The Myth Of Dr. Harsh Vardhans Mystique Now Laid To Rest?

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The Myth Of Dr. Harsh Vardhan's Mystique Now Laid To Rest?

Dr. Harsh Vardhan, being dropped as a Union Minister some time back has strangely not provoked as much discussion, which I believe is important for it enables us to dissect RSS-BJP propaganda effectively.

Any unlawful violence is always unacceptable, as is the case with the violence inflicted on Bengali BJP leader Dilip Ghosh some weeks ago, and whoever is responsible must indeed be punished. Some arrests have already been made in that connection. That said, Ghosh himself, known for making disgusting statements (see this, this, this, and this), had been recently removed from the post of the chief of the BJP unit of West Bengal, and his removal led several commentators to examine his track record at some length. However, by and large, a much more prominent national face of the BJP, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, being dropped as a Union Minister some time back has strangely not provoked as much discussion, which I believe is important for it enables us to dissect RSS-BJP propaganda effectively.

As Dr. Harsh Vardhan has been shown the door from the Council of Ministers, after his colossal COVID mismanagement, one wonders if he will be accommodated elsewhere politically in due course. Some have suggested Vardhan is likely to be given charge of Delhi ahead of the municipal elections scheduled to be held next year, the way Dilip Ghosh too has, in fact, been given a national role, Kiran Bedi was made LG of Puducherry after her humiliating defeat in the Delhi elections or how Vasundhara Raje, who had shamelessly passed a gag ordinance against reportage of corruption, and Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who did little to check the Vyapam scam or even to protect the witnesses and whistleblowers associated with the same, were made national vice presidents of the BJP soon after the people of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh respectively voted them out of power, the BJP proving for the 'n'th time that it is a party without any difference and with no genuine intent to fight corruption.

The same is also evident from its weakening transparency laws like the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Whistleblowers Protection Act, the FCRA to help political parties, the Lokayukta Act in Goa again quite shamelessly after the lokayukta exposed scams (as discussed here, here, here and here) and provisions of the CrPC in Maharashtra when the BJP was in power there to favour the financially corrupt.

The Modi-led BJP has also taken steps like introducing secret electoral bonds for political parties (such that big scandals of cronyism by the BJP can seldom be detected), discontinuing the anti-corruption helpline introduced by the AAP in Delhi after the LG took over the Anti-Corruption Bureau (the helpline had been a great success and led to several corrupt officers being punished), having zero accountability for the PM-CARES Fund without any logical explanation (as discussed here, here and here) and giving a contract to a company that has never made ventilators to make them; did it give money to the BJP via an electoral bond?! Inducting scam-convicted Sukh Ram and trafficking-convicted Daler Mahandi in the BJP also does not suggest any commitment to clean politics. That the Jio Institute, which existed only on paper, had to be given the 'Institute of Eminence' tag and grant, that too with documented pressure from the PMO, and with someone who left the HRD Ministry and working for Reliance laying out the roadmap days after the "institutes of eminence" policy was conceived, is as blatant a case of cronyism as can be, and while they may have fancy layouts, there are other such private universities already functioning in India too, expected to rise in the global rankings sooner, and why at the expense of well-known excellent institutes?

The application files of some institutes even disappeared from the HRD Ministry office! Modi keeps invoking Ram - the character of Ram, as the Ramayan goes, was such that to be seen as aboveboard, he could even wrong his own wife he dearly loved; here, we have blatant displays of brazen nepotism, and the PM failing to come clean on the PM-CARES Fund and even his university degree (in Entire Political Science, if you please!)! If anyone says that popular leaders like Modi should always be considered great, think of Hitler, Mussolini and Jinnah*, and Modi-bhakts' supposed respect of the popular mandate doesn't reflect in their attitude towards Jawaharlal Nehru or even Manmohan Singh or Arvind Kejriwal (all of whom were/have been re-elected at some point of time).

