Dialogue with the deaf?

Written by Ajaya Kumara Singh | Published on: January 30, 2016


 
Christians should beware of the sangh parivar’s latest bid to co-opt them to their blatantly anti-Constitutional, anti-Christian agenda. ‘Dialogues’ over the past decade have gone hand-in-hand with growing hate propaganda, intimidation and violence against the community

 
A recent news report (‘Now, RSS plans to launch a Christian outfit’; The Times of India, January 4, 2016) has taken the Christian community in India by storm. The report quotes Indresh Kumar, senior pracharak, member of the national executive and margdarshak (guide) of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch as saying: “On December 17, 4-5 Archbishops, 40-50 Reverend Bishops from across 10 to 12 states met and it was decided to build a movement. This is preparing the ground to lay the seeds for an organisation.” According to the report, the proposed organisation, likely to be named Rashtriya Isai Manch, is to work along the lines of the Rashtriya Muslim Manch. The supposed aim is to build “goodwill” among India’s Christians.
 
The report also mentions that while addressing a Christmas celebration organised by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India in December, Union home minister, Rajnath Singh assured Christians that he would not let any "injustice" happen to them. Singh added that he was deeply hurt by the attacks on churches in the year before. This was followed a few days later by Union finance minister Arun Jaitley hosting clergy and professionals from the Christian community at a gathering which was attended, among others, by Cardinal Oswal Gracias, who is a member of Pope Francis' advisory council.

In short, Indian Christians are being wooed simultaneously by the RSS and top ministers in the government led by Narendra Modi, the sangh parivar’s preferred candidate for the the prime ministerial chair. It is curious, to say the least, that the man chosen by the RSS to be the face of the proposed Christian outfit, Kumar, is the same person who stands accused of instigating the most widespread and vicious anti-Christian violence in 300 years – Kandhamal, Odisha during 2007-08 and whose name has also figured in ‘saffron terror’ cases.
 
What’s going on here? Why this sudden love and affection for a community which has been demonised and repetedly targeted, especially since the late 1990s? Is this a fresh RSS hoax or a case of naivete among a few church members? How does RSS propose “to build bridges of goodwill with the Christian community”? What, if any, was the outcome of the several dialogues with the Church in the recent past? Does RSS have some hidden agenda behind such dialogues? How does the Church respond to the idea of an RSS-inspired Christian outfit? While the top Church leadership is yet to respond to the proposal of launching an RSS-friendly Christian outfit, let us try to understand what is behind the proposed launching of this outfit and the possible options before the Church.

The series of attacks on adivasi Christians in Gujarat in 1998 rattled and unnerved the peace-loving Christian community in India. The Church leadership did not know how to respond to these diabolical attacks. The Church leaders’ prime concern for the protection of the members forced them to have direct talks with the leaders of the perpetrators rather than the state actors (the latter, in many cases, were hand-in-glove with the former).

 
Talking peace with the bully
The Church in India has and continues to contribute to nation building, especially in the sphere of education and health care of the marginalised groups. The Church’s humanitarian response to all disasters, whether man-made or natural, remains unparallelled. Yet, in recent years the sangh parivar has repeatedly targeted the community with hate campaigns, physical attacks and intimidation, questioned the intention behind the services provided by the Church for the marginalised groups as never before.
 
The series of attacks on adivasi Christians in Gujarat in 1998 rattled and unnerved the peace-loving Christian community in India. The Church leadership did not know how to respond to these diabolical attacks. The Church leaders’ prime concern for the protection of the members forced them to have direct talks with the leaders of the perpetrators rather than the state actors (the latter, in many cases, were hand-in-glove with the former).
 
Thus began the story of dialogue between Church groups and the sangh parivar in December 1998. Those who participated in the first conference included the then BJP president Shashikant 'Kushabhau' Thakre, RSS joint general secretary KS Sudershan, BJP general secretary Narendra Modi on one hand and Catholic Bishops Conference of India president Archbishop Alan de Lastic of Delhi, Archbishop Aruldas James of Madras, Evangelical Fellowship of India general secretary Richard Howell, the Church of North India's Sushma Ramaswamy, All-India Association of Christian Higher Education director Mani Jacob, Indian Social Institute director Father Ambrose Pinto and All-India Catholic Union national secretary John Dayal on the other.
 
