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New Geopolitical Great Game of Indo-Pacific: Challenges and Options for India

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During the Cold War geopolitics, the Indo-Pacific region had not been part of Indian foreign policy. Most of the countries from the Asia-Pacific region and India have been remained in the opposite groups and the historical and civilizational relations had become enervated.

Until the 1970s, Indian foreign policy makers considered this region as economically less developed and thus was not attractive for trading and economic partner. Moreover, the   India’s colonial links and its ruling elite’s western orientation thinking further drifted the region from its geopolitical and geostrategic calculus. Sikri (2009), has argued that India’s Fabian socialism policy made it more insular and protectionist.

In the post-Cold War, Indo-Pacific has figured prominently in Indian Foreign Policy due to several dynamics such as end of the Cold War, breakup of the Soviet Union, Chinese assertiveness in region and the Indian Ocean, regionalization trends, India’s own political, economic, security situations and Southeast Asia’s economic and geostrategic problems were some of the important factors responsible for the changed geopolitical landscape in both the regions. Look East policy was launched in the post-Cold War in order to reorient the region in Indian foreign policy. Though, this policy has been started paying the dividends, but still Indian foreign policy has been facing myriad challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

Indo-Pacific: A New Concept

The term of Indo-Pacific, was used by a strategic thinker Khurana (2007) for the first time, in one of his articles, “Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation”. According to him the meaning of this term, was a maritime space stretching from the littorals of East Africa and West Asia, across the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, to the littorals of East Asia. This concept was further strengthened and defined by the speech of Japanese Prime Minister in the Indian Parliament (August 2007), in which he commented that the “Confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia”. Bajpaee (2014), has argued that the Indo-

Pacific as a geographical region has been a new geopolitical concept. These arguments on part of the above scholars and politicians was echoed by Scott, in his article “India and the Allure of the ‘Indo-Pacific’”, written for International Studies, 49 (3&4), has found setting in the geopolitical interests. The term Indo-Pacific been started using by the India’s apex political leadership2010 onwards. the strategic analysts, high-level government and military leadership of countries like Australia, Japan and the US, started using this term in their formal/ official documented articulation. In the recent past, the US officials have begun using the term “Indo-Asia Pacific” for maintaining its geographic inclusiveness in the new coinage of ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Geopolitical Great Game

On account of geostrategic, geo-economic and geopolitical salience of the Indo-Pacific, the region has been becoming a battle field for a new geopolitical great game among the regional and external powers. Moreover, some of the scholars (Hoge Jr 2014; Bishoy (2005), have argued that the transfer of power from West to East is gathering momentum on account of its geostrategic salience. Regional and external powers have been competing with one another to counter and to expand their own influences.For their geopolitical and geostrategic interests, the external and regional powers have been following special policy frameworks like the US’s Asia Pivot policy, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), China’s Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), Maritime Silk Road (MSR), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); the Russia’s Asia Pivot and India’s Look East Policy (now Act East), policies respectively.

David Michel and Ricky Passarelli (2014) have highlighted that the Indo-Pacific region has been facing a number of maritime challenges and opportunities. Another expert of the region, Mohan (2013) has argued that the Indo-Pacific region has also been entrapped in increasing maritime and geopolitical competition between the two Asian giants China and India in the region. Singh and Pulipaka (2013) have explained how the metamorphosis of multilateral relations took place among India, the United States (US) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) in the Indo-Pacific region. Cronin (2012) has highlighted that Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) along with aggressive assertiveness throughout the region has been encountering with the vested geopolitical and geostrategic interests of the other countries such as the US, India, Japan, Australia and other regional powers such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea etc. Against this background, it can be safely presumed that the Indo-Pacific would remain a battlefield for the major and regional powers throughout the 21st century.

Indian Challenges

In the present scenario, India has been recognised as the potential power in economic and strategic terms. India has been endowed with energetic culture, multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy. Having geo-cultural and historical relations and extended neighbourhood, the Indo-Pacific region holds a very important place in Indian foreign policy on account of geostrategic and geopolitical dynamics. Peace and stability are the major concerns of India. In order to enhance economic and strategic engagements with the Southeast Asia, India has launched Look East policy in the 1991 which is rechristened under the new government of NDA-II under the stewardship of PM Modi. Bilateral engagements with Australia, Japan and Vietnam have been intensified to counter China’s assertiveness in the region.

