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Amit Shah interview: Nationalism should be an issue in every democracy

BJP president Amit Shah is keeping count: 96 rallies since polls were notified, he will cross his 100th this weekend. On April 19, en route to Gujarat, from where, he says, he’s seeking a public mandate to the ‘highest panchayat (Lok Sabha)’, he spoke with The Indian Express.

Written by Ravish Tiwari , Raj Kamal Jha |
Updated: April 23, 2019 1:12:54 pm
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BJP president Amit Shah is keeping count: 96 rallies since polls were notified, he will cross his 100th this weekend. On April 19, en route to Gujarat, from where, he says, he’s seeking a public mandate to the ‘highest panchayat (Lok Sabha)’, he spoke with Ravish Tiwari and Raj Kamal Jha.

What’s the difference between Amit Shah campaigning in 2019 and Amit Shah campaigning in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections?

We had Narendra Modiji’s naam (name) in 2014. Now we have Modiji’s naam aur kaam (name and work). In 2014, there was hope in Modi, today the people have hope and expectations.

Read this interview in Malayalam, Bangla, Tamil

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There is discussion on whether the 2019 elections are like the one in 1971 (pre-Bangladesh War) or 1977 (post-Emergency) or 1989 (Bofors) or 2004 (the NDA’s India Shining). How do you see it?

Unfortunately, since the mid-’60s, elections haven’t been contested on issues that mattered. One election happened in the shadow of the Bangladesh War, one around the Emergency, one around Kargil. For the first time, polls are revolving around issues that matter in a democracy. Casteism, nepotism and appeasement have been left aside and the politics of performance is shaping the direction of elections.

So, critics say, why deflect the focus from performance to chest-thumping nationalism and Pakistan?

The issue is not Pakistan but national security. Those who equate national security with Pakistan (show) their intellectual bankruptcy. Nationalism should be an issue in every democracy. What’s wrong with a nationalist sentiment in the electorate?

The BJP is raising this as an issue to whip up sentiment.

National security is not an issue of sentiment, it’s a real issue. For years, we did not have a concrete national security doctrine. Our security policy was subsumed in our foreign policy. It’s only after the Modi government came that our defence policy has been defined as distinct from foreign policy. I consider this a big election issue.

The Vajpayee government depended upon a wobbly coalition, an aggressive RSS, but the Modi government had a stable majority, little pressure from allies and a cordial equation with the RSS. The Vajpayee government had Pokhran, national highway, telecom and electricity reforms, disinvestment as legacies. What does the Modi government have?

When we took over, we were at the 11th place as an economy. Now we stand at sixth and are on our way to become the fifth. We have demonstrated new alertness on the security front. No one can take our borders lightly. Even while holding macro-economic parameters under control, we changed the lives of 50 crore people. You are comparing two five-year periods. I am comparing our five-year period with 55 years of the Congress.

While championing garibi hatao, the Congress couldn’t provide LPG cylinders to the poor. They gave 13 crore cylinders in 70 years, we distributed 13 crore cylinders in five years. Of this, seven crore have gone to the poor.

On power to each household, we have managed to reach about 98 per cent of the households. We will reach the remaining 2 per cent in remote areas by 2022.

Read | Will remove every single infiltrator, except Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs: Amit Shah

We made an effort to provide toilets to each household. There were 11 crore households without toilets. We have provided toilets to eight crore households and will cover the remaining by 2022. We have set a target to provide clean water to each household by 2022. We have set a target to provide a roof for every household by 2022. The health coverage of up to Rs 5 lakh for 50 crore people is the world’s largest such programme. About 23 lakh people have already benefited from it.

Merging 16 taxes and bringing the entire country into one tax net through GST isn’t a small achievement. A government which works for 30 years used to take five big decisions. We have taken more than 30 big decisions in the last five years.

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If so many things were achieved, why was there panic after the Assembly election results last year? The rash of announcements — EWS quota, PM-KISAN, Income Tax relief up to Rs 5 lakh taxable income and pension for the unorganised sector — all after the defeat in three states.

You are seeing this from the prism of journalists. Look at it from the side of administration.

