost everybody in Delhi’s power circles knew of but never chose to raise in public. Until now, the unwritten rule was that close relatives of top political dynasties were free to build their business empires on the strength of shady deals and out-of-turn favours from the government and private firms without having to answer to either any law enforcement agency or tax authorities.

By and large, the media too observed this code. So when TEHELKA’s Operation West End tapes spoke of Bhattacharya’s alleged undue influence in defence deals, or later when evidence surfaced of his involvement in the UTI scam, the stories created a temporary flutter but were not followed up with the rigour and perseverance they deserved. Similarly, two years ago, when some RTI activists dug up documents which revealed that Maratha strongman and NCP President Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule and son-inlaw Sadanand Sule held more than 20 percent stake in the scandalous Lavasa project, questions of propriety were raised. Lavasa is a massive township being built over 19,000 acres situated 65 km from Pune. From the very beginning, Pawar had actively lobbied for the private hill city without ever disclosing that his family was a major beneficiary in the project. But soon the questions of probity and conflict of interest slipped through the cracks. Pawar was successful in giving it the colour of a political witch-hunt. When the then Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, highlighted the gross violations of green laws, Pawar accused him of being unreasonable. Crucial questions involving Pawar’s role in the alleged irregularities, the source of funds with which the Sules bought the stake, the amount for which the stake was bought and later sold were never probed or reached any court of law.

Besides the media’s reluctance to doggedly pursue the story to some logical end, one of the other main reasons why the story died a quiet death was the silence observed by the Opposition. The Congress’ silence could be explained by the fact that Pawar was and is their important ally, both at the Centre and in the state, but the inertness of the Shiv Sena and the BJP was scandalous to say the least. Last year, TEHELKA did a cover story (Maharashtra on Sale by Ashish Khetan, 28 May 2011) exposing in detail how the politician-builder nexus in the state had plundered prime land. TEHELKA exposed several scandalous land deals in which the leading politicians from the Congress and NCP had a role to play. The story produced prima facie evidence of corruption against former CM Ashok Chavan, the then rural development minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sharad Pawar, Supriya Sule and former irrigation minister Ajit Pawar. The story laid out in great detail over a dozen land scams, each running in several hundred crores of rupees. But the story found no takers in the Opposition parties. But it now seems that the era where a few select public figures were seen as being beyond scrutiny and reproach is coming to an end. In the past 10 days, we have seen an unprecedented public spotlight on the excesses of money and power. First Vadra, then Salman Khurshid, and finally BJP President Nitin Gadkari were hauled over the coals for what many see as flagrant misuse of power.

On 18 October, lawyer and former cop YP Singh exposed the quid pro quo between the Pawar family and Ajit Gulabchand, the chairman of Hindustan Construction Company, who is the brain behind Lavasa. Singh produced documents showing that Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, who was the Maharashtra irrigation minister between 1999 and 2010, gave away 341 acres of irrigation land – which was acquired from the farmers for constructing dams and canals – to a holding company of the Lavasa project at the rate of Rs 23,000 per acre per year for a period of 30 years. According to a Supreme Court judgment, the government should have auctioned this land. The Sules held 20.81 percent shares in this holding company. Later, the couple sold their stake for an undisclosed amount. Singh suggested that the Sules must have made Rs 1,000-Rs 2,000 crore from the sale. But in 2009, in an affidavit filed before the Election Commission, Supriya declared her total assets to be just Rs 15 crore. Singh asked where has the money gone? In this story, TEHELKA is piecing together the details of three other equally scandalous real estate projects in which the Sules hold substantial stakes. The couple have stakes in as many as three IT parks – one completed and the other two under construction – which have allegedly been constructed on vast stretches of public land in the heart of Pune. Land meant for a mental hospital, affordable housing for the poor, a residential colony for the widows of jawans and a district jail has been allegedly usurped by the companies associated with the Sules.

It is alleged that these lands have been illegally grabbed by using the alleged influence of political power that the Pawars wield in Maharashtra. The charges against these companies range from fudging of revenue records and fraudulent documentation to manipulation of executive orders. The Sules have gained or stand to gain thousands of crores of rupees from these real estate projects. The prima facie evidence available against the Sules seems extremely credible and warrants an urgent intervention either by the higher courts or by a high-powered investigation team that is free from political meddling. Evidence shows that the entire government machinery – from district collector to chief secretary – was complicit in these alleged land scams. For the past two years, Pune-based RTI activist Ravindra Barhate has accumulated a mountain of documents that reveal the questionable ways in which the Sules and their business partners have acquired astonishing gains from alleged land scams. On a couple of occasions, Barhate has been successful in prodding the Opposition to raise the issue in the Maharashtra Assembly. But overall, his revelations have been met with a deafening silence. Save a few exceptions, the Marathi media too has chosen to downplay the revelations.



