An Indian Military Doctrine: Wisdom Makes It Possible
Recently a set of youngsters in Mathura got into trouble for cheering for the Pakistan team. On the other hand, two Pakistani soldiers Captain Karnal Sher Khan and Lt. Col. Mohd Akram Raja received the high military honours Nishan-e-Haider and the Hilal-i-Jur’at respectively on the basis of notes of commendation written by Indian Military officers. What should the military make of this?
Take the example of the recent strikes by India on terrorist camps in Pakistan and the dropping of supplies by plane over Sri Lanka during Rajiv Gandhi’s time. How does this rationalize with the often made claim that ‘never in ancient Indian history has an Indian king ever invaded another land’? So, are we out of character in doing something like this?
And there are many other such questions that can be asked as regards military action:
- to spend more money on the armed forces or not;
- to have nuclear arsenal or not;
- to have a Combined Defence Staff or not, and if so what should his/her powers be;
- to have Sarva Dharma Sthal in the various units or just single religion units or none at all;
- to adopt the policy of hot pursuit or not;
- to have shastra pooja or not;
- to implement one-rank-one pay as regards military pensions or is it unnecessary;
- to provide for military rations at peace stations or not;
- to disturb the economy of another nation and indulge in cyber-attacks or not;
- to join military alliances or not, and if yes what groups of nations to partner, oppose or stay neutral with, and many more...
A little thought will show that at the root of all these questions there is an issue regarding the Military Policy. If a policy exists then these questions can be answered based on what that policy dictates. So then the natural question arises, why do we not have a National Military Policy?
An authority on Policy matters, Gp Capt. Chacko (Retd) explains that it all begins with the Constitution of India. On its part, the Constitution aims at Comprehensive National Development (CND) and one of the dimensions for CND is Effective National Security. Further, protection of the nation against enemy military attacks is one of important aspects of National Security. And how the armed forces must go about its business of militarily protecting against those attacks is sought to be captured in what may be called as the National Military Policy. But Gp Capt. Chacko points out that it cannot be just about policy, there is a need for a doctrine.
There is a subtle difference between Policy and Doctrine. In his words, “Dogma is a principle or tenet or opinion projected as authoritative but without irrefutable proof.” The difference between Policy and Doctrine is that Doctrine also contains Dogma. Military matters concern the spiritual dimension, which cannot be covered under the cut and right principles that characterizes scientific thinking; therefore dogma is necessary and subsequently National Military Doctrine (NMD) is the need of the hour. NMD must therefore take care of the aims of the military as is ultimately culled from CND and it must therefore provide a guide to military action regardless of the scenarios the nation may encounter in the future.
But then again it is not just the military that is involved; it is a national concern and all — the civilian intelligentsia, the political activists, the national leadership/governments — are stake holders and active participants too. Ultimately it is the President of the nation who will be responsible for the defence of the nation and by implication it means the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers. And therefore NMD must take all of them into consideration.
Is a National Military Doctrine important? Yes, for sure. The absence of a clear doctrine leads everything to a point of limitless possibilities and to leaders having a free hand to do as they please. This seems attractive on the surface, but the inherent ambiguity leads to team work that is irresolute, unsystematic and unfocussed. The nation would have ambled all over the place when seen in retrospect, and over that period of time, the teeth of the military would largely be seen disconnected from the tail. If on the other hand, there is a clear doctrine, then the advantage is that it can give a strong sense of direction and purpose for a team — in this case team India; and specifically, the Indian military. A good and clear doctrine would effectively be a great force multiplier.
What we have seen so far since the Independence is that NMD/NMP gets fixed, among other things, by serendipity. Besides the superstructure set up by the Constitution of India and traditions that have slowly been built up over two centuries in some cases, Policy/Doctrine is more or less arbitrarily driven by the players in a given situation. A very dominant player in this decision making is the political force that holds sway at that given time. Then there is the Government of the day, to a lesser extent the bureaucracy, to an ‘ever’ lesser extent the leadership of the armed forces. Also responsible for direction in policy could be the nature, strength and purpose of international forces active at a given time. Surely there are other things too. The point is whether a clearly enunciated policy/doctrine would help; and if it will, why has the national leadership, over the last seven to eight decades, been averse to penning it down?