We gradually brought the fiscal deficit from 6 per cent to under 3.5 per cent and increased direct and indirect tax revenues alongside. We took the (tax relief) decision having controlled the fiscal deficit. It has nothing to do with the elections.

The EWS quota is not a political decision, it is a social decision. A large section of the population was developing a sense of kuntha (frustration). There have been agitations for reservation at several places across the country. The government will have to consider these things. (The quota decision) was taken after a consensus emerged among members of the NDA. It should not be seen in connection with the elections. If that had been the case, we could have done all this ahead of the Assembly polls last year. Probably it could have benefited us in the (three) states.

Also Read | Can PM Narendra Modi still tilt the balance in Gujarat?

What about PM-KISAN? The government has been a fiscal hawk. You didn’t let your Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh governments announce loan waivers ahead of the elections, but after the defeat, you announced PM-KISAN.

There was a committee in NITI Aayog looking into the welfare of farmers. About three crore farmers benefit from loans but we have about 15 crore farmers. About 12 crore farmers rely on local moneylenders. A large number of them have average landholdings below one acre. NABARD had calculated the input costs for this size — it was estimated to be under Rs 3,000. So it was reasoned that if we provide them Rs 3,000 each for two crops — Rabi and Kharif — they may not need to rush to moneylenders.

That’s why Rs 6,000 as support. This Rs 6,000 doesn’t create a vote bank. This is an administrative decision based upon genuine assessment, with an eye on 12 crore farmers out of the formal credit structure.

Did you analyse the setback in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan?

I don’t consider it a setback. Chhattisgarh, for sure, is a matter for atmachintan (self-introspection). Keeping in view 15 years of anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh and about 10 years of experience in Rajasthan, we still got about 1.5 lakh more votes in Madhya Pradesh, and look at the seat difference there as well. In Rajasthan, too, we were just about 1.5 lakh votes behind. The party hasn’t lost its ground in these states. The BJP will re-establish its dominance in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in the Lok Sabha elections.

What about Uttar Pradesh, which has seen such a big political realignment (the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party coming together)?

The UP analysis being done by the media is based on politics from 10 years ago when voters were virtually tied with leaders as vote banks. The leaders would forge their equations in Delhi drawing-rooms and voters would follow their decisions.

The situation has completely changed in UP and the country. In fact, voters are no more hostage to their leaders. Voters are taking their own decisions. So the solution forged by leaders is not the solution at the grassroots. Even today, I am confident we will maintain our 73 seats and can go up beyond 74. You may not accept it, but I will reiterate. Our 73 will not become 72, it can only become 74.

Which, effectively, means you are winning all the 16 seats that have already gone to polls in UP?

Let’s not talk about which seats we are winning. We will win 74 seats (in UP).

Sounds like bravado.

You thought the same thing about 325 seats (in the UP Assembly) and 73 (in the Lok Sabha from the state).

Read | Lok Sabha elections: Gulberg Society massacre survivor takes on Amit Shah in Gandhinagar

Amit Shah, Amit Shah interview, Amit Shah on Sadhvi Pragya, Amit Shah on Narendra Modi, Amit Shah on Rafale deal, Amit Shah on cow vigilantism, Amit Shah on Kashmiris, Amit Shah on Pakistan, Amit Shah Indian Express interview, Lok Sabha elections 2019, election news It is my firm belief that those chanting Bharat tere tukde honge are not nationalist. Those who support them are also not nationalist: Amit Shah (Express Photo: Anil Sharma)

Yes, nationalism can be an issue in a democracy. But what is disconcerting is the way the BJP has become the certifying agency for nationalism. Just as you once accused the Left of giving certificates for secularism.

Zara bhi nahin (Not at all). It is my firm belief that those chanting Bharat tere tukde honge are not nationalist. Those who support them are also not nationalist. This is my definition. It is my democratic right to put forth my definition. Let the electorate accept whichever definition it accepts. Such a large country cannot remain one without it (nationalism). I am ready for a public debate on it. We never said that what we say is nationalist. But we say that those 1,000 people saying Bharat tere tukde-tukde honge are not nationalists. I have a democratic right to say this.