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The quest for Naga accord – Editorial (Oct 20, 2012, The Hindu)

A process that could lead to an honourable settlement of the six-decades-old Naga problem seems to be in the making. With the Prime Minister giving the go-ahead, the Union Home Ministry has begun discussing with all regional stakeholders the broad contours of a proposal that was hammered out earlier in negotiations between the Union government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). The NSCN (I-M), the major player among Naga groups, has accepted – at least for the “interim” – the impracticality of demanding the integration of contiguous Naga-inhabited areas including those in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, and of redrawing State boundaries.

More importantly, it has tempered its demand for “Naga sovereignty,” thereby allowing an outcome that can conform to the basic structure of the Constitution. An agreement being stitched up before the State Assembly elections that are due by March 2013 will enable former insurgent groups to take part in the democratic process. The larger political environment appears conducive for a democratic reconciliation.

But there is still a long way to go, and many minefields to cross. Several concessions on the government’s part, including grant of a special brand of autonomy and freedom for Nagaland, will be required. For the grant of special status, additions will need to be made to Article 371A, under which no Act of Parliament applies to Nagaland in respect of the religious or social practices of the Nagas, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions under customary Naga law, and ownership and transfer of land and its resources, unless its Assembly so decides. The creation of a pan-Naga social body to highlight the identity of the people appears to be a key element of the formula. Its role, scope and powers need to be defined with clarity in order to avoid difficulties.

The constitutional amendment that some of these proposals will entail requires national political consensus. Even the question of decommissioning weapons held by militants needs to be resolved. In the short term, a consensus will be needed to meet a demand that has been raised by Nagaland legislators for an alternative interim administrative arrangement. There is no time like the present to let the process reach its logical culmination. But every strand in this complex tapestry needs to be laid in place carefully. A prudent balance needs to be struck between what the Centre can concede and what the insurgents can accept. This has to be done on the basis of a clear understanding of the changing social and political dynamics of the region as a whole.



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Haryana’s bestial rape chronicles or where a rapist is considered ‘a real man’ – By Sai Manish and Priyanka Dubey (Oct 27, 2012, Tehelka)

Beyond the chowmein and the Om Prakash Chautala jokes, the scourge of rapes is very real in Haryana. So real that it’s hair-raising. So real, it even makes one wonder whether calling Haryana the rape capital is politically incorrect. Sample this. On 8 December 2010, in the little known village of Pillu Kheda in Jind district, a 13-year-old girl was abducted by four boys, raped and left by the roadside. The girl somehow managed to crawl to a brick kiln for help, only to be raped again by two workers there. When she was finally let go in the evening, an autorickshaw driver offered to give her a lift, only to rape her again and dump her on the same road. Left for dead and crying for help, the young teen was picked up by a truck driver and his aide, who – not surprisingly by now – raped her repeatedly for nine days. The police eventually found the girl at a woman’s house in Panipat after her father had filed a missing complaint. The police claims it has most of the perpetrators in custody, but activists say four rapists were let off after the panchayat intervened. This has been the familiar pattern in almost all rape cases in Haryana. A girl is raped – gangraped in most cases – and the police go through the motions of arresting a few people, only to set them free after the panchayat intervenes on their behalf. No one cares what happens to the victim, not a thought is spared; in fact, she is often forced to leave the village and never come back again.

Instead of serving as a deterrent, the Pillu Kheda rape case only seemed to encourage similar occurences. In a ghastly reminder of the 2010 rape, in July 2011, a 3½-year-old girl was raped by three men in the village. A year later, the police arrested the rapists and filed a chargesheet in August 2012. A look at the records of 2012 in the DSP office in Safido, Jind, reveals a shocking picture. In a space of five months, between February and June, a town of barely 3,000 people had witnessed six rapes. Rapes have not only become commonplace in Pillu Kheda, they are the norm. Another case recorded on 21 September was of a Dalit woman raped by three men in her house, who also filmed the heinous act on their mobile phones. It was only when the woman’s 7-year-old daughter saw her mother being raped from the window and screamed for help that the rapists left. In this case, the woman had clearly identified all three men, but the police is yet to prepare a chargesheet, waiting instead for the customary 60-day period to end before acting. The speed at which police work is done is a major cause for concern in Haryana. “The laxity of the police is shameful,” says Jagmati Sangwan, state president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA). “There is a rape epidemic in Haryana and the main reason is that instead of putting culprits behind bars, the cops target activists who raise their voice against the system.” Even as repeated rapes catch a slumbering police unawares, many believe that deterrence cannot work in Haryana given the regressive mindset in the state, symbolised by the heavy interference of panchayats in every sphere of life, more so in cases of rape.

