Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Mr. Amery and the Deadlock

Prof. N. Srinivasan, M.A.

(The Andhra University, Waltair)

On May 10th, 1940,Mr. Churchillbecame Prime Minister, and a few days later, Mr. Amery became the Secretary of State for India. He has been at the India Office ever since, and even the most recent change in the Government has not affected the India Office (21st February, 1942). In this article an effort will be made toreview the India policyof the Churchill Government.

The crisis in the War which brought Mr. Churchill to power, and the events which followed,such as the fall of Belgiumand France and the entry of Italy into the War (May-June 1940), provided the occasion for a reconsideration of the Indian political problem by the British Government and the Indian National Congress.

The Congress Working Committee met at Wardha and decided on offering once again to the British Government its fullestcooperation. It decided also to absolve Gandhiji of all responsibility,so that the co-operation of the Congress could be more than moral and non- violencemight not hamper India’s War effort. The new Position of the Congress with regard to co-operation was stated in the Resolution of the Working Committee passed at Delhion the 7th July and subsequently approved by the All-India Congress Committee at itsPoona meeting on 28th July.

"The Working Committee have noted the serious happenings which have called forth fresh appeals to bring about a solution of the deadlock in the Indian politicalsituation; and in viewof the desirability of clarifyingthe Congress Position, they have earnestly examined the wholesituation once again in the light of the latest developments in worldaffairs.

"The Working Committee are more than ever convinced that the acknowledgment by Great Britainof the complete independence of India isthe only solutionof the problems facing both India and Britain and are, therefore, of opinion that such an unequivocal declarationshould be immediately made and that, as an immediate step in giving effect to it,a provisional National Government shouldbe constituted at the Center, which, though formed as a transitory measure, shouldbe such as to command the confidence of all the elected elements in the Central Legislature, and secure the closestco-operation of the responsible governments inthe Provinces.

"The Working Committee are of opinion that unless the aforesaid declaration is made, and a National Government accordingly formed without delay, all efforts at organising the material and moral resources of the country for defence cannot in any sense be voluntary or as from a free country and will, therefore, be ineffective. The Working Committee declare that, if these measures are adopted, it will enable the Congress to throw in its full weight in the efforts for the effective organisation of the defence of the country."

The answer of the Government was the Statement of the Viceroy of 8th August, 1940. It is the most important statement of policy of the Government since the deadlock arose and still remains so. Its objective was "to give finality to the constitutiona1 controversy during the War period without prejudice to the various political parties."1 It deserves therefore to be considered at length.

The Statement announced the intention of the Government to expand the Viceroy’s Executive Council and to create a War Advisory Council so as to "associate more closely Indian public opinion with the conduct of the War" and contained ‘new’ proposals for dealing with the Indian constitutional problem during and after the War.

After referring to the disagreements in India, the Statement continued:

"Deeply as H. M.’s Government regret this (the non-achievement of unity) they do not feel that they should any longer, because of these differences, postpone the expansion of the Governor General’s Council, and the establishment of a body which will more closely associate Indian public opinion with the conduct of the War by the Central Government. They have authorised me accordingly to invite a certain number of representative Indians to my Executive Council. They have authorised me further to establish a War Advisory Council, which would meet at regular intervals, and which would contain representatives of the Indian States, and of other interests in the national life of India as a whole.

"…. There is still in certain quarters doubt as to the intentions of His Majesty’s Government for the constitutional future of India, and there is doubt, too, as to whether the position of minorities, whether political or religious, is sufficiently safeguarded in relation to any constitutional change by the assurance already given. On those two points His Majesty’s Government now desire me to make their position clear.

"The first is as to the position of the minorities in relation to any future constitutional scheme. It has already been made clear that my declaration of last October does not exclude examination of any part, either of the Act of 1935 or of the policy, or and, plans on which it is based. His Majesty’s Government’s concern that full weightshould be givento the views of the minorities inany revisionhas also been brought out. That remains the positionof His Majesty’s Government. It goes without saying thatthey could not contemplate thetransfer of theirpresentfor the peace and welfare of India to any system of government whose authority is directly denied by large and powerfulelements in India’s national life. Nor could they be partiesto the coercion of such elements into submissionto such a Government.

"Thesecond point of general interest isthe machineryfor buildingwithin the British Commonwealth of Nations a new constitutionalscheme whenthe time comes. There has been Very strong insistencethat the framing of that scheme should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves,and should originatefrom Indian conceptionsof the social, economic and politicalstructure of Indian life.HisMajesty’s Government are insympathy with that desire, and wish to see it given the fullest practical expression, subject to the due fulfillment of the-obligations which Great Britian’slong connection with India has imposedupon her, and for which His Majesty’s Government cannot divest themselvesof responsibility.

