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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 22, June 1, 2024

2024 Indian Parliamentary Elections: Structures Beneath the Surface, ‘Choreographic Occultation’ and Authoritarian Personality | Neshat Quaiser

Saturday 1 June 2024, by Neshat Quaiser

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This article examines some of the crucial issues in the 2024 Indian parliamentary elections and their theoretical underpinnings. The article is divided into seven sections: Introduction; Key Issues: Constitution, Religious Harmony, Promises and counter-promises; Sanctity of Written Words and Congress Party’s Constitutional Raison-Detre; Communal Occultation and the rise of an Authoritarian Personality; From Authoritarian Personality to Politically Monotheistic Authoritarian State; Invisibilised ‘Muslims’ on the electoral centre stage, ‘electoral umma’ and rabid communalism; and Amethi, family bastion and the statist media.

Introduction

Many things on the surface appear perfect or not so disturbing, for they are taken or justified as legally or customarily just arrangements, which in effect are ‘choreographic occultation’ of the structures beneath the surface of apparent that produces ‘petrification of real meaning’ [1]. In order to comprehend what are choreographically occultated, the structures beneath the surface need to be unearthed.

Occultation of the structures beneath the surface of apparent to produce petrification of real meaning has historically evolved. For example, the argument that we need labour for which workers are paid wages is marshalled as just legal arrangement under capitalism. But it is the structure beneath the surface of this apparent relationship where lies the mechanisms of exploitation. Similarly, Max Weber once had argued that the protestant ethics had provided a basis for the rise of capitalism, which ultimately led to the argument that the individual, being the fundamental unit of analysis, is responsible for her/his success or failure not the system; this argument was occultation of the mechanisms of the capitalist exploitation beneath the surface of apparent relationship. What can be drawn from this formulation is how has historically the significance of factors such as religious, linguistic and cultural symbols, as occultating constitutive, been foregrounded to attain certain economic or other ideological goals. We have seen that how ‘nationalistic’ sentiments, cultural and linguistic symbols, outsider-insider binary etc. were employed to mobilise masses during the Assam movement against the central capitalist/business houses’ siphoning off the local resources. However, this in no way should undermine the importance of any resistance against the linguistic and cultural domination by a non-local dominant group. Similarly, the ideology of Hindutva as an occultating constitutive behind the movement to establish a Hindu Rashtra and Hindutva “political monotheism” (See: Endnote 11 below) has played craftily on instilled popular anti-Muslim prejudices by foregrounding the glorification of a well-crafted golden Hindu past which was destroyed by the non-Indic Muslim rule that ultimately resulted in bleeding the Mother India by partitioning her sacred body in 1947. This central Hindutva argument has produced many offshoots with the passage of time.

In the contemporary Indian politics this mechanism of occultation by the Hindutva forces is effected by frontally foregrounding certain foundational doctrinal, political and cultural issues. In addition, various populist mechanisms are also employed for electoral gains as well. These include rampant use of fabricated lies spread widely through various social media and public pronouncements; and through use of the crass and vitriolic language directed against the political opponents and particularly against the religious minorities, defying any sense of constitutional ethos and public decency. This communally polarised situation has propelled a prejudiced megalomaniac authoritarian personality on the centre-stage of Indian politics embodying various Hindutva occultating mechanisms. However, it is important to note that the source of prejudice of the Hindutva authoritarian personality is not character-conditioned as Theodor Adorno had argued in his now-classic description of an authoritarian personality, instead the source of his prejudice lies within the organised Hindutva ideology.

In the following we explicate some of the above theoretical considerations in the backdrop of certain key issues in the 2024 Indian parliamentary electoral practices.