As someone who had himself participated in the movement against corruption that had Anna Hazare as its face, I never felt that Kejriwal had betrayed Anna by forming a political party against the latter's wishes. In the last few stages of the movement, Kejriwal risked his life fasting as a diabetic but when the UPA refused to bring a strong Lokpal Act, he decided to form a political party. It was well-known that the agitation was Kejriwal's brainchild and he had propped up Anna as its face, given Anna's frugal, somewhat Gandhian, lifestyle, nor was Kejriwal, a retired Deputy Commissioner of Income Tax who fought for ration for economically deprived slum-dwellers and who won the Magsaysay Award back in 2006 for successfully pushing the UPA to pass the RTI Act, a man way more educated than Anna Hazare, a protégé of the latter.

Why should he have had to, hands and feet tied, do only what Anna thought right, and how is disagreement automatically betrayal? Anna went on to subsequently embarrass himself by endorsing Mamata Banerjee, not known for financial honesty but rather for authoritarian tendencies and for pandering to Muslim communalism**, for PM (would any BJP-supporter back Anna on this?) and then backing off from supporting her on seeing how few supporters of hers turned up at her rally in Ramlila Maidan in Delhi that he was to address! Further, even after Modi becoming PM, Anna has protested against Modi not keeping his promise of bringing back black money stashed overseas and further diluting the weak Lokpal Act that had been passed by the Congress in conjunction with the BJP; so, for the BJP or any of its supporters to invoke Anna to attack Kejriwal is plain ludicrous.

Anyhow, so, after Kejriwal formed his party, there was much excitement nationally about the elections that were to take place in Delhi in 2013. While the now late Sheila Dikshit, known for infrastructure development, was still the face of the Congress, and the newly formed AAP was making inroads under a charismatic Kejriwal, the BJP threw up Dr. Harsh Vardhan as its candidate, citing how he had apparently managed a polio immunisation drive well in the city. He was portrayed as a very clean, dignified gentleman by the RSS-BJP propaganda machinery.

However, in due course, we saw a very different side of the man. After Kejriwal became chief minister with issue-based external support from the Congress party in 2013, in a television debate face-off in January 2014, Harsh Vardhan was shouting like a ruffian. AAP spokesman Sanjay Singh wasn't even half as hysterical or un-civil, though he was also loud in the face of Harsh Vardhan's barrage of crude accusations. Vardhan randomly accused the AAP of murder (okay, whose murder?!) and coming from the BJP, ironically also accused the AAP as a party for disrespecting Muslim sentiments for a comic act on Muharram by Kumar Vishwas before Vishwas had even joined the AAP, even though Vishwas had, by then, already apologised for that comic act as a member of the AAP.*** Given Vardhan's own party having a long history of several members not just hurting Muslim religious sensibilities(which many free speech fundamentalists and atheists would not see as problematic vis-a-vis any religion), but worse still, openly fanning bigotry towards Muslims as people (read this, this and this on why that is unfair, and this and this on why that is counterproductive to checking Muslim extremism), Vardhan blaming the AAP on this score was not just hypocritical but rather silly. [Also, just to be clear to all those adoring the fallacious whataboutism-oriented lines of reasoning, I am also opposed to and do not shy away from calling out Muslim communal politics represented by the likes of the AIMIM, SP politicians Azam Khanand Shafiqur Rahman, BSP politician Yaqoob Qureshi, Congress politician Abu Azmi and NCP politician Arbaz Khan, and I have also been vocal for justice for and rehabilitation of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits (as you can see here and here) and opposed the violence by Muslim extremists in the Malda district of West Bengal, for example.

The hypocritical silence or illogical apologia over many instances of Muslim extremism by some left-liberals doesn't validate Hindu extremism, for a supposedly more highlighted or outright condemned wrongdoing doesn't become any less of a wrongdoing on account of being highlighted more or being condemned without riders.]

So much for Harsh Vardhan randomly alleging murder by the AAP, AAP spokesman Sanjay Singh did well to bring out how a BJP MP Dinu Solanki from Gujarat had been booked in connection with the murder of RTI activist Amit Jethwa, who had exposed illegal poaching and mining, and Harsh Vardhan looked particularly perplexed when this was mentioned because the BJP had never denied the guilt of that MP (by the way, despite Jethwa clearly mentioning the threat to his life to the media, the Gujarat government under then chief minister Narendra Modi did not give him police protection, and Modi's Gujarat then topped the list in murders of RTI activists). Further, Singh rightly brought up the corruption of convicted BJP MP Ajay Sancheti, a fact proved in court and not denied by any BJP leader, as also the corruption by former BJP president Bangaru Laxman over a defence deal exposed by Tehalka by way of a hidden camera in a sting operation.