Those who say that, don’t they have a right to live in this country?

I have never said that. The law should take its course with all its firmness. Those indulging in rajdroh should go to jails.

In our politics so far, we heard ‘anti-people’, ‘anti-poor’. Now we hear ‘you are anti-national, you are pro-Pakistan’. Why this discourse?

We don’t set the discourse. It is the actions of political parties that give rise to this discourse. You call the Army Chief a goonda, you embrace the Pakistan Army chief, you distribute certificates of freedom of expression to those saying Bharat tere tukde honge in JNU. This action will automatically create a perception, we don’t create this perception. Are we the ones who told the Congress leader to call our Army Chief a goonda? Can we tell (Navjot Singh) Sidhu to go and hug the Pakistan Army chief? We didn’t do it. It’s what they did.

Five years in power and hoping for a second term, why hasn’t the BJP shown any movement towards the centre, become more accommodating?

What are you saying? At one point, we had only two seats and now we have a clear majority. We have 16 state governments. Our organisation has expanded everywhere. We are going to win in West Bengal, Odisha and the Northeast.

This question is important because last year RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat even read down Guru Golwalkar (distanced the Sangh from Golwalkar’s Muslims-are-the-enemy remark). But in 2019, the BJP is moving further to the right. You fielded Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in the elections.

What is the objection here? Isn’t Pragya Thakur a citizen? She is not eligible for fighting elections? The Congress made an attempt to defame the entire country in the name of Hindu terror. This is a country where we feed even ants that bite us. They created a false case and booked sadhus and sadhvis. I want to ask: everyone has been acquitted in the Samjhauta case. The court has said that there is no evidence.

[ie_backquote quote=”What is the objection here? Isn’t Pragya Thakur a citizen? She is not eligible for fighting elections?”]

Shouldn’t The Indian Express ask for accountability of the real accused being left out? Look how they compromised national security for their vote bank politics. CBI (agencies) had arrested them. Where are they? Isn’t it an issue for the country? Those who were caught, even American agencies had said that it was a Lashkar act, Indian agencies certified it. But to certify Hindu terror, saffron terror, you created false cases.

Case after case collapsed in courts. But the media is sitting silent. Seculars are silent. The Indian Express is also silent. Why are you silent? At least you should ask about those accused. I think this is a big issue that needs to be in public debate.

In 2017, there was a conviction by the court in the Ajmer Dargah blast case. The Devendra Fadnavis government is acting against the Sanatan Sanstha. So to give Thakur a clean chit?

Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Swami Aseemanand are not linked to the Sanatan Sanstha. Please separate the two. That these people had a meeting for a conspiracy was falsely indicated. Two courts have arrived at this conclusion. When the conspiracy theory itself doesn’t stand….

Explained: The case against BJP candidate Sadhvi Pragya

The fact is that Thakur is facing trial under the UAPA.

The entire Hindu terror theory was built on the basis of a single meeting. Two courts of the country have rejected that meeting — in Mecca Masjid blast and Samjhauta blast cases. Rest, the cases keep going on. There is a time table for the courts, but, theoretically, both courts have rejected that meeting.

How can the ruling party take a call that someone is innocent before court has?

This was an attempt for vote bank politics that we have exposed.

Globally, India is trying to get Jaish chief Masood Azhar banned for his terror links. Doesn’t it weaken India’s case when a person facing trial on terror charges is fielded by the ruling party in the elections?

Not at all. The reason being that the conspiracy theory is the same in all four cases. Two courts have rejected that conspiracy theory. In fact, the word will spread across the world that Hindu terror was a wrong projection. The image of India that was damaged will be repaired.

(This interview was done before Thakur’s remark that Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare had died because she had cursed him. She later retracted that statement.)

Going back to the question of the BJP moving further to the right… one minister tells people to go to Pakistan, one Governor openly makes hateful comments. But Amit Shah keeps mum.

We are a big party with 11 crore members. The media will have to decide whom they consider as party. The party has a structure: we have spokespersons, office-bearers, people selected in the government. Sometimes, people blurt out a few sentences in the flow of their sentiment. They should be judged by (their) actions, on the basis of what is their action. If there is some action, then I will have to own up to your questions and face finger-pointing.