Key Issues: Constitution, Religious Harmony, Promises and Counter Promises

In the 2024 Indian parliamentary elections Indian National Congress (Congress) party’s narrative accusing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) for its intended plans to change the Indian Constitution has acquired centrality. Thus, the 2024 parliamentary elections critically came to be defined by an ideological battle between the Congress and BJP with two distinctly parallel narratives. Congress’ narrative is centrally marked by its claim to defend and protect the secular Indian constitution not only to maintain religious harmony and composite culture and to safeguard democracy but also, and more importantly, to protect and expand the present limits of reservations for people who have suffered caste discrimination for centuries, along with the protection of other constitutional values. BJP and its ideological parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), on the other hand, have historically argued that the Indian Constitution does not reflect Indian civilisational ethos which is exemplified by the Manusmriti [2] (which also reinforces the caste system), thus, it should be changed. Thus, change of constitution for BJP is necessary to effect its old agenda of Hindutva majoritarian Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation). As a result, BJP ultimately relied in these elections on the homogenising and hegemonising Hindutva ideology instilling fear of Muslims among Hindus and to accuse Congress for its policy of ‘Muslim appeasement’. Thus, to Congress, BJP’s plans to change the constitution crucially means not only to attack on the Indian constitutional secular ethos and multi-religious composite culture but also to do away with the reservations and quotas guaranteed by the constitution for the people who have for long suffered caste discrimination.

In addition, the Congress has frontally foregrounded two other issues: the urgency of conducting Caste Census to know exact caste-wise population so that according to the numerical strength, the oppressed and exploited castes could get their legitimate share in the national resources, thus, centuries-old caste-based discrimination and humiliation could ultimately be eliminated; and the issue of massive unemployment and its plans for guaranteed jobs when it comes to power. Both these issues, particularly the issue of unemployment, have caught the imagination of unemployed youths and OBC and Dalit populations with far reaching socio-political implications. Some of its alliance partners too have raised the same issues. .

Other hotly debated complementary issues are woven within the central antagonistic arguments on the Indian Constitution. Some of these include: Prime Minister’s false promises of depositing Rs.15 lakh in every Indian’s bank account, providing two crores jobs per year, and doubling the farmers income; high rate of unemployment, backbreaking price-rise; Hindutva, Muslim bashing and falsifying Muslim population, beef; false accusations against Congress such as its plans to give away Hindu property to Muslims; reservation to Muslim, electoral bonds scam; Agniveer scheme; beneficiaries; Nehru, Congress’ failures in seventy years, Pulwama attack on the army convoy and surgical strike against Pakistan, Ram Mandir and article 370 etc. Significantly, key questions of Ram Mandir and article 370 did not emerge as polarising factors as was expected.

The issue of beneficiaries of the various governmental schemes too have come to play a significant role in 2024 elections. BJP has particularly highlighted its scheme of distributing free five kilogram food grain to 80 crore people; however officially claimed quality and quantity have often been questioned. Moreover, reports from various states suggest that the people have begun to see the political manipulations beneath the surface of BJPs free ration scheme. Most importantly the Supreme Leader – PM – presented the free ration scheme as his personal favour to people not as the constitutional obligation of the state which was part of Congress-led UPA government’s Right to Food Act. Congress’ counter schemes are presented in its rather radical 2024 manifesto, and it has lately promised that if it comes to power, it will provide 10 kilograms free food grain against BJPs five kilograms as continuation of its Right to Food policy.

However, 2024 elections seems to be witnessing the emergence of a third political camp constituted by those citizen-voters who have now begun to see the real structures beneath the apparent. These citizen-voters are propelled “by the contingencies of life and its counter-intuitive comprehension” defying normative expectations of political parties.

Sanctity of Written Words and Congress Party’s Constitutional Raison d’etre

Printed written words constituting a stable political text of a political party means accountability to people who consider it as their redeemer; and the political party’s continued adherence to its written words must manifest in a stable pattern of practice to gain sanctity for its words in the eyes of people. Commonsensically, the written words in indelible ink are considered very valuable, reliable and sanctified by common people and they believe that if some people or certain organisations have committed to certain ideological positions in writing then one can catch hold of them if they do not honour their own written words. For common people it can signify dishonouring the body of innocence – i.e. the innocence of believing another fellow human beings in good faith is dishonoured, as if they have been betrayed.