The challenge is that when the task of drafting a suitable doctrine is taken up, one becomes aware of some huge elephants in the room that are hard/awkward to reconcile with; and they have profound effect anyway.
One of these elephants is the eternal fear of the democrat — the civilians’ fear of military dictatorship. And another elephant is evidently a point of an eternal debate for the Indian intelligentsia: Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Violence. These two elephants evoke reactions in terms of heightened adverse emotions, vocal debates, and radical actions from various stake holders and no one is really too keen on touching the hot potato. And the confusion continues… The question is whether we can deal with these elephants upfront; if we can then the chances for drafting a National Military Doctrine becomes brighter.
Let’s consider the fear of military takeover first. This is an eternal question that even Socrates has considered more than 2000 years ago: “To have a fierce guard dog which will be strong enough to tackle all enemies, be obedient to the owner, and will not turn on the owner himself.” Most democracies that came into existence after World War II have seen spells of military rule. So the Indian founding fathers may be considered prudent that they were wary of this possibility. The neighbouring case is a special example. If it has happened in Pakistan why could it not happen in India? If in Pakistan, which is in turn ethnically similar to India, the military continues to be a sword dangling by a fine string over the government’s head; and in these seventy five years the string has snapped — not once but several times. Why can a military takeover therefore not happen in India too? Clearly, no leader is able to hit the nail in the head as regards this issue. It has been best left at an awkward silence — handling issues as they arise.
In any case, India has turned out to be an exception when compared to other countries. The part of the subcontinent that stood by Mahatma Gandhi has managed to keep the Constitution in force all along.
Credit can surely be given to the system that has been set up and maintained by the Indian founding fathers and the subsequent leadership. The use of the IAS as a buffer and the presence of certain forces under the Ministry of Home Affairs is also considered to play a role in this. Also of interest is the fact that unlike the Pakistani Army which is largely Punjabi and therefore homogenous, the Indian armed forces is extremely diverse, and it would take hell of a job for a General to get everyone to see eye-to-eye on a coup. What further makes a coup almost impossible in India is the fact that every year the Indian soldier takes an oath of defending the Constitution — to the peril of his life if needed. A dictatorship would be a violation of the Constitution and if some General steps out of line with this aim, every Lt General, or anybody in the military hierarchy, could go against the General while at the same time being both righteous and a hero. It will, therefore, be close to impossible for a military takeover in India.
But besides that there is something underlying in the Hindu Ethos that plays a very significant role. Indian soldiers and Indians in general are inspired by higher principles of living through their traditions. Unlike mercenaries who are basically driven by personal gain, Indian soldiers are primarily driven by higher principles of inspired living. This land gives deep regard to ‘Dharma’ or ‘sacred duty’. Compensation is considered to be just the bonus — the real gain is reckoned in the spiritual plane. It instils in inspired Indians a tendency to keep away from having a sense of ‘need-triggered incompleteness’; and consequently they are not prioritizing the ‘chasing or aspiring for elusive happiness’. They are, instead, inspired to have an attitude that makes them realize their fullness and contentment a priori. Out of that fullness, they are encouraged to play their roles with selfless distinction. Briefly said: instead of a feeling of ‘incompleteness’ coupled with ‘seeking to fulfil wants’, there is ‘contentment’ coupled with a ‘wanting to express’. One in genuine pursuit of Dharma experiences it as unbecoming of oneself to seek for what is not one’s own in (Constitutional) Dharma. The inspiration in the ‘Dharma’ concept is such that the Minister, the Business honcho, the sports man, the sweeper, the dhobi, the farmer, the house wife, the soldier, each of them play their respective roles being inspired to act out of that sense of inherent equality. If the inspiration is to act out of a sense of contentment, the chance of wanting to destabilize a righteousness-inspired system is non-existent. So key to dealing with this elephant, of takeover by a dictator, is to realize and understand how the principle of Dharma actually works and how it fits well into the framework of the Constitutional Democracy of India.
Certainly, this does not seem to be the conscious thinking or ‘mind voice’ of the average Indian today; but as we have seen, the inspiration of Dharma does exist at a subtle level in the traditions, stories and rituals of the land. And it remains a fact that Dharma is at the heart of what inspires the Hindu Ethos.