Later, in that very debate, Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam brought up Gujarat BJP minister Babubhai Bokharia convicted in a limestone mining scam. Indeed, Dilip Ray, a minister in the Vajpayee government, has also been convicted for corruption in coal block allocations. By the way, it may be added that corruption in the defence sector was so bad in the Vajpayee-led NDA rule (as exposed by the Tehalka sting operation) that following the attack on parliament, in the Indo-Pak border skirmishes, more of our soldiers lost their lives than their Pakistani counterparts on account of not being supplied bulletproof vests and other protective gear.

Indeed, it was only correct that the financial corruption within the BJP ranks on an issue like national security they thump their chests over was highlighted in the classic film Rang de Basanti. The situation was far from perfect under Manmohan Singh, and the situation is grim even under Modi, but that can be the subject of another article. It may, however, be mentioned that the BJP being in power in the centre or the states has never quite been a guarantee against terrorist attacks, and terrorism in J&K continues after the Balakot airstrikes. I did support the IAF strikes in and of themselves in line with Shastri and Indira Gandhi's approach, but the Modi sarkar was indeed unprepared for their fallout, with our outdated military infrastructure preventing Captain Abhinandan from hearing his alert female colleague telling him to return when he accidentally crossed the Line of Control and he unfortunately fell to enemy hands, and in the larger diplomatic battle, Imran Khan managed to portray himself as the magnanimous one.

Militancy in J&K has continued even with new avatars like the usage of drones in Jammu even after the BJP's much-hyped abrogation of Article 370 (which I believe the AAP was wrong in endorsing), which given the militancy targeting non-Kashmiri Indian settlers, even if Muslims, hasn't enabled many non-Kashmiri Indians to settle down there since the abrogation (thus proving to be case of putting the cart before the horse), nor facilitated any mass return of Kashmiri Pandits (with the few remaining in the valley still being targeted), but has alienated moderate Kashmiri Muslims (who do exist, and have been gunned down by jihadist terrorists in much larger numbers than Kashmiri Pandits, some prominent examples being Shujat Bukhari, Maulana Masoodi, Mushirul Haq and Abdul Sattar Ranjoor) even more given an inhuman communication blackout for months together adversely affecting businesses (now, J&K has the highest unemployment rate in the country), schooling (though the abrogation was supposedly meant to boost the local economy and ensure uninterrupted schooling for children!), medical treatment (with even landline connectivity denied for quite some time, many couldn't call ambulances on time, resulting in deaths), funerals, transferring money to Kashmiri students outside the valley, those outside the valley seeking to check on their ailing relatives and so on. And the BJP keeping special statuses (Articles 371A to H of the constitution relating to Northeast Indian states that the BJP has explicitly promised to not amend, the Forest Rights Act and the PESA) and domicile restrictions in states of Northeast India (even strengthening domicile restrictions in Meghalaya and Bodo-majority areas of Assam) and even Scheduled Tribe areas in mainland India with their own history of separatist and Maoist terrorism that have actually taken more lives than in Kashmir (as you can see here and here) and have also caused exoduses of civilian populations (as you can see here, here, here and here), these insurgencies also having been sponsored by foreign powers (as you can see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), only exposes its hypocrisy.

The BJP's divergent approaches are because it has managed to win elections in Northeast India and tribal areas in mainland India, unlike in Kashmir, and as a lawyer, I may mention that reforms like allowing progeny of J&Kite women married to non-J&Kite men a share in property and giving citizenship to Hindu and Sikh refugees from POK could have been brought in without wholesale abrogation too. Anyhow, a more detailed examination of Article 370 would best be discussed in a separate article.

Coming back to Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the only valid point that he made in that particular debate in January 2014 was with respect to a Ugandan woman being forcibly subjected to a medical test by an AAP leader and he ended up calling the Ugandan victim Nigerian, showing how little he himself respects Africans, treating them as some random monolith, trivialising their respective national identities!