A critical dimension in these elections seems to be unearthing the Congress party’s constitutional raison-detre and the sanctity of its written words hidden beneath its surface practices for various factors. Congress’ past political positions with regard to global economic and political power structures and many of its domestic economic and social policies and practices including communal riots have constantly come under heavy criticism. However, present unearthing is linked to certain definite signs that a new Congress under Rahul Gandhi with Mallikarjun Kharge is emerging with radical socio-economic agenda upholding secular constitutional values, and more importantly, its constant and direct ideological attack on Hindutva ideology and practices particularly by Rahul Gandhi; although this endeavour might face resistance from within by the Congressmen with casteist, feudal and couched communal predispositions. However, this realisation about the significance of the Congress’ written words, having far reaching theoretical and practical implications, seems to have slowly begun to inhabit the minds of people including Muslims particularly in the context of the rampant rise of crony capitalism and the naked Hindutva communal practices.

Communal Occultation and the Rise of an Authoritarian Personality

BJP’s electoral campaign is centred on its omnipotent and omnipresent Supreme Leader – the prime minister. It is on his face that the BJP is fighting its 2024 parliamentary electoral battle. Other leaders are deployed as per the desire of the supreme leader. The Supreme Leader can be defined as a prejudiced megalomaniac authoritarian personality. The Supreme Leader detaches his megalomaniac authoritarian Hindutva self from his primordial human self and often speaks in third person about himself as part of his strategy of choreographic occultation of reality. Thus, he, megalomaniacally, declared that “I am convinced I am not born through biological process (main biological nahin hun – I am not biological) but I am sent by the Daiviye Shakti/Paramatma (divine power/God – having Hindu religious reference) to do His work. I am indestructible”. [3] It is obvious that he desires to be like a God-King of the bygone era to convey that his divine wishes would be obeyed. Thus, he told the electorate if they voted in his name they will earn punya (a happier rebirth on earth or a long stay in heaven). [4] As a logical corollary of this conviction he endeavoured to create an atmosphere of uncritical thinking among Hindutva supporters so that they would passively consume the industriously whipped up frenzied nationalism. In the process he often, megalomaniaclly desires to override the Gods.

The reference to Daiviye Shakti privileged him for his anti-Muslim Hindutva vitriolic rhetoric. His whole political existence is defined by the Hindutva anti-Muslimism, and the one who alone imperiously can guarantee a Hindu Rashtra and render the Muslims a second-class citizen to avenge perceived humiliation of Hindus during Muslim rule. He employs emotional blackmailing to instil fear of Muslims among majority Hindus through mechanisms of manipulations and fabrications of facts and data including Muslim population and fertility rate. However, in spite of his crafty fabrication of facts, he is blissfully ignorant of very basic historical, social, cultural and scientific facts, thus, is comfortable with people in blissful ignorance, as a result he demonstrates anti-intellectualism. For example, once he jibed well-known economist Amartya Sen saying: it is not Harvard, but hard work that matters. [5] At times the supreme leader deliberately tells lies so that the opponents get fervently engaged in proving him wrong and he would succeed in diverting their attention from the central issues at a given point in time.

In order to sustain his image of a macho-Hindutva authoritarian personality, he creates a spectacle to legitimise himself through public display of foundational Hindutva epistemological signs, and through fabricated lies in full view of public, so that it is projected as transparent and neutral. [6] The supreme leader loves eventism.

The supreme leader, in order to privilege Hindutva epistemological absolutism occultates and distorts historical facts. He indulges in blatant communal polarisation for electoral gains. He craftily uses of some non-Hindutva regional parties such as JDU, TDP, LJP etc. for his electoral gains. He can ruthlessly side-line his competitors and intellectually more equipped people within his own party. He uses constitutional institutions such as ED, CBI, Income Tax, etc. to suppress his political opponents. Ultimately he endeavours to make people intellectually docile and statist.

Among the various well-crafted occultating mechanisms that the Supreme Leader employed in his electoral campaign, fabricated lies and crass and vitriolic language are the two key populist polarising mechanisms.

Fabricated lies as an ideology: The Supreme Leader has raised the status of fabricated lies to the level of political ideology. Lies are intended to divest the people of their logical thinking. They are meant to convince people to take the deliberate false statements as true. Thus, his most favourite and effective mechanism of occultation of reality is the constant use of fabricated lies. Thus, not only a normal, intelligible statement by his opponents is turned upside down, but also he can calculatingly twist even the written statements and documents of his opponents to produce a perverse Hindutva-communal narrative in crassest and most vicious language.

