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Political Processes

Political Processes

  • Elite Theory
  • The Classical Elite Theory
  • Power Elite
  • Community power structure
  • Power of the unorganized Masses
  • Political Parties
  • Functions of a Political Party
  • Voting Behaviour
  • Democracy and Authoritarian Government
  • Political Participation
  • The National Community

Elite Theory

Elite theory developed in part as a reaction to Marxism. It rejected the Marxian idea that a classless society having an egalitarian structure could be realized after class struggle in every society. It regards Marxism as an ideology rather than an objective analysis of social systems. According to Elite theory man can never be liberated from the subjugation of an elite structure. The term Elite refers to those who excel. The classical elite theorists identify the governing elite in terms of superior personal qualities of those who exercise power. However later versions of elite theory places less emphasis on the personal qualities of the powerful and more on the institutional framework of the society.

They argued that the hierarchical organization of social institutions allows a minority to monopolize power. Another criticism of the elite theories against the Marxian view of distribution of power is that the ruling class too large and amorphous a group to be able to effectively wield power. In their view power is always exercised by a small cohesive group of the elite. Elite theory argues that all societies are divided into two main groups a ruling minority and the ruled. This situation is inevitable. If the proletarian revolution occurs it will merely result in the replacement of one ruling elite by another. Classical elite theory was propounded by Pareto and Mosca.

The Classical Elite Theory

Pareto places particular emphasis on psychological characteristics as the basis of the elite rule. He argues that there are two main types of governing elite which he calls Lions and Foxes. Lion achieve power because of their ability to take direct and decisive action and as their name suggests they tend to rule by cunning and guile by diplomatic manipulation.Pareto believed that European democracies provide an example of this type of elite. Members of governing elite own their position primarily to their personal qualities either to their Lion like or Fox like characteristics.

Major change in society occurs when one elite replaces another a process Pareto calls circulation of elites. All elites tend to become decadent. They may become soft and ineffective with the pleasures of easy living and the privilege of power or set in their ways and too flexible to respond to changing circumstances. In addition each type of the elite lacks the imagination and guile necessary to maintain its rule and will have to admit the foxes from the masses to make up for this deficiency. Gradually foxes infiltrate the entire elite and so transform its character. Foxes however lack the ability to take forceful and decisive action which is essential at various times to retain power. Thus an organized minority of Lions committed to the restoration of strong government develops overthrowing the elite of foxes.

Like Pareto Mosca believed that rule by a minority of elite would be an inevitable feature of social life and societies in history were divided into two classes- A class that rules and a class that is ruled. The first class always the less numerous performs all political functions, monopolies power and enjoys the advantages that power brings whereas the second the more numerous class is directed and controlled by the first. Like Pareto Mosca believed that the ruling minority is superior to the most of the population because they possess certain qualities that give them material, intellectual and moral superiority. The content of these qualities may vary from society to society in some societies courage and bravery in battle provided access to the elite. In others the skills and capacity needed to acquire wealth were valued. For both Pareto and Mosca democracies are merely another form of elite rule.

power Elite

C Wright Mills has presented a new version of the elite theory. Mills limits his analysis to the American society only. He does not believe that elite rule is inevitable. In fact he sees it as fairly recent development. He rejects the view that the members of the elite have superior qualities or psychological characteristics which distinguish them from the rest of the population. Instead he argues that the structure of institutions is such that those at the top of the institutional hierarchy largely monopolized power. Certain institutions can be pivotal positions in societies and the elite comprise those who hold command posts in those institutions. Mills identifies three key institutions: The major corporations, the Military and the Federal government.

Those who occupy the command posts in those institutions form three elites. In practice however the interest and activities of the elite are sufficiently similar and inter connected to form a single ruling minority which Mills terms the Power Elite. The cohesiveness and unity of the power elite is strengthened by the similarity of the backgrounds of its members and another change and overlapping of personnel between the three elites. Members are largely drawn from the upper strata of the society. They share similar educational backgrounds and mix socially in the high prestige clubs. Within the power elite there is frequent interchange of personnel between the elites. Mills has also rejected the Marxian view that political power automatically follows economic power. He has shown a preference for power elite rather than ruling class.