Later, the supposed gentleman Dr. Harsh Vardhan did not have the courtesy to seek to tame his party goons as leader of opposition in Delhi (despite Kejriwal's polite requests) as they tore sheets of paper and threw microphones, even engaging in the sexist act of giving male AAP members bangles and lipstick (something Vardhan explicitly endorsed) in February 2014, abusing democracy within the precincts of its very temple.

If you do not agree with the idea of a certain bill being tabled, you can abstain from voting on it or even walk out; Harsh Vardhan, had he been the wonderful man he is portrayed to be, would have exhibited leadership in at least asking his colleagues to do so instead of endorsing their vandalism. Whataboutism with respect to misconduct by politicians of other parties on other occasions, like most recently by the Congress and others in the recently concluded parliament session (which is also condemnable, though they didn't stoop that low at least this time around, and I have strongly opposed disruption of legislative proceedings by anyone) is irrelevant in this context.

Subsequently, as a minister in the Modi government, Vardhan again displayed his regressive outlook by opposing condoms and sex education and stating that AIDS would have to be fought by way of Indian culture, displaying his limited understanding of a culture that entails the Kamasutra and the sculptures of Khajuraho. He also, undermining the democratically elected AAP government of Delhi, tried to get the LG of Delhi to cancel a parent-teacher meeting in January 2020, citing cold weather, though offices were functioning; so, why couldn't parents and teachers assemble?!

As environment minister and despite being a doctor, he was underplaying the fatal effects of air pollution (actually a bigger killer in our country than terrorism, as discussed here and here), an issue the Modi sarkar had more recently adopted a creative way to evade judicial scrutiny over. Indeed, denial has often been the name of the game for the Modi sarkar, be it of deaths in the chaotically managed demonetisation cues, though grudgingly later admitted, denial of the deaths of migrant workers walking home during the first coronavirus lockdown [despite Modi invoking his humble origins ever so often, he did not even factor in attending to the needs of daily wage-earners before announcing the lockdown, despite the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advisory to do so], denial of the economic slowdown even before the pandemic (the UPA, with all its flaws, delivered better on economic growth and poverty reduction than the Modi sarkar****, which is not committed to transparency either, as discussed in the first paragraph of this article), though grudgingly later admitted, denial of deaths of manual scavengers, denial of migration of Indians induced by climate change and denial of loss of our biodiversity.

When Vardhan came to manage the portfolio of science and technology, not unlike many other members of his party, he made a pseudo-scientific statement undermining Einstein's research unnecessarily comparing it to the Vedas, falsely quoting Stephen Hawking. Falsely dragging Hawking was particularly irresponsible for someone in public office. Suggesting that everything good and great came only from ancient Hindu India as if humans in other civilisations had and have no competence is just baseless, and all civilisations, including ours, have learnt from others over the centuries. Such talk only embarrasses India internationally.

Much religious lore, with all due respect to everyone's religious sentiments, can be relegated to the sphere of fiction for all religions, and even if there is some evidence as to the existence of some events and characters mentioned in religious lore, nothing can conclusively prove all anecdotes associated with them (random books, social media forwards and websites pandering to our confirmation biases shouldn't be taken on face value). The genuinely documented achievements of ancient Indian mathematicians and scientists must be promoted and celebrated, but promoting an un-historical history of science that conveniently undermines the scientific creativity of all non-Hindu civilisations as if suggesting human beings elsewhere had no noteworthy competence (to claim in a baseless fashion that all scientific knowledge, even the very recently emerging inventions and discoveries, were "stolen" from here) and promotes Hindu religious texts as undisputed history, with supposedly much science in them, doesn't bode well for promoting a scientific temperament, as much as Indic epics can, and in my view, should very well be celebrated for their literary merit.

Indeed, the Congress party has promoted the best of Indic heritage internationally, having them translated in multiple languages through the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) since the days of Pandit Nehru and when in power, has also funded extensive research on ancient and medieval Sanskrit manuscripts under the aegis of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) set up by Rajiv Gandhi; so, the Congress or even all other opposition parties cannot and should not be judged by some loud cultural leftists on some university campuses or even some media houses selectively denigrating the whole of Hindu culture.***** Going by the Judeo-Christian texts, even Solomon had a flying vehicle (and there are similar things in ancient Greek, Norse and Egyptian legends), and many popular stories by writers like Jules Verne and even JK Rowling have mentioned things that were really invented later, but that does not mean those stories were true when they were written, nor does referring to real places like Delhi or Mumbai or Hastinapur or Kurukshetra or accurate distances between them, in a story necessarily make that story true, though it is a fact that ancient Indian philosophical texts have inspired scientific enquiry across cultures (and there are indeed scientists claiming inspiration from Abrahamic scriptures too, as you can see here and here).