A great nation always honours one that stands up for his Dharma (righteous duty). And the Americans seem to be doing a better job than the Indians in this regard — especially in giving due honour to the tradition of arms. And India has yet to see this open appreciation for the genuine heroes at levels that once made Bharat the “Golden Bird”. But that does not negate the fact that inspiration for the soldier is present and happening under the surface. The proof that this inspiration works is that the Indian Soldier has stood up to the test of spiritual excellence time and again. Surely, the truly blessed and honourable among them have looked death in the eye as they have played their role. And therefore, that underlying inspiration in the indigenous culture is, indeed, one major factor that has kept the Indian armed forces true to its constitutional mandate.
The political leadership must realize that dealing with the Indian society is a different ball game when compared to other nations. They must not be easily provoked into an irrational fear of the takeover by the Indian soldier. They must legislate, build systems and govern/execute in such a way that the soldier can play his role with distinction and honour. And most of all, they must include the military leaders as insiders in their decision making circles concerning National Security. Failure to include these experts and instead, interfacing administrative generalists in decision making can lead to compromising the security of the nation.
The other elephant in the room, concerning non-violence of the freedom struggle, has again something to do with the ‘Highest Inspiration’ and Dharma. Non-Violence was the predominant approach used by Indian freedom fighters in the struggle for freedom from british rule and those that lead this struggle eventually became the founding fathers of the nation. And that brings us to the tricky question ‘Why invest in armed forces if we believe in Non-Violence?’
This leads to confusion in the national thinking and it seems to have inducted weaknesses in our military system. It seems to have earned for us a reputation of being a soft state. What is the correct picture?
The Bhagwad Gita was Mahatma Gandhi’s prime go-to reference; he would refer to it whenever he was in a spiritual, emotional or intellectual crisis. But the Bhagwad Gita, on its part, inspired a soldier to take up arms with resolve and purpose. A reading of the Bhagwad Gita reveals that if Lord Krishna had not interfered, the hero of the winning side of the war had given up even before the war started. ‘Why do you engage me in this action?’ was Arjuna’s protest to his mentor and guide. Arjuna was wary that in the war his hand would be stained with the blood of his respected elders and close relatives. At that moment, he felt it was better to live a life of a mendicant than live in the world after killing the very people he must live for. And as it turned out, after hearing out the divine song and having understood, Arjuna picked up his bow ready to fight.
Therefore, coming to the Mahatma, is it not ironic that the founder of the political Non-Violence movement would consider the Bhagwad Gita as a final authority for himself? How can one that sees wisdom in this call to arms from the Gods tell his followers the opposite thing — of not taking up arms?
To understand how this works we must raise the level of the discussion again into the zone of the highest inspiration.
The colonizers had the advantage of the scientific temperament as they were at the forefront of the expanding scientific civilization. Besides that, a lot of strength, which they could muster, came from the sincerity in their belief that they were serving the sub-continent by ‘civilizing’ it. But to their dismay, their conflict with the practitioners of Non-Violence showed them that this particular moral right was all hogwash.
The wisdom anchor which british believed in was Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has taught Christians to show the other cheek when struck by the enemy. And instead, the colonizers were actually doing the opposite: they were the ones doing the slapping; they were the perpetrators of colonial exploitation. On the other hand, the Non-Violent Satyagrahis were living and dying this very high principle of Jesus Christ — and that too en-mass. ‘Showing the other cheek’ is metaphor and action point for the principle of ‘love your enemy’.
Love the Pakistani?! God forbid! Love the colonizer who is stealing wealth from the banks of the Ganges and draining it on the banks of the Thames? Love General Dyer who ordered that shooting at Jallianwallah Bagh? How can there be logic in that?!
In order to see sense in this, it is necessary to understand that it is not just about ‘matter’; it is a ‘matter of spirit’. It is about attitude. If we are all children of one God, then should we celebrate that oneness or should we be carried away by our ethnic, linguistic, religious, ideological and other differences? And if there is someone who is incidentally carried away by any particular difference; if that person is thereby driven hither and thither by the ego that arises out of that perceived difference, should we feel hate for him or sympathy?
The recommended attitude is that one must not degrade oneself into the frame of ego and hate. One must not degrade oneself into the very frame the other person is in. One must keep his sanity and stay snug in the frame that knows that we are all driven by the same Universal force from within. It is an attitude that says “there is no other” (Sirshree Tejpharkhi).