"It is clear that a moment when the Commonwealth is engaged in a struggle for existence is not one in which fundamental constitutional issues can be decisively resolved. But His Majesty’s Government authorise me to declare that they will most readily assent to the setting up, after the conclusion of the War with the least possible delay, of a body representative of the principal elements in India’s national life in order to devise the framework of the new constitution, and they will lend every aid in their power to hasten decisions on all relevant matters to the utmost degree.

"Meanwhile, they will welcome and promote in any way possible every sincere and practical step that may be taken by representative Indians themselves to reach a basis of friendly agreement, firstly, on the form which the post-War representative body should take and the methods by which it should arrive at its conclusions, and, secondly, upon the principles and outlines of the constitution itself.

"They trust, however, that for the period of the War (with the Central Government reconstituted and strengthened in the manner I have described and with the help of the War Advisory Council) all parties, communities, and interests will combine and co-operate in making a notable Indian contribution to the victory of the world cause which is at stake. Moreover, they hope that in this process new bonds of union and understanding will emerge and thus pave the way towards the attainment by India of that free and equal partnership in the British Commonwealth which remains the proclaimed and accepted goal of the Imperial Crown and of the British Parliament."

Mr. Amery explained the ‘offer’ inthe House of Commons on 14th August. He maintained at the outset that "theconstitutional deadlock in India is not so much between His Majesty’s Government and a consentient Indian opposition as between the main elements in India’s own national life. It can, therefore, only be resolved, not by the relatively easy method of a bilateral agreement between His Majesty’s Government and representatives of India, but by the much more difficult method of a multi-lateral agreement in which His Majesty’s Government is only one of the parties concerned."

Mr. Amery next referred to Indian differences. Congress, in his opinion, was not representative of India. The Muslims, Scheduled Classes and the Princes were opposed to the "simple democratic formula propounded by the Congress."

Referring to the Congress demand for a National Government, Mr. Amery argued that to "make it (the expanded Viceroy’s Council) responsible to the Legislature is, in fact, a demand for changing the whole basis of the Indian Government in the midst of the War. It is a demand which really raises the whole unresolved constitutional issue and prejudges it in the sense favoured by the Congress and rejected by the minorities. There can be no agreement on a Government responsible to the Legislature, until there is agreement upon the nature of the Legislature and upon the whole structure of the constitution."

Mr. Amery referred to Dominion Status, which is the goal of British policy, of free and equal partnership with the Dominions and with England:

"There is no higher status in the world than that (Dominion Status), and that is the status which we have declared to be the goal of our policy in India. It should be primarily the responsibility of Indians themselves and should originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic and political structure of Indian life.

"H. M.’s Government are in sympathy with that desire and wish to see it given the fullest practical expression, subject to the due fulfillment of the obligations which Great Britain’s long connection with India has imposed on her, and for which His Majesty’s Government cannot divest themselves of responsibility.

"The recognition of these obligations is not an impairment of status but only a recognition of acts, historic or geographical, which differentiate the present position of India from that of other Dominions. As the late Lord Balfour pointed out in his remarkable exposition of the nature of British Commonwealth relations in the constitutional report of the Imperial Conference of 1926 ‘the principles of equality and similarity appropriate to status do not universally extend to function’, and he instanced, in particular, the functions of defence and foreign policy.

"It is inrespect of these, for example, that the position of India,both in virtue of her historic military organisation and of her geographical position, differs from that of the Dominions. Butthe difference that arises from these and similar obligations is one of degree and not of kind. For, in the case of every Dominion, there has always been some measure of adjustment, formal or informal, to Britishobligations. Subject to these matters the desire of HisMajesty’s Government is that the new constitution should be devisedby Indians for themselves; and should–may I quote the Words again?–‘originate from Indian conceptions of the social, economic and political structure of Indian life".

"That task is to be undertaken withthe least possible delay after theWar by a body representative of theprincipal elements in India’s national life. That means a body constituted inagreement between the representatives of the elements. It does not mean a body set up on lines which may commend themselves to one particular element, however influential, but which may be regarded as wholly unacceptable to the minority elements".

"His Majesty’s Government have made itclear that they could not contemplate thetransfer of their present responsibilities for the peace and welfare of India to any system of Government whose authority is deniedby large and powerful elements inIndia’s national life."

"In thismatter, too, there isno departure from theprinciples which have governed thecoming into existence of every Dominion constitution. In every case in the Dominions there has been antecedent agreement, not only between the geographical units, but also between the main radicalelements–English and French inCanada, Britishand Boer in South Africa–both as to the method of framing the constitution and as to the constitution itself.