According to him class is an economic term and rule is a political one. The ruling class in its political connotations does not allow enough autonomy to the political order and its agents and it says nothing about the military. Thus power elite is a more suitable term than ruling class.R.K Merton has further supported Mills view that the power elite are recruited from the same social class and are educated in similar prestigious colleges and schools and have similar orientation.

Community power structure

Community power structure refers to the distribution of power at the local community level. There are numerous empirical studies to discover the nature of the distribution of power at community level. Among these community studies two categories can be clearly identified one supporting the major contention of the elite thesis and the other refuting the elitist argument and replacing it by what is known as the Pluralist Thesis.

Lloyd Hunter's Community Power Structure based on the study of distribution of power in Atlantic is a prominent study in the elitist tradition. Hunter's study was based on reputational approach. He made a preliminary list of 175 leaders who held formal important positions in politics, business and civic organizations and have reputation for leadership. Then he selected the panel of 14 judges representing religious,

business and professional interest and asked them to select those who in their eyes are the top leaders. The result showed that half of these leaders were upper-class businessmen. The empirical study confirms the elitist thesis that a clear defined group of decision makers can be identified who are highly organized and who decisively dominate the public life of the organized and who decisively dominate the public life of the city.

Pluralists led by Robert Dahl have challenged the main elitist contention that a society is marked by the existence of a single centre of political power. They argued that in a society there are multiple centers of political power none of which are completely sovereign. The decision making maybe done by few but then this decision making cannot be understood except within the context of a continuous bargaining process among the elites and also of a general consensus established only through the mass approval which is hard to secure.

Further continuing his criticism of the elite model he argued that the elite theory confuses potential control with actual control. He agrees that it is quite possible that a group in the society has a very high potential for control. But that does not automatically make this group very powerful since the actual power of a group is established not only by a high potential for control but also by a high potential for nuclearity.Next according to Dahl the elite theories disregarded the fact that there may be different scopes of power and that a group having a high degree of influence over one scope may not necessarily have the same degree of influence over another scope within the same system.

Dahl selected three distinct decisions -areas covering urban development, public schools and political nominations. Within each area he studied a number of decisions thus he picks up three categories of political leaders which are political notables ,social notables and economic notables and enquires whether each of these groups participate in decision-making only in one or in all of the three issue areas. He takes as the sign of power the ability to successfully initiate or veto the proposals for policies. After examining all the available data Dahl admits that the in The New Haven a tiny group the leaders exert great influence on individuals who are influential in one sector of public activity are found not to be influential in another sector and further leaders exerting influence in different issue areas do not come to be drawn from a single homogenous stratum of the community.

Dahl's pluralist model has been subjected to severe criticisms. Firstly the model wrongly locates power in concrete decisions or in activities having direct bearing on decision making. He ignores the fact that power is also exercised in creating and reinforcing social and political values and institutional practices that limit the scope of the political process to public consideration of only those issues that are comparatively harmless to the interest of the powerful. Thus the powerful groups may never let these issues which affect their vital interests come to the stage of public decision making. Thus Dahl's model fails to differentiate the unimportant issues arising in the political arena

Power of the unorganized Masses

Power refers to the ability of an individual or a group to attain its objectives in spite of the opposition from other individuals or groups. According to Weber Party is the basis of access to power. Party is an associative type of organizational structure built around a common interest. It may be a class based interest, a status based interest or ethnicity based interest, or any other type of interest. The ability of the individuals acting to attain their interest is very limited. Quite often they might act at cross purposes and reduce each other's chances of attaining their goals. On the other hand the organizational structure of the party helps in channelizing their energies towards the common goal. Thus enhancing their ability to attain that goal or in other words in enhancing their power.

Karl Marx had stated that class-in-itself will not be successful in bringing out change in capitalist system. Only when it is transformed into class for itself it shall be able to fight for the interest of the proletariat and capture power for the proletariat class. The members of the working class should acquire an awareness of common interest and also an organizational structure should come into existence to pursue those interests. Thus according to Marx unorganized masses would remain powerless.

In modern industrial societies with the increasing fragmentation of the working class the possibility of the workers becoming a class for itself has disappeared and accordingly have disappeared the chances of workers being able to capture power for themselves through revolution. Thus so long as the masses remain unorganized either due to the lack of awareness of common interests or due to the diversity of interests they will not be able to exercise power. However sometimes under special circumstances the masses may come to share a sense of deprivation and leadership and ideology and an organizational structure may also come into existence.