A vicious cycle
Archbishop Alan De Lastic who led the first dialogue with the BJP-RSS for the protection of the community was quick to realise the futility of the talks. At a meeting immediately after the dialogue, he told the then home minister LK Advani: “The dialogues with the sangh parivar would serve no purpose unless there was an immediate end to the physical and verbal violence against the community, particularly in Gujurat”. “What I have noticed is that ever since this government (BJP-led NDA) came to power at the Centre, the attacks on the Christians and Christian missionaries have increased,” he added.
 
Of equal concern was the NDA government's wilful refusal to condemn the violence, the fact that as home minister Advani was not living up to his oath of office (do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill-will). But the official response was: “There is no law and order problem in Gujarat”. Alan de Lastic’s untimely car accident in Poland in June 2000 left a void.
 
The chart below clearly shows how dialogues between the Church and the sangh parivar have not resulted in any let up in the attacks against Christians:
 
Dialogues between Church groups and the sangh parivar Year Incidences of attacks on  Christians
Not known 1997 24
Church of North India/Evangelical Fellowship of India/Catholic Bishops Conference led by Alan de Lastic and BJP-RSS represented by then BJP president, SK Thakre, RSS joint general secretary KS Sudershan, BJP general secretary, Narendra Modi 1998 90
Not known 1999 94
First round:
CBCI represented by Archbishop Oswald Garcias and RSS chief, KS Sudershan
Second Round:
RSS chief spokesman, Madan Vaidya, senior RSS functionary, Dr. S. Shastri and representatives of CBCI
 
Third Round:
Dr. Cyril Mar Baselios, president, CBCI and KS Sudershan, RSS; dialogue on November 27, 2001 in Cochin
 
2001  Not Available
Christian-RSS Bangalore meet on 22 March 2002
RSS represented by KS Sudershan, John Joseph, Member, National Commission for Minorities (NCM); Church represented by OV Jonathan, Stanley Samarth, Dr. Ken Gnanankan
 
Delhi Meet
Archbishop Vincent Concessao and the Shankaracharya of Gowardhan Peeth, Adhokshanand
 
Kerala Meet:
RSS Delegates: KS Sudarshan (RSS sarsanghchalak), P Parameswaran, (director, Bharatiya Vichara Kendram), R. Hari (Akhil Bharatiya Baudhik Pramukh), Sethumadhavan (Prant pracharak), TV Anandan (Prant sanghchalak), AR Mohan (Prant karyavah) and others
Christian Delegates:  Dr MV Pylee, (Justice, retired) KT Thomas, MA John, Paul Pothen, B Wellington, NM Joseph and others.
2002 Not Available
Not known 2006 116
Not known 2007 450
First Meet
Bhubaneswar and Delhi archbishops meet BJP leaders, LK Advani and Sushma Swaraj and Swami Chidanand Saraswat
 
Second Meet
Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop Baselios Clemis, led the Church. Hindus represented by Swami Vivekanandan Saraswathi, Swami Jnana Mirthanandapuri, Swami Ritambaranandaa, RSS/VHP leaders PEB Menon, AR Mohanan, Kummanam Rajasekharan &  Prof. Sasikala
2008 1650
Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, head of the Vatican's pontificial council of inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, Sri Jayendra Saraswati, Sri Sri Ravishankar, BJP’s Sudheendra Kulkarni 2009 152
Not Known 2010 140
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president, pontifical council for inter-religious dialogue, Vatican, Bishop Thomas Dabre and  Swami Shrikantananda, head of Ramakrishna Mission represented Hindus 2011 172
Not Known 2012 131
Not Known 2013 151
Not Known 2014 147
Not Known 2015 149
 
As indicated above, dialogue after dialogue continued over the years at different levels. But it meant nothing for the Christian community which was under relentless attack even, as the RSS laid claim to ongoing dialogues with the Church. Chaos was evident among the Church groups as some unknown faces with varied interest holding dialogues with the RSS and claiming positive outcomes. But for the RSS, it was simply a joy ride. Meeting a few self-serving individuals/fronts and Church associates at different locations, billing them as Church-RSS meets were too part of their strategies. The only use of these dialogues was to lend credence to the pretence of BJP leaders in government that the attacks on Christians were the handiwork of anti-social elements unrelated to the sangh parivar. As the dialogue drama unfolded, Christians who had participated in them despite their reluctance and apprehensions realised that the RSS was not at all serious and that it could not meet the community expectations.
 