"Agreement, consent, is indeedthe foundation of all free government, of all true democracy. Decision by majority isnot so much of the essence of democracy as a practical convenience which presupposes for its workingan antecedent general consent to the constitution itself. It has, indeed, inmost federal constitutions been limited invarious ways in order to safeguard the separate interestsof the federating elements. To describe the need for such agreement as a veto on constitutional progress is, I think, to do au injusticeto the patriotism and sense of responsibility of those concerned. Agreement means not veto by any element but compromise; and willingnessto compromise, in India as elsewhere,is an essential test of the sense of responsibility on which free government must be based."

"Mr. Amery reiterated that "the whole constitutional field will be thrownopen to re-examination", and he threw out the suggestionthat

"it may indeed prove to be the case that it isby entirely novel departures from theexisting scheme, whetherin the relation of theCentre to the provinces or to the States, or inthe methods of election and representation, that an agreement can be reached which is unattainable within the framework of the existing Act, based as it is on the traditions of India’s administrative past and on our customary British constitutional conceptions."

Mr. Amery observed that "no time-limit is possible" and that "a complicated task like the making of the constitution would take a long time". He expressed the willingness of the Government to help in arriving at the preliminary agreements.

On the nature of the proposed constituent body, he said:

"That would not mean that this body would be merely a Round Table Conference or commission whose views mayor may not be taken into serious consideration. The whole intention is that the work of this body should be taken seriously and should provide the main framework of the future constitution."2

Much comment is not necessary on the new move of the Government. It was the old policy in rather different language. To the demands of the Congress for a National Government and a declaration of independence, it gave an emphatic denial. Dominion Status, which it promised at some remote day in the future as the highest status, was not the status that the Congress desired for India. Gandhiji had earlier talked of it as "British tutelage euphemistically referred to as British partnership". An ancient and different civilisation such as that of India, and a country with the population and resources of India, whose connection with Britain has been a humiliating one and which must be ended and forgotten if Indian self-respect is to be maintained, can never be at home in a British Commonwealth. If India does not regard Dominion Status as the highest status in the world and prefers to be independent, that is not due to perversity, but is a natural desire. By no effort could India be converted into a British Colony like Australia, Canada or New Zealand. Nor, again, could she forget the Imperialism of the British ‘Commonwealth’ which is again and again exhibited in relations with India, and which fits ill with the professions of equal partnership. This view does not mean any lack of friendliness towards Britain or unwillingness to co-operate in the field of international affairs.

Mr. Amery’s insistence that the issue was simply one between Indian parties which refused to agree among themselves, was clearly a shelving of the question of the transfer of power. His emphasis on differences was an encouragement of the fissiparous forces which have been growing alarmingly in recent years. Theemphasis on the obligationsof His Majesty’s Government and the assurances to the minoritiesand the view that an agreement among the "principal elements of Indian life"should precede any constitutionaladvance–a vague phrase capable of indefinite extensionas it pleases the Government–must be considered one-sided. HisMajesty’s Government forgets that if minoritieshave their rights, majoritiesso-called have also their rights. Thisisthe fundamental defect of all British proposals.

On the machinery for making the constitution, again, in spiteof the apparent concessionto Indian opinion, the explanationof the procedure and theopen condemnationof the democratic formula clearly show the fundamental difference between the nationaland British views. The alternatives presented are a constitutionto which the principal elementsagree or one which isimposed by Britain. In the opinion of the Government, Indianself-government can only be self-government for the minorities, the Princes, British interestsand such other interests whomthe BritishGovernment is willingto consider as among the principalelements in India.

The analogy with the Dominions in justification of the obligationsof the Government would be seen to be without foundation.For instance, in a matter like defence, even today the Dominions are not self-sufficient. But no Dominion allows eitherits foreign relations or defence to be dictated by Britain. Self-government hasbeen a method by which Britain soughtto organisethe defences of the Dominions. Not so in India. In the case of India the cart isalways put before the horse for obviousreasons.

The interimpolicy of an expanded Council was not clearly a NationalGovernment in any sense. The argument that a National Government raises the constitutional problemis a specious argument. For, SirTej Bahadur Soon suggested a method by which, within the framework of the present constitutionand without prejudgingthe constitutional issues, a NationalGovernment could be created. A Completely Indianised Council Owing responsibilityto the Crown and with collective responsibility could be established. The policy of the Government was to refuse any such demand, and the technical objection of Mr. Amery displayed a lack of trust in Indians and belied the professed intentions of the Government to bring in Dominion. Status at the earliest Possible time.

The reactions in India were as expected. Within the terms of the offer the Congress could not discover a meeting ground with the Government. The Working Committee decided at Wardha on 15th September to reject the offer and to treat the poona offer of cooperation as having lapsed. The Congress was once again placed under the lead of Gandhiji. Gandhiji wrote to the Viceroy asking for the right of free speech about the War, which was refused by the Viceroy on 30th September. A fortnight later the Satyagraha campaign was launched by Gandhiji.