In such situations mass movements may develop and the masses may acquire power. The various backward class movements like Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu, Mahar movement illustrate as how the growth of organization enables masses to exercise power. On the other hand most of the agricultural labour in India remains unorganized and are therefore unable to achieve their legitimate interests. The barriers of caste, ethnicity, language and religion continue to act as hindrances to the growth of any viable organization. However being deprived of legitimate access to power sometimes the unorganized masses may acquire short lived power through illegitimate means. In case of mob violence based on common grievance the unorganized masses may develop a short-lived spontaneous organizational structure of a mob and may give expression to their sense of frustration through violent and destructive activities.

Political Parties

A political party is essentially a social group having associative type of social relationship activity and inters personal relationship. Membership rests on formally free recruitment. It is a social group because firstly it embodies the system of interdependent activity and inter- personal relationships. Secondly it operates in terms of goal oriented coordinated actions. In so far it demands from its members of rational direction of their behavior towards commonly acknowledged goal.

The goal of a political party is to secure political power and hold it either singly or in cooperation with the other political parties. A political party is very much a clientele-oriented organization that is a party has always been on gaining as much clientele as possible and hence it tries to remain as open as possible to its potential members. The party is a mutually exploitative relationship as it is joined by those who would use it. Gabriel Almond defined political party as the socialized aggregation structure of modern societies.

Functions of a Political Party

A political party performs a wide range of functions an important one among them is the aggregation of interests. A political party is multi-interested group that represent diverse interests of the society. It tries to harmonize these interests with each other; bridges antagonism between different groups of the society and thereby seeks to produce different groups of the society and thereby seeks to produce a consensus among as many groups as possible. Political parties act as very effective mediator in setting disagreements in society in a peaceful and institutionalized manner.

A political party ensure a two way communication process between the government and the people as it is mainly through the parties that the government is constantly kept informed about the general demands of the society. About the interests and attitudes of the people in relation to the governing process. Similarly it is through the parties organize and articulate public opinion in order to bring this opinion to bear on governmental decisions. They educate and instruct the people on public issues.

These activities of the party are not confined to election time alone but they go on simultaneously. Political recruitment is another function of the political party. In a democracy political elite are recruited mainly through political parties. Leaders of governments are normally leaders of the political parties. The party plays a very significant role in the process of political socialization in a country. Party is a very important instrument for political participation of the people; it is in course of extending the opportunities of this political participation to the people that the party socializes them. The political socialization performed by political parties may however assumes two distinct forms the party may either reinforce the existing political culture or it may try to alter the established political cultural pattern by generating new attitudes and beliefs.

Voting Behaviour

Elections and voting are an indispensable part of the democratic political system. One of the major tasks of the political parties is to contest elections. They select such candidates who have greater chances of winning. Candidates who have greater influence on voters and who have greater vote-catching capacity are an asset to any political party.

Voting like a party system is the means to select the representatives of people who perform the functions of a government in a democracy. Through the process of voting an unpopular government can removed from the power by the people. The opposition can also bring down a party in power through a vote of no confidence in the Assembly or Parliament. The voting has its own pattern. Generally educated and educated electorate feels more involved. The rural and illiterate lower classes are somewhat apathetic to it.

Some people follow the tradition and vote for the same party. Election system, campaigning and voting depends upon the political culture. Modern democracies have introduced universal adult franchise. The right to vote has been conferred on all the citizens without any kind of discrimination. In India also all the citizens irrespective of their caste, color, creed, religion, region or sex are given the right to vote. The right to vote is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitutional law of the country.

Democracy and Authoritarian Government

A democratic society makes a clear distinction between state and society and there is a constitutional limitation on the power of the state. This consists of demarcation of activities as those, which the state is well adapted to perform, and those, which it cannot perform and hence should not interfere, in such activities.

There exist a number of institutions, which keep an eye on the functioning of state to ensure that the state does not overstep its limits. The Fundamental rights in the Indian Constitution, Judiciary and Press are an example of the limits imposed on the activities of the state. Authoritarian government represents a fusion of state and society an entire social system in which politics profoundly affects the whole range of human activities and associations. Thus an authoritarian government accepts no limitation on the amount or kind of coercion it may use to achieve its ends. It can execute exile or place people in the labor of prison camps without any restraint.