We will not let you skip the Giriraj Singh question. You went out of the way to tweet and assuage the Union minister when he indicated his displeasure over the change of his constituency. But when he suggested sending actor Shah Rukh Khan to Pakistan, you were silent.

The Prime Minister said that such remarks should not be made. That people should avoid such remarks. After the Prime Minister said it, what is there for me to add? It is not that people haven’t avoided (making such remarks) after that.

You choose your words very carefully. So when you recently said that looking at a crowd (in Wayanad, when Rahul Gandhi was filing his nomination), you could not make out if they were Indians or Pakistanis, what did you mean?

No, no, I didn’t say (anything) about the people. I was referring to the procession, the visuals, the flags. You should look it up.

But, surely, you knew that was India, that everyone there was an Indian.

Yes, it is very much in India. But the question is mahaul kaisa hai aur kyun aisa mahaul hai (how’s the atmosphere and why is it so). I didn’t say about the people or the region. But the mahaul in the procession was a classic case of appeasement.

Those who vote for the BJP evidently don’t need it. Those who don’t vote for the BJP, what’s your definition of nationalism for them?

Those who do not vote (for the BJP) are free to have their voting choice. I do not believe that only those voting for the BJP are deshbhakts (patriots).

Read | CM Vijayan hits back at Amit Shah for Pakistan jibe: ‘Does he have any idea about Wayanad?’

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If Hindus are a minority in the social composition of a constituency, what’s the issue? What’s the issue in an opposition leader contesting elections from there?

I made a statement of fact. That he (Rahul Gandhi) was contesting from a minority-dominated constituency. What is the objection to that? We have 16 governments as well as the Central government, tell me one case of atrocity against Muslims.

The cow vigilantism cases.

What’s the problem with cow protection?

The lynching of Muslims in the name of cow vigilantism.

Mob lynching is a question of law and order. If you compare statistics, it was similar during the previous government. I will own up if we (BJP governments) have dithered in tackling any case. Challans have been issued. Section 302 has been invoked in all cases. Punishments have been announced in three cases. We haven’t taken any case lightly.

There is now a clear attempt to make Kashmir a villain to whip up nationalist passions across the country.

What do you mean ‘making villain’? Please be specific.

That Kashmiri Muslims aren’t deshbhakts and we have to be tough against them.

Show me a single statement like this. We have said that we will not take terrorism lightly and we will act tough against it. We have never used the word ‘Kashmiri’ or ‘Muslim’. We will act tough against terrorism. Why are you assuming it is Kashmiri?

Because the BJP suddenly walks out of the government in Jammu and Kashmir less than a year before the general elections and does a U-turn to suggest that your partner, the PDP, is hand-in-glove with terrorists.

I cannot make public the reason behind our exit as it was a matter between the two parties. But I can tell you categorically that whenever the BJP talks about terrorism, it isn’t a euphemism either for Kashmiris or Muslims. It only refers to terrorists.

Your scorched-earth policy is alienating mainstream parties in Kashmir. They say that if it continues, there will be no one left to hold the Tricolour there.

We worked for two-and-a-half years under this theory. But then Uri happens, Pulwama happens. What solution do we have? We have to look for solutions.

Opinion | Unlike 2014, the BJP isn’t setting the agenda this election. Congress has seized the initiative

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You agree that Jammu and Kashmir, because of its history, its relationship with the Constitution, is not like UP, Bihar or Bengal? It is special.

See, I believe that isko special manana hi galti hai (To consider it special is wrong). It’s part of the country, like any other part.

No state keeps its public highway out of bounds to the public for two days in a week. You put security barricades, but to make citizens seek permission for going to hospital…?

Law-enforcement agencies should have the freedom to do what it takes for law and order. It is a border state. Law and order has to have high priority.

You mentioned the EWS quota as a response to Jat, Patidar, Maratha agitations. You get tens of thousands of applications for every minor job in the government. How do you see this challenge?