Among the other major interests of India in the Indo-Pacific region are to check the Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean in order to endure the freedom of the navigation. That’s why South China Sea dispute has paved way for increased Indian role in the Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific. The South China Sea (SCS) is the lifeline of Indian economy as far as the flow of trade and energy are concerned. Whereas on the other hand, China has been making full use of its energy to block India’s passage to economically viable East Asia and the Pacific. Therefore, India’s top priority is to get SCS dispute solved amicably and peacefully. Rajendram(2014) has argued that   China and India are the largest trading partners in the region but both have been engaged in a sort of proxy war to strengthen their respective positions in the Asia-Pacific region.Apart from these challenges, India has been failed to exploit the soft power diplomacy and the ethnic Indian are losing contacts with India. Most importantly, India has been failed to get the membership of the regional organization like APEC.  

Options for India

Facing various possible challenges and paradoxes in the Indo-Pacific region, India has been making reorientation towards the region. India has been making efforts to be a partner of the regional players like the US, Japan and Australia to check the major challenge from China. Several policies, programmes and memorandum of understanding have put in place to enhance engagements in the region.Baru(2001) has noted that India has become a strong maritime and strategic partner of the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia to protect the freedom of the navigation. In order to protect its economic interests, India has also signed free trade agreement (FTAs) with several countries like ASEAN, Korea, and Japan. Scott     (2012) has argued that the US perceives India as a lynchpin for its Indo-Pacific policy to maintain the balancing mechanism among various strong economic players active in the region. The incumbent government of India has been making efforts to strengthen its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.The growing economic , security and maritime ties between India and Japan are moving in this direction. Similarly, India and Australia have been coming closer in terms of strategic relations. Australia has responded very positively to Indian endeavors. The US wanted to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific region.

Conclusion

In the post-Cold War, the Indo-Pacific region has been given an important place in the Indian foreign policy. India has geostrategic and geopolitical interests in the region. In the 21st century, the power shift has been moving from West to East. With the rise of China and emerging India, the Indo-Pacific region has become a battle field for great game. Several major powers have been competing with one another and to counter and expand their influence in the region. Due to China’s aggressiveness and assertiveness, the Indian interests are at stake. In order to protect its interests, some policy frameworks, FTAs, memorandum of understanding with the major powers and regional powers have been put in place. Though these measures have been paying dividends, but still India has been facing a number of the challenges in the region. It has been failed to exploit its soft power diplomacy, ethnic Indian have lost contacts with India, and membership of regional organization have not been extended. Against this background, India has to make sincere and consistent efforts to protect its interests in the region. India should enhance its strategic partnership with the notonly major powers but also with the regional powers like Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Korea etc. India should make full use of its soft diplomacy and strengthen bounds with the ethnic Indian.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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Indian Republic Day: A Black Day for Kashmiris

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India celebrates ‘Republic Day’ on January 26th every year to commemorate the day when the Constitution of India came into effect, replacing the Government of India Act 1935, and making India a republic. However, it is observed as a ‘black day’ in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK) because it marks the day when the Indian government stripped the region of its autonomous status and imposed direct rule from New Delhi. Kashmir has been a contentious issue between India and Pakistan since the two countries gained independence in 1947. The people of Jammu and Kashmir were promised a high degree of autonomy under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was in effect until August 2019, when the Indian government revoked it. This autonomy included the right to a separate constitution, a separate flag, and laws that were distinct from the rest of India. However, in practice, the Indian government has been involved in suppressing the political and basic rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir and denying them their right to self-determination.

The special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which was revoked by the Indian government in 2019, had given the region a high degree of autonomy and protected its distinct identity. The revocation of this special status has led to widespread protests and resentment among the people of the region, who see it as an infringement on their rights and an attempt by the Indian government to suppress their political and cultural identity and right of self-determination.

The Indian government’s handling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has also been criticized by international human rights organizations, who in their recent reports have highlighted how the Indian government has been involved in human rights violations of the people of Kashmir, through the use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests, and censorship of the media. International Human Rights Law forbids the unjustified deprivation of life. The right to life is embodied in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is being flagrantly violated in Kashmiri. India has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well (ICCPR). Which hasn’t prevented it from abusing the law, though.