In 2002, the Kerala Council of Churches, affiliated to the National Council of Churches of India (NCCI), urged its parent body to reassess the process of dialogue. “The strategy adopted by the RSS for a dialogue with churches, the committee observed, “appeared to be intended to divide the churches”.
 
A year earlier, Bishop Thomas Mar Athanasius, president, Ecumenical Study and Dialogue Centre flayed the move for a dialogue between the CBCI-NCCI and the RSS arguing that those entering into a dialogue with the RSS were only weakening their credibility to speak on behalf of the Christian community.
 
Seeing through the hidden agenda
Fr. Ambrose Pinto, former director of Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, one of the delegates for the first-ever meeting between top Church and RSS leaders held in 1998 sees the future of any further Church-RSS meet thus: “First of all, we need to know:  a) what RSS stands for, b) why is the RSS saying what it is saying? c) the difference between its propaganda and facts, and d) in case Christians join them, do those Christians represent us? Understanding the nature of the fascist organisation, we should resist them as a community in solidarity with the prople of goodwill”. Would he like to be part of any future dialogue? “I was a reluctant participant. I did not want to be there. Even at that meet, I was one of those who spoke against their designs. I shall never join any kind of dailogue with RSS. You cannot dialogue with fascists”.
 
Says John Dayal, one of the delegates for the first Church-RSS dialogue: “To the parivar, there is only one mantra. Stop Conversions, and everything will end. To the sangh parivar, a dialogue is a monologue in which it speaks its mind, and the other has to take it or lump it. After all, Christianity is all about dialogue, both within the church and outside. Parivar spokespersons keep on repeating the same old manufactured lies like a Goebblesian zombie. If any single community, Sikh or Christian or Muslim, thinks it can reach a bilateral peace with the sangh parivar, it is only deceiving itself, and allowing the parivar to buy time”.
 
As the above chart shows for the RSS dialogue was mere pretense. The dialogues were punctuated with increasing violence year after year. The worst ever violence against Christians in India in 300 years was in Orissa in 2007-08 which continued unabated for over four months. It took nearly four years for the displaced adivasi and dalit Christians to return to their homes; even today there are several villagers where the forcibly displaced are not able to return eight years after the carnage.

The only use of these dialogues was to lend credence to the pretence of BJP leaders in government that the attacks on Christians were the handiwork of anti-social elements unrelated to the sangh parivar. As the dialogue drama unfolded, Christians who had participated in them despite their reluctance and apprehensions realised that the RSS was not at all serious and that it could not meet the community expectations.
 
While the dialogue was underway, the sangh parivar stepped up its hate campaign and violence against the Christian community. It is important to reflect why the earlier dialogues have failed to yield results. What are the issues that the RSS and the Church bring to the table? The RSS is quite clear about its agenda as has been articulated both in words (media) and actions (violence). As for the Church, it is still debatable whether it does or does not want any further dialogue. If yes, for what purpose and towards what end?
 
No one should be confused about what the RSS stands. There are certain key issues on which the sangh parivar’s stand is consistent and clear. The real agenda behind the so-called dialogue it seeks with Christians is to browbeat the community into meekly concurring with its ‘non-negotiable’ stands on these issues. These are repeatedly articulated through its mouthpiece, the Organiser. Here below are just a few examples:
 
Hindutva on conversions: ‘anti-national’ act
 
“Religious conversions that affected cultural identity of peoples had dangerous consequences for nations. Conversion militates against the core ethos of our nationhood”.
 