He tells plain lies with great bravado and aplomb without any abashment. For example, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has almost on a daily basis attacked the Prime Minister and his government for criminally giving away most of the public sector units to Adani-Ambani business houses promoting crony capitalism. However, suddenly after the third phase of elections the supreme leader said: he wonders why Rahul Gandhi has stopped taking the names of Adani and Ambani since the declaration of the Lok Sabha elections. This is nothing but a plain lie playing on the idea that people in remote towns and villages and even in urban areas would not know that fact and that they would believe his words as he is the prime minister. Similarly, he falsely claimed that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in 2006 that “Muslims had the first claim on the country’s resources”. He alleged that the 2024 Congress manifesto proposes to distribute people’s wealth among Muslims if the party is elected to power. Similarly, his anti-Muslim rhetoric made him repeatedly pronounce that ‘Congress (and RJD, SP) wanted to give SC-ST-OBC job quota to Muslims’ [7] which has been challenged saying that even in Gujrat OBC Muslims are entitled to get reservations in government jobs. He stated that if the Congress Party comes to power, it would redistribute wealth of people to Muslims to the extent that even women’s mangalsutra [8] will not be spared. [9] These deliberately misinterpreted statements have strongly been rebutted. Umpteen instances of such plain lies can be cited.

Crassest language: As a part of premeditated agenda the supreme leader has crossed all limits of public decency and constitutional responsibilities by using crassest and vitriolic language to polarise the electorates on Hindutva communal lines and to ridicule his political opponents. He referred to Muslims in India as “those who have a large number of children” and openly equated Muslims with “ghuspaithiye” – the infiltrators. In 2019, to ignite communal sentiments, he said that those who were protesting violently against Citizen Amendment Act could be recognised by their clothes, suggesting only Muslims were protesting the new Act. On 25th May in Bengal he said ‘I do not at all bother even if the INDIA Alliance people performs Mujra before their vote bank (meaning Muslims). Mujra here denotes dancing and singing performance by a dancing-girl/prostitute on payment before a powerful feudal patron signifying submission, obeisance, and appeasement. One should not miss the point that Mujra has certain strong Muslim cultural connotations as well. He once called the Congress leader Sonia Gandhi ‘Congress ki Vidhva’ (Congress’ widow). [10]

The above traits and practices are the constitutive elements of this authoritarian personality. However, beneath the surface of this megalomaniac Hindutva authoritarian personality lies a deep sense of insecurity, which is reflected in the state that he controls.

From Authoritarian Personality to Politically Monotheistic Authoritarian State

The prejudiced megalomaniac authoritarian personality has produced an authoritarian state where repressive and ideological state apparatuses are used to accomplish Hindutva agenda. The State itself takes on the characteristics of an instrumentalist strong arm persona. It is to be consumed passively by a mass of protoplasm, not a critical consciousness. Beneath the surface, such a state is driven by political monotheism signifying epistemological absolutism of an exclusivist politico-religious-theological hegemony and domination to establish a religiously Hindutva majoritarian unitary state. [11] Mono-vocality constitutes its hegemonic foundational mechanism as opposed to dialogical processes.

However, this all-powerful, seemingly invincible state is never sure of the logic of its own existence. As a result, it continuously must engage in such demonstrable acts – such as mob lynching of Muslims and enacting laws to suppress the voices of opposition – whereby it is seen as the ‘sole avenger’ not only to make the governed fall in line, but also assure itself of the legitimacy of the logic of its existence. Thus, the ideology of political monotheism and politically monotheistic state ultimately must “petrify the true meanings of the subjugated free through the mechanism of choreographic occultatation” (See: Endnote 1 below) in order to produce a petrified post-colonial Hindutva subject. [12] Thus, beneath the surface of the state and macho-Hindutva authoritarian personality also lies a deep sense of insecurity.

Invisibilised Muslims on the Electoral Centre Stage, Electoral Umma and Rabid Communalism

Although historically and socially Muslims have vertically been divided along the caste lines in Indian subcontinent. And yet, notwithstanding some voices of protest against ashraafiya [13] authority at social levels, the ashraafiya through casteist hegemonic ‘choreographed occultation’ of the caste divisions among Muslim, has succeeded in creating a Muslim ‘electoral umma’ [14] particularly in the backdrop of rabid Hindutva communalism. The ‘electoral umma’, however, may have certain positive dimensions though.