Hence authoritarian power is unlimited in scope. It is all embracing. The government asserts the right to control and regiment every phase of life. In a democratic society power is distributed among plurality of groups. There exist professional associations, trade unions, business organizations and religious institutions like Churches, Mosques and political parties. These institutions keep each other in check thus protecting political freedom. The democratic society encourages competition among political parties and they inhibit monopolies of power. In authoritarian societies there tends to be near total centralization of power in the hands of few.

It does not permit plurality of parties in state. There exists one official political party organization. It plays an important role in strengthening the top leaders. The party is a training ground for future leaders and administrators. The state has an army of volunteers who observe the population and report subversive activities. In democratic societies means of mass communication like T.V, radio and press etc tend to be independent of government and there exists freedom to criticize. Dissent is permitted. In authoritarian set-up government takes over the entire public communication system and means of media like T.V, radio, cinema and publication of books and magazines. The prohibition of media stifles any opposition. The government filters out anything that might create unfavorable attitudes to their power.

Democratic government is characterized by emphasis on autonomy of individuals and subsystems. There is a greater tolerance for individual and organizational opposition. The right to participate in and to oppose the government is a hallmark of democratic society. Cultural organizations, pressure groups, political parties, trade union actively seek to influence the government. The development of autonomy threatens the authoritarian regime. They try to establish control over organized groups. They do not permit organizations like trade unions, youth clubs and political parties to become powerful. The loyalty to state is above loyalty to family and friends. Government controlled youth leagues; trade unions and other organizations have multiplied under communism and fascism.

They are instituted and controlled from above to mobilize people in courses of action desired by the ruling elite and to prevent the development of independent groups and opinion. An important feature of democratic government is rule of law and Equality before law. Thus the leaders and the officials are not permitted to take arbitrary decisions and the law of land equally governs all the individuals irrespective of their status. However authoritarian regime is characterized by arbitrary exercise of powers especially by police and Para military forces because authoritarian regimes depend on the extensive use of arbitrary police power. They are often referred to as police state. In a democracy political leaders rely more on persuasion and less on coercion.

The legitimacy of government depends on the popular support. Thus any attempt at coercion would mean antagonizing the public opinion and loss of power in the next elections. However authoritarian regimes rely on coercive methods to root out opposition and dissent. The Nazi concentration camps and Siberian labor camps in Stalin's Russia are classic examples of repressive control in an authoritarian regime. The nature of control in a democracy is reciprocal while the government controls the public through bureaucracy but the government's policies are not unilaterally decided. Often there are discussions, negotiations and bargaining of policy issue between the government and various pressure groups. This is because the survival of the government itself depends on popular control.

In authoritarian regime the control is unilateral and the government relies on techniques of mass indoctrination and wins support among the people. There is hardly any effort towards accommodation of various interest groups. The freedom of speech and expression in expressing the grievances leads to lesser violent conflicts in the democratic set-up. While in authoritarian regimes the absence of legitimate means of expressing dissent leads to violent revolutions and movements.

Political Participation

Political participation is necessary ingredient of every political system. All political systems encouraged political participation through varying degrees. By involving the people in the matters of state, political participation fosters stability and order by reinforcing the legitimacy of political authority. People living in a particular society participate in the political system, which they develop. There are many forms of participation and democracy in the form of government that encourages maximum participation in governmental processes. Participation does not mean more exercise of political rights like franchise, by the people.

It means their active involvement, which in a real manner influences the decision-making activity of the government. Democratic theory considers citizens as rational, independent, and interested political persons capable of expressing their opinion regarding the persons aspiring for holding offices and also competent in electing some persons who deal with the policies of government in a way conducive to the interest of the mass. "Perhaps the most pervasive participation is simply living in a democratic community and where all government action and policy are publicized in press, radio, and television. In this situation those in position of authority must conduct themselves in such a fashion as to as appear to the sensible people.