“Evangelists are subverting Indian culture… conversion, especially in tribal areas, leads to demographic disturbances which in turn lead to resentment and violence.”  
“Conversion is an act of violence… Religious conversion destroys centuries-old communities and incites communal violence. It is violence and it breeds violence.”  
“Conversions ban [are] a national necessity… Conversions are resorted to for political reasons and not for faith. There is, therefore, absolute justification for imposing a ban on free conversions. Lawlessness in India has taken place whenever the governments have failed the people to satisfy their legitimate feelings”.  
They went away (to other religion) because of some allurement and thus there is nothing wrong in bringing them back to original fold… It is like a thief who steals our valuables. The thief is caught and we will get our valuables back. They are ours.”  
“Is conversion necessary? Will any country allow changes in its demographic character?”  
“An aggressive campaign is required for ghar wapsi of those Hindus who had converted to other religions in the past.”
  • BJP’s Lok Sabha MP, Yogi Adityanath, at a conference ‘Dharmantaran Rashtranataran Hai’ (Religious conversion is the same as change of nationality) at Gorakhnath Temple in Gorakhpur. It was announced that BJP MPs Yogi Adityanath and Tarun Vijay will introduce private member bills in the the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively to stop religious conversions and debate the issue in next session of the Parliament, in The Indian Express, September 27, 2015.
 
Hindutva on affirmative action for minorities: vehement opposition
 
The denial of justice to the Dalit Christians and Muslims goes against the letter and spirit of Articles 14, 15, 16 and 25 of the Constitution of India on equal justice, equal opportunities and freedom of religion. Both Ranganath Mishra Commission and Sachar Committee reports address the anamoly in denying reservation meant for Scheduled Castes to Christian and Muslim Dalits. The sangh parivar however remains vehemently opposed to any affirmative action, as is evident from the writings and statements of its leaders, spokespersons and ideologues:
 
“The Ranganath Misra Commission’s report is… a sinister, treasonous conspiracy… it is the UPA’s gift to the Vatican and the Pakistani-Arab sponsors of jehad. It is on the verge of capitulating to a notorious paedophile organisation, masquerading as a religious dispensation and the licentious, Islamist criminals enthroned by the British… For quite sometime now Christian evangelists and Islamist jehadis have been working overtime to subvert the Indian judiciary. They want to disempower it and for real decision-making authority to reside with suborned politicians ready to facilitate the rapid ensnaring of Indian society… If reservations (for Scheduled Castes) are extended to Christians and Muslims a no-holds-barred campaign of bribery and chicanery will commence to entice underprivileged Hindus into their political fold. At present Hindus are harder to lure because Hindu society legislated reservations to help them overcome historic disadvantages. The Islamo-Christian calculation is that an extraordinary opportunity to finish Hindus off is at hand”.  
“If perverted reports like those of Justices like Sachar and Ranganath Misra indulge in travesty of justice, who will save the law of the motherland? Ours is a nation governed by the will of the people. These justices may come and go, the nation is inexorably an essential unity, adhering to only one global ethic – dharma.  Sachar and Ranganath Misra have done a signal disservice to the integrity and unity of the nation by promoting a sectarian view, which will not achieve an integrally developed Bharat with equal opportunities for everyone to realise his or her full potential”.  
“Minorities cannot ask for caste quotas. If either Christians or Muslims accept and practice caste discrimination amongst themselves, the conversion process among such groups or individuals should be legally declared to be inadequate and incomplete. In other words, they may be declared as non-Christians and non-Muslims and asked to either complete the process of their transformation to the new faith, or return to the Hindu fold. There can be no half-way house in this matter”.  
The need to strip converts of quota regime: The Kendriya Sarna Samiti (KSS) asserts that tribal converts no longer belong to the Scheduled Tribe as they have renounced their traditional identity as a sine qua non of the conversion process”.  
Cannibalizing Hindu society: Evangelicals have jealously sought access to the caste-based reservation benefits of Hindu depressed classes. They saw their chance when the Mandal Commission listed some ‘Muslim castes’ among the OBCs. Political parties were too short-sighted to challenge this dangerous opening, and Christians began to lobby for SC/ST benefits for ‘Dalit Christians’.”  
“Enough is enough! Stop looting! Don’t try patience of Hindus: Why should Hindu tax-payers pay for vicious design by Islamic fanatics? Why should Hindu SCs, OBCs and STs and other meritorious Hindus allow Muslims and Christians to snatch their school/college seats, jobs, loans, lands and political rights?... STs converted to Christianity should not be allowed to retain and enjoy their ST reservations. Articles 25 to 30, minority privileges should be cancelled”.  
“It is the story of another anti-Hindu policy of Orissa government, which is going to create an explosive situation… Levinus Kindo, IAS, the member of state board of revenue, has issued a circular to all the collectors that during his last tour of the tribal areas, he found that the tribal Christians (tribal converted to Christianity) are being deprived of getting proper benefit as they are being recorded as only Christians in the government records and in their respective Record of Rights (RoR) too… ‘Such an illegal and anti-national circular of Orissa government will encourage the missionary to undertake more conversions in the tribal areas. Christians will enjoy double privilege as tribals along with their present religion, says Sarat Chandra Sarangi, state general secretary of VHP, Orissa while expressing his reaction on the issue’.”
Hindutva on secularism: ‘a façade for anti-Hinduism’
 