When the Indian government removed Indian Occupied Kashmir’s special status and sent thousands more troops to the area, the situation for the locals of Kashmir became much tougher. Additionally, India reverted to age-old slavery techniques by enforcing a curfew on the helpless population, cutting off the internet and telecommunications, and detaining political figures, leaving 1.47 billion people cut off from the outside world, devoid of fundamental human rights, and living in dread. Since the repeal of Article 370 and the ensuing curfew, there have been reports of nighttime raids in which youngsters have been kidnapped and tortured, as well as of women being harassed. Intentionally violating both international humanitarian law and human rights law, the Indian military has intentionally dismembered, injured, and several times murdered people during this forceful conquest. The Kashmiri diaspora in the UK and Europe observe “Black Day” on January 26th each year to protest the Indian government’s illegal actions in Jammu& Kashmir. This day marks the anniversary of the Indian Constitution coming into effect in 1950, which provides a pretext for the formalization of Indian control over Kashmir, a region that has been the subject of ongoing conflict and human rights abuses. The diaspora uses this day to raise awareness about human rights abuses and the ongoing conflict in the region, and to call for self-determination for the people of Kashmir. They also call on the international community to break the status quo imposed by the fascist Indian government. For instance, the president of Tehreek-e-Kashmir UK president claimed that “the people of Kashmir have challenged India to take out the forces (one million) from the valley and then celebrate the republic day”. Jammu & Kashmir salvation movement president Altaf Ahmed also call the UN for intervention to protect the rights of Kashmiris.

India has long claimed to be the world’s largest democracy and a champion of human rights. However, it has a long history of human rights abuses and political suppression in the region of Kashmir. Despite India’s claims of being the world’s largest democratic state, it has been involved use of excessive force against peaceful protesters, the imposition of strict curfews and internet shutdowns, and the detention of political leaders and activists in the Kashmir region. The Indian government has also been criticized for its heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the insurgency in the region, which has resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. The Indian government has also failed to provide the people of Kashmir with basic democratic rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to self-determination.

It is certainly true that the Indian government’s actions in the region of Kashmir have been widely criticized for human rights abuses and the suppression of political dissent. The deployment of a large number of security forces in the region, along with heavy-handed tactics, have resulted in widespread human rights abuses and a lack of protection for the people of Kashmir. This is in contrast to the protection of basic human and democratic rights, which are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens of India by the Constitution. How a democratic state can be the largest human rights violator? A self-proclaimed secular state which does not give the rights of minorities cannot be a democratic republic state.

The situation in Kashmir raises questions about the Indian government’s commitment to protecting the rights of all of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion. A democratic state should ensure that all citizens are protected and treated fairly under the law, but the actions of the Indian government in Kashmir suggest that this is not always the case. Similarly, a self-proclaimed secular state like India should ensure that all religious groups are treated fairly, but the Indian government has been criticized for its treatment of minority groups in the country, particularly the Muslim population of Kashmir.

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A Brief History of British Imperialism in India

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Map, "The Indian Empire and surrounding countries" (1909), Imperial Gazetteer of India. Via Wikipedia

The British Empire

The British Empire or Kingdom was an imperial entity that changed the global order in every way imaginable. The Kingdom of Great Britain was conceived in 1707 when Scotland and Wales joined England under the sovereignty of the Crown. Having ruled for three centuries, its imperialist tendencies had started to show quite early in the 17th century when Britain lay claim to its very first colony in Jamestown, Virginia. Imperial tendencies refer to the aggressive and expansionist ideology that had been donned by the Empire. British imperialism refers to the attempts and following successes of Britain in expanding its power territorially. It did this by infiltrating various regions of the world and forming colonies; though the colonies were self-managed for the most part, they were answerable to the monarchy and were exploited thoroughly without any compensation. Their foreign policy was to self-portray as traders and travelers and then obtain regional control over time. It was a global phenomenon, and it was majorly aided by England’s foray into maritime expansion. Shipping routes were new and undiscovered which led to new lands ripe for exploration and exploitation. There was also a certain rush within the Empire to expand due to the competitive nature of the international system at that time. It was a challenging race for control between England, Spain, France, and Holland.

The colonized regions of the world include North America, Australia, West Indies, New Zealand, Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong), Africa (Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya), and more. Around sixty-five current nation-states gained independence from the Empire. However, Britain left behind deep scars within the system that are detrimental to progress to this day.

Geopolitical

The British monarchy played a dominant role in one of the world’s greatest tragedies – The Transatlantic Slave Trade which lasted from about the 16th century to the 19th century. It altered the geopolitical dimensions of the world through massive population displacements. Even though later on it called for the Abolition (1833) and Emancipation of slavery and slaves – it had been a decisive enough move to alter world history.

Economic

The formation of colonies was for both political and economic power. They were sources of power with a combined manpower of over 450 million people. The colonies presented as pure profit as the natives and slates weren’t given adequate fiscal compensation. Working for pennies on the dollar, the indigenous populations were forced to work in less than favorable working conditions for long taxing hours. The major trade from colonies consisted of sugar, spices, silk, cotton, salt, silver, gold, ivory, tobacco, tea, and more. Many of these such as mining metals and extracting sugar are incredibly labor-intensive works.