Thus the great public in a democracy serves a sort of sounding board for public policy deliberations and discussion. Thus even a passive participation is a constructive part of democratic process." The most obvious way of political participation in democracy is voting. Other ways include such behaviors as reading or listening or watching the mass media of communications, taking part in political discussions, listening to political speeches, attending party meetings, giving contribution to political parties, writing petitions or letters to public officials or newspaper editors, trying to influence the voters, contesting the election for office etc. Lipset has pointed out that high-level participation cannot always be treated as good for democracy. It may indicate the decline of social cohesion and breakdown of democratic process. "A principle problem for a theory of democratic system is under what conditions a society can have sufficient participation to maintain the democratic system without introducing sources of cleavage which will determine cohesion".

Some other political theorists are of the opinion that when majority of the people in a society are contended, participation is small. This should be taken as a favorable rather than unfavorable sign because it indicates stability and consensus within the society and also absence of broad cleavages.

Depending on the intensity and degree of participation Lester Milbraith has categorized political participation in three forms:

  • Gladiators represent that small number of party activists, whose active association with political parties keeps them engaged in series of direct party activities like holding party offices, fighting the election as candidates.
  • Transitional activities include attending party meetings party spectators or party sympathizers making contributions to the party fund and maintaining contacts with public officials or party personnel.
  • Spectator activities on the other hand include voting, influencing others to vote in a particular way, joining political discussions or exposing oneself to the political stimuli.

Nation Community

There are different terms to define 'nation'. Some writers simply equate it with statehood and opine that the people of a state are a nation. Other more prominent writers who see nation as a distinct historical phenomenon are Hans Kohn,Fedreick Hertz,F L Schuman ,Karl Marx,Lenin.According to these thinkers and writers nation is an historical and sociological phenomenon and the nation evolved out of the amalgam of various racial and kinship groups after the break-up of the slavery and feudal societies. Nation is a territorial community as distinct from a racial, tribal or religious group of people.

Factors responsible for emergence of nation:
The important factors responsible are community of language, geographical contiguity, common economic ties and common history and traditions.Prof Maclver has pointed out that there are scarcely any two nations which find their positive support in the same factors.

Race and Kinship:
While it may be readily conceded that a belief in the unity of race and kinship helps in cementing people together to argue that such unity is an indispensable objective factor is another matter. Frederick L Schuman points if pure races ever existed they have long since disappeared as a result of migration, wars, conquests, travels, intermarriages on the grandest scale over thousands of years. All modern nations have been formed out of people of diverse racial and tribal groups.

Community of religion:
While unity of religion has been and can be a great cementing force and has played a significant role in the past in consolidating nations it cannot be regarded as an indispensable objective factor. A modern nation is a territorial community and it includes and embraces all persons of ethnic and religious faith residing on a permanent basis on the same territory and therefore also participants in the history and traditions of the land.

Community of language:
The existence of a common language is considered by many writers and thinkers to be indispensable for the existence of a nation.Federick Schuman points out how language is the best index of an individual's cultural environment and significantly adds that most of the nations of the earth are nations not because they are politically independent and socially unified but because their people use a common speech which differs from that of other nations. Those who disagree with this view often cite the examples of UK and Switzerland and assert that despite the existence of several languages the people of these nations are united.

In spite of a common language the people speaking a common language may not constitute a nation. A nation is formed as a result of a fairly lengthy and systematic intercourse for generations which would not be possible without the possession of a common territory.

Geographical contiguity:
Contiguous geographical area has been assumed to be indispensable for the rise and existence of nation. Living together on the same geographically contiguous area conversing in the same language having same historical experiences people are apt to develop common sentiments and outlook as well as strong attachment to the common soil.

Community of economic ties:
This factor was emphasized by Karl Marx. Since then its existence has been realized. When it was conceded that the nation was a historical and sociological phenomenon attention began to be paid to conditions under which nations arise. The nation arises out of the fusion of clans, tribes and ethnic groups. According to Lenin it is the growth of exchange between regions and the creation of a home market which leads to the creation of nationalities. People do not become fully consolidated into a nation so long they are not united by common economic ties which the developing capitalist mode of production creates.

Common history or traditions:
The possession of a common language, geographical contiguity and common economic ties are bonds which make the people living together share same experiences and develop a certain amount of common outlook and also have common aspirations. They are people who have lived together suffered together, worked together and this creates among them what may be called a common psychological make-up or character. The character of people is a reflection of the conditions of life they have lived and led together. Therefore it may be and usually is modified in course of time as the conditions of life undergo change. Secondly the reference to national character does not negate the existence of individual variations. It underlines a tendency among a certain people.