For the ideologues and votaries of Hindutva, secularism is a dirty word:
 
Secularism has degenerated as the backbone of terrorists & evangelists: This India had to be a Hindu India. The ideology of Indian secularism, misconceived from the very outset, has become the backbone of Islamic jihad and fundamentalist evangelism. The one is committing mass murder, the other attempting to transform India’s cultural and political landscape in order to reimpose foreign rule over it”.  
“Secularism: A facade for anti-Hinduism: We became enamoured of the word secular because of our contact with the Britishers during their 150 years rule or because of our association and appreciation of the British polity… Why are not Pakistan and Bangladesh secular states?”  
“For RSS, secularism is irrelevant in India: The perversion of the concept of secularism has resulted in the terming of nationalists as communal and people with communal thinking being hailed as secular. Saffron should have been the only colour on the national flag as other colours represented a communal thought.”  
“Rajnath is right. Secularism has become communal”.  
“Secularism is the most misused word in the country...This must stop. Because of the rampant misuse of the word, there have been instances of tension in society.”  
Issue after issue of the Organiser is splashed with headlines such as ‘Secularism as insulting Hindus’, ‘Obnoxious application of secularism’. The media and secular groups who ‘dare’ to spoke out against anti-Christian or anti-Muslim atrocities are severely castigated for alleged “minority appeasement” and “pseudo-secularism”.
 
 
Hindutva on India’s minorities: ‘Your Safety lies in our goodwill’
 
“Hindutva is facing severe jolts all over the world. Muslim fundamentalists and Christian missionaries are the age old enemies of Hinduism. Next to them the communists have come forward to squeeze the throat of this great way of life. They have also walked a long way in this deadly mission”  
“Minorities must have good relations with the majority for their safety”.  
“Unravelling the poisonous power of discourse: The UPA government made a great communal leap when it formed the Ministry of Minority Affairs... The creation of National Commission for Minorities is another instance of communalism… The Sachar Committee’s functioning needs to be probed… it has violated not only its terms and references but created a poisonous atmosphere. The recommendations are not [only] communal and divisive [but] a complete retreat to hey days of the Muslim Leagues’ politics”.  
Hindutva on the Vatican: Pope a ‘dacoit’
 
“Conversion to Christianity in the pretext of service, health, education and co-operation is an insult and devaluation to the service itself and a crime against humanity… It proves that your services are selfish motivated and expansionist as well as intolerant… In all the states, districts, areas where the Christian missionaries are active and powerful, the hatred, crime, social unrest, separatism, addiction are on the increase and the environment of peace, harmony, brotherhood and happiness are fading away”.  
“The pontiff, who is a dacoit, cannot be India’s guest”.  
Christianity inherited this [Roman] instinct of cruelty. The Pope wants to convert us Hindus into Christianity. The West wants to have control over our destiny. Can we allow these things to happen?”
Hindutva’s advise to Christians: set up Indian nationalistic churches 
 