The empire used various tactics to carve out strongholds in their regions of choice. The establishment of trading companies – Hudson Bay Company and East India Company, and Strait Settlements.

Socio-cultural

The Britishers have been responsible for most of the socio-cultural divide in the Subcontinent. Before their arrival in 1600s, the region was flourishing under the Mughal Rule with various castes and religions coexisting peacefully. Once the Empire came into control, they sowed seeds of discord amongst the masses along racial and religious lines. The promotion of white supremacy and the English language enveloped the people in a sense of inferiority that still rears its head to this day. The Muslim-Hindu divide became more pronounced after the War of Independence in 1857.

Indian Subcontinent

Formation of the East India Company

In the last months of the year 1600, a group of London-based traders asked for a royal charter – a document that essentially brings legal recognition to organizations and declarations and is granted by the monarch of the time, in order to expand their trade to the East Indies via new naval routes. They wanted to set up a new organization called The East India Company in the Indian subcontinent due to its massive potential. The request was granted by Queen Elizabeth I and the merchants set out, headed by James Lancaster. Once they reached it, they had to first request permission to establish their company. Sir Thomas Roe was sent forward to conduct negotiations with Mughal Emperor Jahangir who was eventually won over by the British charm. Finally, the company set up shop in Surat in the first decade of the 17th century.

Entrance into Politics

The initial interest of the Britishers was indeed purely economic and the company was working independently of the Kingdom. However, soon it became a full-blown empire of sorts with its own armed forces and land. They became responsible for almost half the goods being exported out of India. Their trade included spices, silk, cotton, dye, ammunition, glass, clay-made goods, opium, and tea. Their control over the remaining pillars of the state – Military and Politics, was initiated by General Robert Clive. Clive was a member of the EIC who joined the company army and led it to victory against Siraj-ud-Daulah – The Nawab of Bengal, in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. As he replaced the Nawab as the new governor of Bengal, it marked the start of British incursion into Indian politics. As another century passed and as India became more valuable to England, the Crown took over ruling in 1857 after the War of Independence, eventually dissolving East India Company in 1874.

British Raj

The British rule, as known in India – British Raj, was significantly more parasitic than the East India Company was with its ventures. It managed to destroy systems that had been thriving for centuries.

Disregarding Traditional Ways

British economy brought with it a complete disregard for cultural sentimentality and practices. They were in a global race for capital and territory, something which was not compatible with the traditional practices of the Indian people. They were made to abandon their ancestral teachings and ways of craftsmanship to fall in line with the mechanized ways of the British economy. Cheaper machine-made products replaced handmade goods. Those who could not work for hours in factories or toil away on the fields were suddenly out of jobs. There was a massive decline in employment in the vulnerable sectors of society – women, the elderly, and disabled communities.

Economic Policies

Forced labor and poor pay weren’t the only means through which British imperialism was ripping Indian society into shreds. There was a hefty price to pay because of their economic policies introduced in 1813, the repercussions of which can still be felt in modern times. The infamous policy of ‘One Way Free Trade’ which was introduced in 1813 set forth a precedent for British trade. According to it, British exports into India were not taxed, nor were they met with any tariffs, while Indian exports were taxed heavily. India was drained. It meant that Britain was working with a pure profit off of Indian resources and labor while actively suppressing any nationalized economy of the subcontinent.

Class Divide

England was front and center in creating and cementing a class divide within India. White supremacy was prevalent and with it came a heavy dose of linguistic racism. English was the primary mode of trade and communication in the upper echelons. The English Education Act was passed in 1835 which got funds reallocated for restructuring educational institutions for the sole purpose of making English the language of instruction and discussion.

Famines

Once World War II was initiated in 1939, Britain was up against Axis Powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan. Although it had the support of other Allied powers, still the cost was too high for Britain to bear due to its resources being spread out amongst the colonies all over the world. It directed the cash flows to the war efforts leading to massive famines in India. Overall, during its imperial rule, the Crown contributed to no less than 12 famines in India spanning from the years 1769-1944. The most atrocious one was The Bengal Famine. Lasting for little over a year, this famine set India back decades as it slaughtered millions and led to an internal economic collapse as well, sending many tumbling below the poverty line. The money that could have preserved the masses was instead used to fund arms and ammunition.

The Disintegration of Hindu-Muslim Relations

The British and their colonial legacy are responsible for the religious disharmony that is seen in modern-day India. The Britishers borrowed the divide-and-rule philosophy from Julius Caesar and used it to segregate the communities of India. The Sepoy Mutiny saw a religious fracture in the social fabric of the subcontinent which isolated both Hindus and Muslims – a previously co-habiting community into separate metaphorical corners. It eventually led to the Muslims forming an in-group mentality due to the common suffering. This ‘Us vs Them’ approach led to the 1947 partition and is still visible in modern-day India keeping the socio-religious conflict alive.