In Durjanpur village, Jind, Balwant alias Krishan, a Dalit of the Gosain caste, sits outside his hut on the outskirts of the village. It’s been six years since her schoolteacher raped Krishan’s 16-year-old daughter Rani* inside a classroom. An academically weak student, Rani was lured with a promise to elevate her to the next class and taken by surprise as PT instructor Rameshwar raped her inside the room while Maths teacher Ram Kumar Punia sat guard outside. Both Rameshwar and Punia belong to the Jat caste. Krishan gestures with his eye towards the panchayat members who keep an unrelenting watch on him. “Speak to the sarpanch. I have nothing to say,” he says. It’s difficult to tell if it is a sense of loss or intimidation that suppresses memories of the days when Krishan and his daughter became the talk of a whole nation. When the attention died down, he took Rani out of school and married her off in another village, never again to set foot in the village “she had brought disrepute to”. Caste, like police inaction and panchayat interference, plays a major role in how rape victims are perceived in Haryana. As the 14 villages surrounding Durjanpur are dominated by the Punia clan, it was decided that Rani would tell the court that Punia had only “insulted” her while Rameshwar, who belonged to neighbouring Uklana town, was the actual rapist. A sessions court sentenced Rameshwar to 10 years of imprisonment while Punia was declared not guilty. No one knows what transpired in the time when the girl had initially claimed that two men had raped her and when she recorded that one just mocked her after she was raped. For in Durjanpur, like hundreds of other villages in Haryana, fear triumphs over truth, false honour prevails over justice and clan loyalties often dictate statements of rape victims.

Between January and August this year, there have been 455 reported cases of rape in Haryana; hundreds go unreported. “There is no fear of the law in Haryana,” says Hisar-based advocate Rajat Kalsan, fighting the Dabra case involving the rape of a 16-year-old Dalit girl. “That’s because most of the administrative machinery, the state police and the judiciary is dominated by people whose relatives have a major hold on panchayats in the state. The Jats have terrorised the Dalits and backward castes and have become a law onto themselves.” Although women across castes have been raped, most victims are Dalits. The caste factor plays out again and again with every reported instance of rape. Puneeta’s, 19, a Dalit girl from Banwasa village of Sonipat district, is one such horror story. Married in July, Puneeta was visiting her marital home, when tragedy befell her. “On 28 September, when everyone had gone to work, and Puneeta was alone at home, our neighbour Maafi came and told her that her husband Sunil was waiting for her at the railway gate nearby,” says Puneeta’s 18-year-old brother, Gurmeet. “Initially, Puneeta was reluctant to leave the house empty, but when Maafi insisted, she left to meet her husband. He was anyway supposed to come the next day to take her home.” At the crossing, Puneeta did not meet her husband, but two youths, Sunil and Sanjay from nearby Khandari village, who forced her into a car and drove away. They were soon joined by two more men from Ahemadpur Manjra, and together they took Puneeta to a deserted shed in the middle of a farm. There they raped and beat her repeatedly for the next five days.

At the family’s complaint, the police arrested the four rapists and Maafi. Puneeta’s family is waiting for justice to be done. But, justice is a mere word in Haryana, not necessarily concomitant with a crime like rape. After all, the state has the most skewed sex ratio in the country. There has to be something to that. Jitendra Prasad, a leading social scientist, believes the reason for the increasing crimes against women in Haryana is the tendency to look down upon women. “The society here is so patriarchal and male-dominated that men are not ready to accept women as equals or even humans,” he says. Prasad talks of the hypocrisy in the khap system. “Even the khap panchayats have maintained double standards in matters relating to women,” he adds. “While they strictly oppose same gotra marriages, they are at the same time silent when people rape women within their own families. There are only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys here. The skewed sex ratio is certainly one of the reasons for the increasing rapes, but the bigger reason is the social attitude. Women are seen as objects of consumption that are available to be used and silenced if they protest. This situation is convenient for the people here and that is why they won’t let it change.” A very disturbing observation, but one that rings true. …



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