Nationality is in fact a psychological or sentiment.A.E Zimmern writes nationality like religion is subjective; psychological a condition of mind a spiritual possession a way of feeling, thinking and living. Nationality is an instinct.Renon and Mill write there must be a consciousness of a heroic past, true glory experiences and sacrifices, feelings of pride and shame, joy and grief connected with the past.Maclver defines nationality as a type of community sentiment created by historical circumstances and supported by common psychological factors to such an extent and so strong that those who feel it desire to have a common government peculiarly or exclusively their own.

Nation and State:
Nationality is a group of people who feel their uniqueness and oneness which they are keen to maintain; if this group of people happens to organize themselves on a particular territory and desire independence or are independent they form a nation state. The members of a state may belong to different nationalities. Nationality is subjective and statehood is objective. Nationality is psychological statehood is political. Nationality is a condition of mind whereas statehood is a condition in law. Nationality is a spiritual possession, statehood is an enforceable obligation. Sovereignty is an essential element of state but not of nation. Nation signifies consciousness of unity prompted by psychological and spiritual feelings which may or may not be sovereign. The physical element of sovereignty is not as important as the psychological element of the feeling of oneness.

The Growth of Nation State
The nation state was born of competition and conflict. The Hundred Years War gave rise to two rival groups across the English Channel each feeling a consciousness of kind the English and the French. The War of Roses gave rise to a united English nation under the Tudor dictatorship. Rivalry in discovery and piracy on the high seas cemented national solidarity among the participants-the English and the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish. The American nation was born out of long civil wars. The kingdom of Prussia was one of the important products of Napoleonic Wars. The German Nation was born of conflict of war with France (1870-71).The Italian Nation under Mazzini and Garibaldi came into being as a resurgent movement in protest against Austrian domination (1859-70).Either competition or conflict or possibly a combination of both has given rise to political nationalism. The idea of democratic nation state is of recent growth. The unification of all authority in the hands of powerful centralized independent monarchies took the place of ineffective and petty feudal authorities. After innumerable conflicts the principle of state absolutism became supreme in Europe. All the great reformers of Protestant Reformation enjoined on their followers passive obedience to the state and taught that the powers that be are ordained of God. They held that the rulers to whom obedience was due ruled by divine right. In England their teaching paved the way for Tudor and Stuart despotism. In France Louis XIV said 'I am the State'. The general tendency of Reformation was to strengthen despotism in the political sovereign. It was both a nationalistic and a religious movement.

Such despotism did not remain unchallenged. People with the growth of enlightenment and realization of their power obtained certain rights from the ruler. They realized the fact that government existed not for its own sake but for the good of the governed. Royal absolutism at one time necessary to wield people together and to bring order and unity out of feudal disorder was no longer necessary once that object was fulfilled. Political parties grew stronger and developed into open organizations representing liberal attitudes on various questions of interest to the constitutional group. In some countries the monarchs willingly yielded to the popular will and were content to remain as figureheads under a democratic government. The sovereignty of the people became recognized and the democratic nation s state came to be established.

Patriotism is love for one's country. It is an altruistic devotion to the country a deep communal feeling capable of inspiring and uniting people together for common cause. But sometimes patriotism unwittingly contributes to national egotism. Sometimes it denies the full obligation of the nation to other nations. Sometimes it creates chauvinism, hate against other nations.

It is a state of mind that seeks to make the nation an effective unity and the object of man's supreme loyalty. It has developed in the western world and is today growing all over again. It has prepared the way for modern democratic national states. It has extended the area of national liberty and individual freedom. Nationalism no doubts serves as a source of integration within the state but it is dangerous when it denies the common interest that binds nation to nation. Then it becomes ethnocentrism or chauvinism which is intolerance or imperialism seeking territorial expansion and political domination. When nationalism divides people from others it impedes the development of harmonious inter group or international relations and sows the seeds of international rivalry and wars. In its pure form nationalism may be an ideal but it can cause serious division between man and man. In the words of Hayes,' Nationalism when it becomes synonymous with the purest patriotism will prove a unique blessing to humanity and to the world.' Internationalism and chauvinism are mutually contradictory sentiments but healthy nationalism and internationalism are mutually complementary.

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