Conclusion

Much of the western world and most of Britain especially is built upon the backs of colonial labor. Their infrastructure, factories, and entire social standing are built because of the free and forced labor of the former colonies. Excess taxation and plunder are the only reasons why Britain survived the industrialization of the world and managed to maintain its position at the top.

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Hindutva has overshadowed Indian Republic Ideology

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India Modi

India observes Republic Day on January 26 each year to honor the 1950 Constitution of India, which succeeded the Government of India Act (1935) as the country’s governing law. Following decolonization, India’s new constitution was secular, emphasizing a reasonable separation of religion and state matters rather than strict demarcation as in many Western democracies. However, the political victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the late 1990s and past six years of Moodi’s victory, deduced an obvious Hindu interpretation of democracy that differs from the existential western form of democracy.  Religious content has increased in India’s electoral environment (BJP). The post-colonial era has conveyed an alternative nationalism, one that is founded not on secular ideas but rather on the idea that Hindu culture and Indian culture are inseparable. Moodi is ready to transform India into a contemporary Hindu version of controlled democracy through his widespread advocacy of Hindutva ideology.

The secularism of the Indian Republic has always been opposed by the Hindutva movement. A significant portion of Muslims were persuaded to remain in India instead of migrating to the newly founded Islamic state of Pakistan because, at the time, independent India proclaimed itself a secular state, offering freedom to all minority groups as well as citizens’ fundamental rights. All those who supported secularism were perished tragically due to the brutality of the rising Hindu extremism. Even Mahatma Gandhi, the most influential Hindu leader, was assassinated by the RSS because of his secular vision. Since then, Hindutva has become the core of every right-wing political group in India, including the RSS, Shiv Sena, Hindu Mahasbha, and BJP, led by Narendra Modi.

Since many years, termite fascism—which rejects equality—has been encroaching on India in the form of Hindutva. Apparently, in present day India, the Hindu Rashtra is theoretically opposed to caste discrimination against political Hindus. Modi’s ordinary beginning and ascension to authority offer conclusive proof of a free and fair modernity. However, in practice, Hindutva is ready to accept the daily coercions that characterize contemporary Indian society. Instead of assuring the due rights of minorities residing in India, the parliament validated the communal, majoritarian, and intolerable Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)  – 2019 (CAA) followed by Indian High Court’s suspicious decision on the Babri Masjid.  By fabricating a “Muslim threat” to support the BJP’s anti-Muslim actions, Hindutva has exacerbated social divisions in India. Undoubtedly, right-wing Hindu nationalism threatens India’s constitutional foundations by establishing a Hindu Rashtra. This includes the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the removal of Kashmir’s autonomous status, and the Kerala hijab ban. Fascism is reshaping itself in India. It has infiltrated Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, and now seriously endangers Indian democracy.

Similarly, the inauguration of a Hindu temple in Ayudha on August 5, 2020 (the same day a year after Article 370 was revoked) in lieu of a Mughal-era mosque razed by a right-wing Hindu mob in 1992. This confirms that the BJP has re-energized Savarkar’s plan of Hindutva as a political religion, although in a decidedly populist tone. Conservatism is now increasingly couched in current class semantics (“rich” and “poor”) rather than ancient caste terminology. Some people are considered more equal than others. Muslims, Christians, Marxists, and anti-caste campaigners are the new targets of prejudice and rejection. Individuals under such categories would be deemed political Hindus if they accepted Hindutva. In the new Hindu government, the lines are porous, and everything is negotiable.

Here, the point of concern is whether secularism would continue to serve India’s central philosophy. Perhaps it would be determined by a confluence of political factors, specifically the BJP’s future electoral success and the tactics the opposition uses to challenge the ruling party. Hindu nationalism is stripping India of one of its greatest strengths at a time when nations all over the world are struggling to deal with religious diversity. Therefore, it may not be incorrect to say that Hindu nationalism has an unquestionable sphere of influence over Indian politics and society, despite its evidently xenophobic emergence under the BJP. In fact, the revival of caste identities, which frequently threaten religious identities, is indirectly detrimental to secularism. The BJP has consistently attempted to adopt discriminatory policies to exploit caste-based individualities. In sum, India’s commitment to secularist republic tradition is now in doubt given the political dominance of the BJP’s trademark of Hindu nationalism.

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