So then which attitude is better; one in which an enemy must be hated bitterly, or one in which one treats the neighbour as oneself? Should one be driven by the ego or be (and act) free of it?
If the bench mark is Excellence, if it is about living a calm-peaceful-contented life, if it is about adhering to Dharma, then the choice gets fixed automatically. And it makes the world of a difference. It is the difficult path, but it is one in which an individual is free from the emotional load of ego driven separateness. It is this frame of existence that brings out the best from individuals; as also from societies and indeed from armies too.
So then, ‘Should we pick up the bow and fight or should we put down all arms and offer Satyagraha?’
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ has pointed out: “Do not offer what is holy to a pack of wild dogs, they will turn around and bite you”. Was Gandhiji not aware of this empirical observation about human nature? Surely, there are situations where picking up arms is inevitable.
For example, was Dyer in a state of mind that would listen to sane advice from either the Bible, the Bhagwad Gita or from the Satyagrahis? He was hell bent in his resolve; and in the domain of his authority, there was no stopping him. At such a point, for someone in the opposite end, picking up the bow may be the only option; especially given that all other means of preventing the mindless violence were effectively exhausted.
But even so, Dyer must not be looked upon with hate. This is the attitude the wise teach us to have.
The key to unravelling this dichotomy is in realizing the power and blessing of being able to look as the situation as opportune for a doctor to resort to surgery — love in the mind/heart and militancy in the hand.
This advice is in the heart of the two great Epics which the Indians hold in the highest regard. Take the Ramayana: the only time Lord Rama was livid with rage was when he was about to shoot an arrow into the Earth at the moment when Jatayu informed him of his wife Sita’s abduction. At all other times he performed his ‘Dharma’, free of ego, hate or anger. Even when he shot the fatal arrow that felled arch Villain Ravana, he was performing his Dharma alone. When Ravana was at his death bed Lord Rama suggested to his brother Laxmana that he should go over to Ravana and learn from him as Ravana was a scholar par excellence. The same lesson also is seen in the Mahabharata when we compare the approaches of Lord Krishna and Yudhistira, towards arch villain Duryodhan. The righteous and scholarly elder brother of the Pandavas, Yudhistir, who thought from the human ego-frame, is upset that Duryodhan finds a place in Indira’s heaven after the latter’s death. The Divine Lord Krishna, on the other hand, treats Villian Duryodhan and Hero Arjuna as equals in offering help for the war when they approach him together. Or in other words, both Rama and Krishna loved unconditionally; it did not matter whether that somebody else was an enemy or friend or good or bad. They acknowledged the divine in all humans. Their prime concern was to uphold righteousness and Dharma. This attitude was taught to Kshatriyas of yore. And the same lesson was passed on to Arjuna himself through the Bhagwad Gita.
Gandhi, likewise, taught the Satyagrahis to stand up to the tallness of their spiritual heights. The necessary eligibility in order to offer Satyagraha was to encounter the opponent with love. So, Gandhiji had the attitude correct alright. But besides that, even seen from the perspective of a statesman or a military general, Gandhiji was probably right. The reality of those times suggested that if an Indian statesman were to consider a military response to the ruler then it would mean that a huge mass of poverty stricken Indians had to take on a wealthy, technologically endowed enemy. It would have been a massacre and the number of lives lost in a war would probably be way more than the number of Satyagrahis actually lost in those years. Besides, the physical elimination of each Satyagrahi (this indeed happened) by the colonizers deprived the colonizers even more of their moral right to rule — their mindless violence figuratively sank them deeper in the pits and it became morally right for Indians to say ‘just go’ — that was at the heart of the ‘Quit India’ call.
From these overall considerations it can be said that in today’s considerations, Gandhiji’s call for non-violence does not negate the need of effective armed forces. As if to confirm this one can remember Gandhiji’s famous saying: “Forgiveness has no meaning if there is no capacity to punish otherwise.”
Therefore, as regards Non-Violence, a deeper understanding of it asks for raising the level of considerations to wisdom as taught by the wise of the ages. Even in keeping with the highest aims of Non-Violence, the nation must find no hesitation in strengthening the armed forces as long as the three touchstones are not violated:
- Constitutional Democratic Dharma is upheld
- The soldier continues to be inspired by ‘the Highest’
- The Nation continues to strive for Global peace.