“Indian Christians must free themselves from from the stranglehold of foreign countries by setting up Indian nationalistic churches."  
“Church is an arm of the West's defence forces. It has been used to guide Christians into domestic as well as international politics”.  
“An Indian Christianity not just desirable, it is a must: Indian Christians must purge their faith of… imperial distortions… Indian Christians must leave this tradition of violence. They are legatees of the Indian (Vedic) tradition of love (of humanity as a family) and the Buddhist tradition of compassion. But this also happens to be the tradition of Jesus. Christianity was born as a religion of love. Today it is a religion of hatred. This must be a matter of concern to Indian Christians. Only the guidance of a lofty world view such as that of Vedanta can release them from their predicament. Only they can save Christianity’.  
The above quotes are just a few examples, taken mostly from the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, which clearly shows the hostility of the sangh parivar towards the principles and values enshrined in the Indian Constitution, demonisation of Christianity and Islam, animosity and hostility towards’s the country’s Christians and Muslims. There is nothing new here.
 
The term Hindutva was coined by Vikram D Savarkar leader of the Hindu Mahasabha a century ago. In his book with the same title, he had argued that India belongs only to those for whom the country was both a pitrubhoomi (fatherland) and punya bhoomi (holy land). Madhav S Golwalker, the second and the longest serving sarsanghchalak (chief) of the RSS (1940-1973) in its 90-year-old history, till date remains the most revered ‘Guru’ of the sangh privar. In his book We, or our nationhood defined first published in 1939, had also asserted that non-Hindus may at best aspire to continue living in his imagined Hindu Rashtra as second class citizens. In the early 1960s, he had identified Muslims, Christians and communists as the three “internal enemies” who are far more dangerous than external enemies and Hindus must guard against them.  
 
Thus, what the leadership and the ideologues argue of the sangh parivar argue today, as may be seen from statements and writings such as those referred to above lie spring from the core ideas of Hindutva formulated a century ago. Even today, the sangh parivar remains committed to turning secular-democratic India in to a Hindu Rashtra.
 
As in case of the Rashtriya Muslim Manch, through the institution of the proposed Rashtriya Isai Manch, the sangh parivar wants to create a forum of RSS-friendly Christians to legitimise its anti-Constitution, anti-secular democratic, anti-minorities world views. It is important to recall that the Rashtriya Muslim Manch was floated in the aftermath of the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat under the watch of then chief minister Narendra Modi and the proclamation by the RSS top leadership that Muslims must have cordial relations with Hindus in the interests of their own safety. It is no less important to remember who Indresh Kumar, the man who is being projected as the RSS face for the proposed Christian front, is. For the Survivors Association of Kandhamal (SAK), Odisha, he along with VHP leader, PravinTogadia are the masterminds of the 2008 mass crimes against the state’s Christians. 
 
Church for combating Fanaticism and fundamentalism
Contrary to the sangh parivar’s baseless allegations of forced or induced conversions, the Church promotes the idea of “building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole”. But it also warns against the dangers of religious intolerance, fundamentalism and extremism.
 
In 2013, Cardinal Tauran, president of Justice and Peace Commission affirmed that religious freedom was a sacred and inalienable right, convinced that to deny or limit religious freedom in an arbitrary fashion means cultivating a reductive vision of the human person and rendering impossible the affirmation of an authentic and lasting peace for the whole human family.
 
During his visit to Turkey in 2014, Pope Francis stated: “Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers. Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue can make an important contribution to attaining this lofty and urgent goal, so that there will be an end to all forms of fundamentalism and terrorism which gravely demean the dignity of every man and woman and exploit religion.
 
Cardinal Parolin, Vatican’s secretary of state is not quite optimistic about the dialogue with fundamentalists: “I don’t think that it’s possible to dialogue with fundamentalists. One can offer to dialogue, but I don’t see many opportunities of establishing a dialogue”.
 
Final Comments
Should the Church join hands with those who believe in a just, equitable and diverse world or should they seek security from communal, hate-filled and violent groups that demonise other religious traditions? This is a very important moment in history when the Church could and should join eminent writers, thinkers, academicians, film makers and civil society who speak for the overwhelming majority of all Indians and who believe in a secular democratic polity which protects and promotes the equal rights and freedoms of all citizens, including the right to freedom of religion. Of course, the Church could and should also engage in dialogue with Hindu religious leaders too. But nothing is to be gained in cozying up with the wolves of the sangh privar parading about in sheep’s clothing.
 
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