The cultural chauvinism and literalist reading of religious texts among large sections of religious rightists to make "scientific claims" without any concrete evidence is much talked about, and this is done not just under a Hindu banner, but among Muslims and others too (rebutted by their own rational co-religionists), as you can see here, here and here, and in this context, this video debunking notorious Muslim preacher Zakir Naik's critique of the theory of evolution also makes a nice watch******, and this tendency in the Hindu context has been pointed out and opposed not only by cultural leftists but even eminent Hindu right-of-centre intellectuals, as you can see in this article, this one and this one. Indeed, we do have to learn from modern scientists tirelessly working in laboratories across the world with appreciation and an open mind without baselessly accusing all of them of plagiarism or cultural appropriation.

Much has been said about how COVID was mismanaged by the Modi-led BJP, leading to a calamitic humanitarian crisis, and Harsh Vardhan, as health minister, was shamelessly defensive. Speaking of the first wave, despite warnings from ICMR that a lockdown alone would, at best, reduce peak infections on a given day by 40%, the Modi government ignored for a month advice from ICMR to urgently launch other interventions. These included district-wise infection monitoring, "fast reporting" to identify and quarantine infective clusters, mass quarantines for those in densely populated areas (all of this happened much later) and a rapid increase in hospital beds and intensive-care units.

The disaster of the second wave has made many of us forget how Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, among many other cities and towns, were running short of hospital beds even during the first wave, when governments of countries like Taiwan, South Korea, Germany and New Zealand started acting much before ours. Speaking of the second wave, before it began, back in November 2020, the need for medical oxygen supplies was flagged by experts but not acted upon.

Reports about mutations given by scientists were trivialised. By the outset of March 2021, Vardhan irresponsibly declared that the pandemic had neared its end in India. After been proven wrong, what was worse was that in the midst of the unfolding tragedy, Vardhan asked scientists to bring out some tangible research relating to cows, saying the pandemic was no excuse, though state-funded scientific research is meant to solve governance issues or even delve into pure science, but not insist on looking at a source of research to solve whatever hypothetical problems! And this was when people were dying by the thousands because of the pandemic.

It reflects quite poorly on the BJP if its more suave leaders, even qualified doctors, also have such priorities in times of dire crisis. Not in the least to deny that BJP and non-BJP state and UT governments did also make their own share of mistakes but that doesn't absolve the Modi government and vice versa, and the central government was apparently discriminating against non-BJP-ruled states/UTs even in supplying medical oxygen, as you can see here and here. I am not going to bring in Vardhan's crony-ist favouritism related to Ramdev's Coronil (as much as I do respect Ayurveda, of which Ramdev is no sole representative) in this article, best left for another piece, given the technicalities involved.

I don't think Harsh Vardhan, with the blood of thousands of COVID patients on his hands, deserves any sympathy whatsoever (he is already getting some, being called a "good doctor", glossing over his unpardonable errors in managing COVID mentioned above and trying to exaggerate the flaws of state governments) as he has been shown the door (even if many others also deserve the same fate for the Covid mismanagement we have witnessed), and should have had no place in our polity. That he may not be the worst of our political leaders is hardly any consolation. Ironically, those defending Harsh Vardhan as a good doctor, in most cases, had nothing to say about Dr. Kafeel Khan, a good doctor who saved lives of infants in Gorakhpur, and who had, back then in August 2017, flagged concerns about the need for medical oxygen, instead of being awarded, being falsely implicated for the tragedy. (In more recent times, Adityanath repeated the pattern by seeking to have arrested those flagging the same concern during the second wave of the pandemic.) And subsequently, when Khan, despite not objecting to the CAA, expressed concerns about a countrywide NRC given how innocent Muslims, even decorated military veterans, in Assam were being detained as "foreigners" and how it is unfair to brand poor Muslims without any official identity documents as being guilty of being illegal migrants until proven innocent (and there was no clarification from the Modi sarkar initially that the supposed countrywide NRC would be on different lines than in Assam), the good doctor and life-saver Kafeel Khan was disgracefully declared as a national security threat and incarcerated, until the judiciary secured his release; so, Vardhan-fans advancing the "good doctor" narrative who were silent about the gross injustice meted out to Dr. Kafeel Khan do not have any credibility.