Following are the two highlights with regard to Muslims in 2024 parliamentary elections:

Firstly, in spite of their marginalisation and invisibilisation, paradoxically yet again it is the Muslims on whose body ultimately the electoral battle is sought to be fought, and they are made to enter the electoral centre-stage. For example, it has repeatedly been argued that Muslims have systematically been marginalised and silenced not only from everyday social life, government jobs, education, business etc. but also from the political processes. Number of ‘Muslim’ members of Legislative Assemblies and Parliament have steadily been declining since 1951 first general elections.
Moreover, they have been victims of the worst systematic communal violence. And yet, ironically much of the electoral public debates take place through and against Muslims. This happens either through accusing Congress and other secular parties for their policy of Muslim appeasement or through right wing communal parties and organisations such as BJP making Muslims responsible for bleeding the Mother India by partitioning its sacred body in 1947; or accusing Muslims of oppressing Hindus and destroying their temples during their rule in medieval period, or through various other vitriolic anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Secondly, in 2024 parliamentary elections Muslim electorate in general have maintained a studied silence. Even the usual non-Majlis-e Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) ashraafiya vocal leaders with political ambitions or ulama (Muslim religious scholars) did not react even to rabid communal provocations, instead they exercised utmost restraints by only issuing occasional statements on some of the extreme anti-Muslim public pronouncements, acts and policies. It seems that a process of rethinking has set in among the large number of Muslims about their almost four-decade old anti-Congressism. This has happened primarily because of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s consistent and open ideological attack on Hindutva ideology and politics led by RSS and BJP resulting in strident communal violence such as mob lynching of Muslim men. [15] How stable this rethinking would be, only the future will tell.

Muslims, it seems, have overwhelmingly decided to vote for those who would defeat a BJP candidate. For example, ground-level reports strongly suggest that in Purnea (Bihar) Muslims decided to vote for an independent candidate Pappu Yadav against the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate. While elsewhere they would vote for RJD or Congress in spite of serious complaints that this time RJD fielded only two Muslim candidates in Bihar, while Muslims constitute about 18 per cent of the total Bihar populations; and that it gave 8 tickets to Yadavas who constitute only 14 per cent of the state population. Similar complaints were made against Congress party as it did not field any Muslim candidate in Maharashtra. And yet, at the national level Muslims seem to have largely decided to vote for Congress. For example, it was beyond any imagination to think that the Muslims would ever vote for Shiv Sena, which was considered a rabid communal party until very recent past. But the credible reports suggest that in 2024 parliamentary elections Muslims have voted even for Shiv Sena (Udhav Thakre) as it is now part of an anti-BJP political alliance. Very few people could grasp such studied lull beneath the surface.

Amethi, Family Bastion and the Statist Sway over Media

Amethi parliamentary constituency became acrimoniously debated issue in 2024 elections from where the Congress leader was defeated in 2019 by the BJP and was eagerly expected that he would again contest from Amethi this time to avenge his defeat. However, the Congress perhaps as part of its New Congress project instead fielded an old-time local Congress worker K. L. Sharma. Fielding a local Congress worker in place of Rahul Gandhi may be seen as a step to answer the accusation that Amethi parliamentary constituency is considered as a Gandhi family bastion. In the popular language of electoral politics this may be called as a master stroke. This is particularly because the Amethi’s BJP candidate’s electoral existence is primarily defined through and against Rahul Gandhi either in loss or victory. Thus, in the absence of Rahul Gandhi, even if the BJP candidate defeats K. L. Sharma, she is sure to lose the real source of her prominence in the corridors of political power. Beyond the question of Gandhi’s personal pride and prestige, this move has certain political connotations. That is to frustrate BJP’s plans to gain a wider psycho-political edge by reducing the Amethi election to a fight to restore Rahul Gandhi’s personal prestige by avenging his previous defeat; and also to keep him away from national electoral campaign.