We have tried to address it differently. A combination of three — skill development, Mudra (loans), clubbed with economic development. There can’t be 125 crore government jobs in a country of 125 crore people. We have tried to generate jobs. Jobs will automatically get generated if we speed up the pace of road construction. If Railway works happen at more than twice the speed, it will generate more jobs. If we connect one lakh villages with optical fibre, there will be job generation. Constructing eight crore toilets, two crore houses, and the economy growing at the rate of 7-8 per cent will generate jobs.

You say this but you differ with statistics when it doesn’t suit you. Don’t allow data to become public.

It is coming out. No one has stopped it.

So the government didn’t withhold the NSSO job survey (that red-flagged unemployment)?

We haven’t stopped it (the NSSO labour survey). They (the statisticians) had a confusion among themselves. I am not quite aware of it.

[ie_backquote quote=”We haven’t stopped it (the NSSO labour survey). They (the statisticians) had a confusion among themselves. I am not quite aware of it”]

Read | Casual farm labour shrinks by 40% since 2011-12, total job loss nearly 3 crore: NSSO data shows

Every BJP supporter says ‘Modi, Modi, Modi’. Campaigners right from Amit Shah down campaign only in the name of Modi. Even Prime Minister Modi campaigns in the name of Modi. There seems a personality cult is building around Narendra Modi. It may win you elections but what’s the risk that it doesn’t become sycophancy?

If I start saying ‘Ravish, Ravish, Ravish’, will it fetch votes? They (the Congress) are chanting ‘Rahul, Rahul, Rahul’, where are the votes? People vote when they trust the work done by the person. You are discounting the trust element. There is work behind that name, there has to be trust behind that name. You are discounting this and only focusing on the name.

We are not marketing Modi name but the work and trust that it projects. Modi symbol hai desh ke garib kalyan ka, Modi symbol hai is desh ke gaurav ko badhane ka, Modi symbol hai desh ki suraksha ka (Modi is the national symbol for poverty alleviation, Modi is a symbol for building national pride, Modi is a symbol for securing the nation).

But then why the victimhood mindset? That Modi is a chaiwallah, that he is a chowkidar. There have been other PMs — Lal Bahadur Shashtri, Charan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh — who had a humble background.

We feel we should say it. Whether the electorate accepts it or not will be clear on May 23. Let my party decide what and how to campaign.

Over the last 10-15 years, the BJP was known, like the Left, for a formidable cast of leaders who debated and disagreed, even in public. That’s not visible today.

If you count the time we have spent on deciding candidates, you will realise this analysis is wrong. We took 86 hours of deliberations to finalise our candidates. The top 11 people spent time. It doesn’t take time to run through 500 names but (if there was no disagreement) why should we take so much time? The seats left out are still being discussed with state units. No other party has such a detailed consultation process.

Another side of the Modi cult is the refrain that everything is blamed on one family and 55 years. The Kashmir problem, the Gandhi dynasty to blame. The China border issue, the Gandhi dynasty, Nehru to blame. One family, 55 years rule is the common answer.

I always answer each question on its merit. I haven’t referred to 55 years in any answer in this interview.

Your handling of allies like the TDP, PDP and even the Shiv Sena raises doubts whether the Modi-Shah leadership is capable of managing a coalition like Vajpayee.

We have run the government for five years. Barring the TDP, no one has deserted us. We are the ones who parted ways with the PDP. The TDP left but then Nitish Kumarji joined us.

The way you phased out L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi.

Zara bhi nahin kiya hai aisa (Nothing like that has happened). Eighteen people who crossed the age of 75 didn’t get re-nomination. It is not that Advaniji and Joshiji have been singled out. Shanta Kumar, Bhagatda (Koshyari), (B C) Khanduriji, Hukmdev Narayanbabu, Ram Tahal Choudhary, Sumitra tai (Mahajan). There are several such names who didn’t get tickets.

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In his statement, which seemed a message also to the Modi-Shah leadership, Advani said that during his time, political adversaries were never called ‘enemy’ or ‘anti-national’.