This brings us to a really super big elephant in the room. We, Indians, are a secular nation, so how can we talk of spiritual things in national policy?!
Secularism is another matter of hot debate and discussion in the civilian sphere; so much so that the elected national leadership went so far as to amend the constitution to include the term in the Preamble of the Constitution. But because the term ‘secularism’ has many internal dimensions, it is a source of confusion in public thought; especially today. And these dimensions need to be resolved in order to get clarity on the issue.
There are three dimensions that one must consider in order to define secularism with adequate clarity:
- The first dimension deals with the distance between polity and religion. This emerges from the Western concept of wanting to prevent religious leaders from interfering in the matter of the State. Therefore, secularism may mean that the distance between polity and religion be consciously large.
- The second dimension deals with the distance between polity on one hand and the various religions on the other. Are all these religions equally distant from the government or is one religion closer than the others?
- The third dimension in secularism deals with the approach and attitude of government towards spirituality. Just as God is universal and there are different manifestations in the various Gods of the various religions, so also spirituality is universal, and in pursuit of that spirituality religions have manifested into diverse institutions in society. The question arises as to whether that common spiritualism is a reality or an invention. Does Government believe in the existence of God or not? And in this dimension there are three possibilities: Atheistic Secularism; Theistic Secularism; or (the safe and uncommitted) Agnostic Secularism.
There is no law for or against any of these three types in the third dimension of Secularism. But there is a substantial difference possible in wellness when the theistic approach is preferred over the others, because it addresses the question of values at a different and truly substantial level. This is important particularly to the noble profession of arms because only at this ‘different’ level of thinking the passion of soldiering finds scholarly justification. This spiritual framework alone can show the class of the Indian soldier (or any true soldier) in the correct perspective. Without spirituality and/or ‘highest inspiration’ in the considerations, soldiering will ‘appear’ only like mercenary activity — albeit with high risks and some interesting perks.
On the other hand, Atheism is a belief system just like Theism. Some people just ‘believe’ that the spirit does not exist; ‘if I cannot sense something with my five senses then it does not exist’, is what they apparently say. In addition, there is another untested belief that spirituality and science are at loggerheads, and that an individual must therefore necessarily take a stand for one and against the other. But why should governments be carried away with this particular ‘belief system’ (Atheistic)? The wise of this land and the wise all over the world have spoken, and continue to speak, of the spiritual dimension of the man as being truth and reality. They say that living in awareness of (and in tune with) this spiritual dimension of human nature ultimately brings the best out of individuals, societies and nations.
As for the Indian soldier, looking at his practical reality today, it is evident that he has his heart in the right place. The military in the Republic of India has risen to the challenge time and again. The spirit in each of the units/regiments of the armed forces is at home with upholding naam, nishaan and izzat and, these in turn emanate a strong sense of selflessness. There is genuine admiration and honour, in these units, for those that represent good soldiering — even if it were of an enemy. So, the best of them do not hate the Pakistani soldier; rather the Pakistani’s excellence in his duty is admired. It is in keeping with this attitude that those notes were written honouring the enemy soldiers. The two officers who wrote those citations, the Indian armed forces and the Indian nation itself were, indeed, well within the bounds of the spirit of excellence and greatness when those citations honouring the enemies were written.
The Indian Constitution, which is inspired by the spirit of the freedom struggle and the works of the Father of the Nation and the Founding Fathers, does, indeed, aspire for the highest in spirit. Therefore, as long as the Constitution and the Dharma it establishes is upheld, the Indian soldier has this righteous war to fight. For him, being well armed and well trained for protecting and perpetuating the Constitutional Dharma is a goal that needs to be pursued as his sacred duty — no matter the costs. In this light alone can we find rationale/reason in the commitment of the Indian solder to the profession of arms. It is under these considerations alone that we would know ‘what’ has to be honoured in a soldier’s noble deeds.