Given the distinctly consensual gendered division of labour within the ‘mainstream’ electronic and print media, both the lapdog and lap-female-dog media journalists hysterically propagated that Rahul Gandhi has run away from Amethi fearing defeat. However, even some alternative YouTube news channels’ journalists too toed the same line of thinking, arguing, in a circuitous way, that Rahul should take on the BJP candidate frontally, otherwise Congress would give a walkover to BJP. Moreover, some of the alternative YouTube journalists, in the name of journalistic neutrality and objectivity, have of late been busy in projecting the Supreme Leader as invincible by highlighting the weaknesses of the Congress, without really being trained to comprehend the meaning of these conceptual categories. But the Congress strategists thoroughly disappointed all of them.

The task of governing a state with an iron hand is projected as primary task by an authoritarian personality. Media is an instrumental tool for an authoritarian state. Thus, controlling and gagging the media is intrinsically linked with a particular notion of governance aimed at accomplishing the political agenda in total disregard to the principle of objectivity and Constitutional ethos. For example, exit polls after the conclusion of the last phase of the elections, conducted predominantly by the pro establishment psephology agencies and hotly debated on the ‘mainstream’ media, are often to occultate the reality and to prepare ground to gain legitimacy for the manipulation done by the institutions such as the Election Commission, District Magistrate, police etc. which are controlled by the ruling dispensation. Thus, much of the corporatised lapdog media today, in one or another way, is aligned with the ruling establishment to promote its right-wing ideologies.

Media has been reduced to an appendage of the ruling dispensation. So, the questioning mind either fall in line or be ready to face ire. Thus the state uses its repressive apparatuses to arm twist and physically harass questioning journalists, such as the secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists’ Delhi unit Siddique Kappan was arrested in October 2020 when he was on his way to Hathras in the state of Uttar Pradesh to report on the gang-rape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl. Police accused Kappan of conspiring to create law and order trouble and incite violence and was charged with sedition. He was released from prison more than two years after his arrest. [16] In order to control the critical media, in the state of Uttar Pradesh a government directed its information officers across the state’s districts to do a better job at tracking newspapers for “negative news” as it is “tarnishing the image of the government”. [17]

Numerous instances can be provided where the state has used repressive mechanisms to silence the dissenting and questioning journalists. [18] Thus, controlling the media is all about attaining legitimacy for what is not legitimate. So, the state thoroughly detests the dissenting and questioning media.

(Author: Neshat Quaiser is currently associated with the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH -Delhi). Formerly he taught in the Department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, Central University, Delhi. | Email: neshatquaiser[at]yahoo.com)


[1For the concept of choreographic occultation and petrification of meaning see: Quaiser, Neshat. 2016. Choreographic Occultation and Petrification of Meaning: Post-colonial Law and Alternative Subject in Society and Culture in South Asia, Vol 2, Issue 1, (Jan 2016)

[2Organiser. 30 November, 1949; Golwalkar, M. S. 1966. Bunch of Thoughts

[3https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfNB1DTKqt0 accessed on 25-05-2024. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has raised an important legal/constitutional question: Can a divine be eligible for Indian citizenship?

[4The India Express, May 23, 2024.

[5The Hindustan Times, May 02, 2019

[6For the concept of spectacle see: Quaiser, Neshat. 2016. Op. cit. p. 93.

[8A pendant necklace worn by a Hindu woman to signify that she is married.

[11For political monotheism and politically monotheistic majoritarian state see: Quaiser, Neshat. LokMarg, 3rd January 2024 (2015) op. cit

[12Ibid

[13Ashraafiya - high-caste, high-descent Muslims

[14Umma denotes a united community of Muslims bound to Islam

[15Significantly, almost all victims of mob-lynching were Shudra-Dalit Muslims.

[18https://inkstickmedia.com/silencing-journalists-in-uttar-pradesh/; Mrinal Pande. The Taming Of India’s Regional Media: Why Hindi Dailies, TV Channels Present Handouts From Ministries As News. 23 Apr, 2024. https://article-14.com/post/the-taming-of-india-s-regional-media-why-hindi-dailies-tv-channels-present-handouts-from-ministries-as-news-662721d177038

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