We have never called anyone ‘anti-national’. We have called anti-national acts as anti-national. We never used this for any person. If you call the Army Chief a goonda and pull down the morale of the Army, we will definitely call it anti-national.
Your party’s success is through the democratic process. Yet, there is discomfort with unelected institutions like the judiciary, RBI, media. A democracy has to have several institutions which are unelected. How do they stay safe?

They are all safe. Ask me bluntly if there has been any attack on any institution.

[ie_backquote quote=”They are all safe. Ask me bluntly if there has been any attack on any institution.”]

Read | Explained: LK Advani and his many ‘unpopular’ remarks

The judiciary. Four most senior judges came out for the first time publicly suggesting interference from the political executive.

They didn’t say so. They spoke against the Chief Justice of India. Please don’t misquote the judiciary. Not a single word was spoken against the government.

The judges did suggest that the CJI was being influenced from outside. The inference was the political executive.

Not even remotely. You may ask Justice (retd) J Chelameswar. The government never interfered in the judiciary. They have to resolve their internal problems through their internal mechanism. Good that they resolved it. But did you ask the Congress the reason for their impeachment motion (against former CJI Dipak Mishra)? Wasn’t that an attack on the judiciary when you did not get desirable judgments?

What about the RBI? Two RBI governors leaving against their wishes?

Whatever we have done has been done under the RBI Act. The government has the right to consultation. Should we not discuss? Who is answerable to Parliament? Who is responsible to the country? Isn’t the Finance Minister (accountable)? Can’t we write a letter to discuss if your theoretical decision has a bearing on the country’s economy? Are we supposed to tear and throw the RBI Act into the dustbin? We wrote a letter quoting the clauses of the Act. Are you saying that the RBI should not work according to the Act? Should it run on whim?

Ultimately, institutions will have to run according to the legislation (that frames them). Autonomy is important but it comes under the respective legislation. Parliament is autonomous, but there are rules governing its functioning by the Speaker.

You and the PM are from Gujarat, which has a tradition of a strong relationship between the political establishment and business? Today, business perceives hostility. Did the ‘suit boot ki sarkar’ criticism push you on the backfoot? What happened?

It’s not like that. The fact is that when the government was of suit boot, they (business) weren’t afraid. Law-enforcement agencies are doing their job now. No one is afraid. Those doing a good job are performing well. Should bank loans be not recovered? Everyone should work according to the rule of law. They weren’t afraid earlier because that was a suit boot government.

What about the media? One of your ministers floated an idea to control the media in the name of fake news. The Prime Minister’s Office had to intervene and revoke it.

It was an administrative decision by one minister. Jaise hi dhyan mein aaya, correct kiya humne usko (We corrected it the moment it was brought to our notice).

On Rafale, did the financial health of the Reliance defence firm ever come up in discussions within the government?

Let’s get one thing clear. That company hasn’t got the work to manufacture the fighter aircraft. A lie is being spread.

It got offset contracts.

Offsets have gone to 30 companies. How much business they get will come from the total offset set for all offset partners. Which company will get how much business is not even finalised.

But there were differences within the Indian Negotiating Team. Objections by three of them were overruled. There was a noting that mentioned the PMO was interfering.

We have placed the entire procedure before the court. I am not going to comment on this. But I can make one statement clearly: there has been no deviation from the defence procurement procedure. Whatever has been done, has been as per the defence procurement procedure.

Read | Explained: Setback for govt, SC order brings Rafale deal back in the picture

The Prime Minister invested a lot of effort in reaching out to Dalits. But the April 2, 2018 protests and the Bhima Koregaon incident indicated that the BJP’s acceptance among the community still has some way to go.

It’s not about the BJP, there is an effort going on to foment discontent against the system. We will have to face it as a country.

But the protests…?

Every party has its cadres. They can mobilise for protests. We can do that as well. You wait for counting day. The BJP will sweep almost every Dalit seat.

There is a deep trust deficit between the BJP and Muslims.

I will, in fact, appeal to The Indian Express to reduce this trust deficit. Media has a big role in widening the chasm. If you (media) help, this will be bridged in two, five, 10 years.

There is a feeling in sections of the Muslim community of being marginalised, not being counted in the country’s politics.

Aisa nahin hai. (It’s not so.)

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