Indeed, it shows the power of propaganda how very many had, for quite long, been duped into thinking of Dr. Harsh Vardhan as an exemplary politician, and I believe it is the power of the same propaganda machinery that deludes many into thinking of our current prime minister as one.

*Indeed, Jinnah was a despicable figure, as discussed here.

**While examples have abounded, until 2014, some examples of Mamata's authoritarianism included the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, banning newspapers in government libraries and calling dissenting college students Maoists, and examples of her appeasing Muslim communalism until then include provisioning a monthly allowance for Muslim clerics, costing a near-bankrupt state government ₹126 crore per year and trying to drop charges against rioters who ran amok in Kolkata and attacked writer Taslima Nasrin in 2007.

***While Kumar Vishwas has left the AAP and has indeed become a bitter critic of Arvind Kejriwal's, he still lashes out at the BJP ever so often, as you can see here and here (so, if BJP-supporters take his word as the gospel truth, they would have to accept not only his critique of Kejriwal's but Modi's as well!), and BJP-supporters criticising Kejriwal over several long-time allies of his parting ways with him should, in Narendra Modi's context, think of LK Advani (who blessed the recently deceased Chandan Mitra when Mitra decided to switch from the BJP to the Trinamool Congress), Arun Shourie, Prashant Kishor and even the late Ram Jethmalani.

****The AAP government of Delhi, while certainly not perfect or above criticism, has also delivered well on economic growth along with public welfare, and has been more sensible with so-called freebies (with its surplus budget) than the BJP, as I've discussed here.

*****The Congress also has a better track record than the BJP at helping Kashmiri Pandits. The BJP has, with lies and exaggerations vis-a-vis the Kashmiri Pandits, fueled the Hindu-Muslim divide rather than sought to bridge it. It has misused the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits to wrongly stoke generalised hatred for Muslims everywhere but not do much for the Kashmiri Pandits, even betraying them by making promises and not keeping them. Panun Kashmir is supposedly the most right-wing Kashmiri Pandit group, and their leader has talked of how the Modi sarkar has done nothing for the community and has lied taking credit for UPA initiatives for their community, a sentiment echoed by a Kashmiri Pandit leader who was, until not too long ago, a spokesman of the BJP, and many other Kashmiri Pandits as well, as you can see here, here, here and here. Indeed, the Congress did much for them, like giving them permanent structures to live in, as you can see here and here), even if far from perfect (indeed, most governments in India have had a poor track record in terms of quality of homes for people, irrespective of religion or region, displaced by violence or even infrastructure projects) as opposed to the makeshift tents they lived in when they were displaced in the BJP-backed VP Singh government's tenure, and the Congress also gave the Kashmiri Pandits income tax exemptions shortly after the exodus in the early 1990s. The question is - why is the BJP lacking in sincerity when it comes to the Kashmiri Pandits?

It's because any sense of closure will not give the BJP a chance at playing its politics of communal polarisation, misusing the slogan of "what about the Kashmiri Pandits?" to trivialise or undermine the gravity of hate crimes against innocent Muslims across India. The BJP has similarly let down the Bru Hindu refugees displaced by Mizo Christian extremists, the family of Ankit Saxena, a victim of Muslim extremism, on the issue of cleaning the Ganga (the Congress has a better case on this one too) and while itself being in power and in a position to address issues, floated lies to keep Hindus in a perennial victimhood syndrome, as discussed here. By the way, fake news notwithstanding, the AAP has also demonstrated its commitment to Hindu sensibilities, as discussed here.

******For all those questioning whether or not Zakir Naik is reprehensible, read this. Rest, for those still sceptical about biological evolution, wait for my article on the same!

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Creatives : Karmanye Thadani

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