But the erudite Admiral (Retd) Arun Prakash has recently warned that the present scenario is taking its toll on the soldier’s thinking. It is all too easy for the soldier to slip into pacifism and believe there will be no need to fight at all, or on the other hand get excited into Bonapartism and want to stand up for a one man military solution to all that ails the land. In a recent article, he spoke strongly of the need for the members of the armed forces to be professional in their approach to their roles; this includes the need for the soldier to show neutrality in leaning and military excellence in assigned tasks. Professionalism is a word used in the present lexicon that is closest in meaning to the ancient word Dharma. The soldier, on his part, must realize that the inspiration, which brings out excellence from him, which promises him a contented and full life, refuses him the liberty to slip into either Pacifism or Bonapartism; Dharma binds him to military professionalism.
In any case, the sum total is that reckoning spiritual (not religious) matters must not be considered anathema for those thinking of military action.
In conclusion: As always, in the Indian situation, Dharma is key. The Indian solder continues to be a willing spoke in the wheels of the system.
- The underlying inspiration of Dharma has helped the Indian soldier perform with distinction. The future promise is that the intellectual and conscious acceptance of (Constitutional) Dharma will make him perform even better. Therefore, the civilian political leader must not let the unnecessary hype, or an excessively irrational fear of a military takeover, come in the way of giving the Indian soldier the opportunity to build a resilient military.
- As for non-violence, the hiccup is just about a shallow understanding of the profound Mahatma. A militarily strong nation is well-nigh okay and it is not in any way in conflict with non-violence. Being militarily strong is not being anti-Gandhi. But being pro-Gandhi is surely about unconditional universal love.
- And finally, conquests are not alien to ancient India. Lord Rama himself went out on conquests in a bid to annex neighbouring Kingdoms and it is through the rite of Ashwamegha Yaga. A horse is released in due course of the rite and the performer of the rite becomes king over all the territories the horse wanders into. If a local king or lord were to arrest the horse then it would mean he wishes to go to war with one that released it. If on the other hand, the horse was not arrested then it implied that the local ruler accepted the suzerainty of the performer of the rite.
- The catch in this matter was that the Ashwamegha Yaga required a qualification on the part of the emperor who was performing it. The spiritual lights of that time endorsed this yaga only for emperors who were able to establish a righteous/dharmic rule in their respective kingdoms. The thinking behind it was that the holy men wanted a righteous rule to expand over more territories; by that expansion peace and prosperity could be enjoyed by citizens of more territories. Therefore, military conquests were indeed part of the system in ancient India, but of importance is the fact that the pre-condition was the need for spiritual uprightness, excellence and pursuit of the ‘highest inspiration’.
Surely the purpose of highlighting this fact about conquering neighbouring lands is not to promote invasion and expansionism. Rather, it is being mentioned here to serve as a reminder that the moral right of a soldier, of a ruler, of a righteous constitution is based on rising its thought and action in honour and dedication of the ‘highest inspiration’.
Whether it is the subtle sense of Dharma in the Hindu ethos, the ‘professionalism’ which inspires the Indian soldier to fight, the works of Mahatma Gandhi, the commitment of the Satyagrahis to Non-Violence, the vasudaiva kutambakkam inspired Constitution of India, the nobility in the profession of arms and the thinking of the likes of a Lt Arun Khetrapal, Col Nair, Naik Albert Ekka, Capt Vikram Bhatra and all the glorious warriors of modern India who have stood up to the test by fire; all these facets, which are integral to the nation’s thought process, may appear disharmonious or contradictory upfront. But they fall into a harmonious picture once we acknowledge that inspiration which distinguishes our ancient civilization. The harmonious picture in turn provides clarity of thought and assists decision making leading to constructive team action.
So the take away for those considering National Military Doctrine is this: while keeping all religions at equidistance and at the same time far enough to prevent religion from interfering in the State, the State must give due space to Theistic Secularism. With the highest inspiration and timeless wisdom as the focus, one cannot go wrong. This thinking must guide the approach to government and to handling military power. In the light of this spiritually inspired ‘harmony and consistency’, a reasonable National Military Doctrine should not be difficult to draft and implement.
About The Author
Nixon Fernando is is the author of books such as 'Dharma: Cornerstone of Indian civilization' and 'Rising to Second Freedom' which offer direction and Vision for India. He is post graduate in physics, government and business administration. He served as lecturer and counsellor at the NDA for 10 years from 1996 to 2007. A versatile sportsman and ballroom dance instructor, his services were appreciated and commended by the Commandant and Principal of NDA. Currently, he is a research assistant to TN Seshan, former CEC of India. He can be reached on Email: [email protected]
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