The Muslim League was pleased with the blank cheque contained in the assurances to the minorities and was willing to co-operate on two conditions: that it received real power at the Centre and in the Provinces, and secondly, that the Government would bind itself not to accept the co-operation of the Congress at a later stage. With this view clarifications of the offer were sought by Mr. Jinnah, and not receiving satisfaction, the League decided on a policy of non co-operation, Efforts to win other support were fruitless and the Viceroy announced the suspension of the offer on 20th November, 1940.

Till July, 1941, no further efforts were made to bridge the gulf. The campaign of non-co-operation with the War effort was carried on by the followers of Gandhiji, and most of the late Ministers found themselves behind prison bars. The Government ruled in the old fashion in utter disregard of public opinion. Mr. Amery fancied that the people in India, especially in the Provinces, were mightily pleased with the ending of Provincial Autonomy:

"So far indeed as the Provincial electorate is concerned, it must be admitted that they have nowhere shown any signs of distress at the suspension of Parliamentary Government, in this respect, no doubt, differing greatly from what would be the attitude of our own electors if deprived of the services of the Front Bench. The change to direct personal government by Governors and permanent officials has met with general acquiescence and indeed goodwill." (Speech, 22nd April, 1941.)

In March the non-party leaders met under the presidency of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and put forward a scheme for the ending of the deadlock. The scheme they put forward was to be provisional for the period of the War, and its object was to make for the fuller co-operation of India in the War. The scheme urged, firstly, the Immediate need for the reconstruction of the Governor General’s Council on the basis of (a) the complete Indianisation of the, Council from non-official ranks, (b) the transfer of all portfolios including the vital ones of Defence and Finance, and (c) joint and collective responsibility; the councillors were to be responsible to the Crown. Secondly, the Scheme demanded "a declaration, simultaneously with such a reconstruction of the Government, that within a specified time-limit after the conclusion of the War, India will enjoy the same measure of freedom as will be enjoyed by Britain and the Dominions".

The Sapru Conference proposals were dismissed by Mr. Amery with scant courtesy, with the remark that they were sent to the wrong address. Mr. Amery pronounced them to involve a fundamental change in the constitution and urged practical objections against them, the chief of them being that there is no agreement in India. He insinuated that the proposals had a Congress origin, as Mr. Jinnah had said in his outburst against the Conference. After Mr. Amery’s answer none could have any doubts as to the intentions of the British Government. Sapru’s dignified retort was that the Government "must cease talking of pledges and must do something to implement the pledges".

The Government has stood by the August offer and has refused to move forward, though it was woefully inadequate to win Indian consent. The Government was satisfied that it had the power to use the material and human resources of India as it pleased for the prosecution of the War, and non co-operation of the Congress or other parties had not in its opinion affected in the least the War effort. It was immaterial whether the effort was voluntary or otherwise. The moral support of India was not worth the sacrifice of British Imperialism. This attitude is perfectly understandable, but does not square with the oft-repeated professions of the Government that it had shed its Imperialism and was fighting for the freedom of democracies.

If Mr. Amery has not contributed anything to the solution of the constitutional problem and the ending of the deadlock, he has done a good deal to aggravate our troubles. His brilliant dialectical abilities have been all too frequently employed in increasing our divisions and adding new problems of controversy and conflict among Indian parties. Alternately he has appeared as the champion of the minorities and the Scheduled Classes and other discordant elements in our polity, and of the essential unity of India which, he claims, is a British creation. But the defence of his policy is based on present disunities; Mr. Amery poses the regretful attitude about it, as it prevents the British from giving to India the status of a Dominion. Of this kind have been his speeches delivered before the English-speaking Union in December 1940, his ‘India First’ speech (12th December, 1940), his speech in the India Office Debate in Parliament (22nd April, 1941), his speech in the Commons on the expansion of the Council (1st August, 1941), his address at Manchester (19th November, 1941) as also his subsequent utterances. It is not necessary to dwell at length on these speeches justifying his India policy. But it is necessary to refer to a few points.

Three suggestions have been thrown out by Mr. Amery as possible means of achieving the agreement that is lacking. These relate to the distribution of powers in the future between the Centre and the Provinces and States, the basis of representation, and the Executive at the Centre and the Provinces. Mr. Amery has taken on himself the role of the political scientist lecturing to Indians on the elements of politics.

Mr. Amery, in the first place, has come to the conclusion that democracy is unsuited to India; he has become a disciple of Mr. Jinnah in this respect. In the debate in the House of Commons on 1st August, 1941, on the White Paper "India and the War", he observed that the democratic system is unsuited to India:

"The reaction against the dangers of what is called the Congress Raj or the Hindu Raj has gone so far as to lead to a growing demand from Moslem quarters for a complete breaking up of India into separate Hindu and Moslem Dominions."

On the distribution of powers Mr. Amery made the following suggestion:

"Maybe that the fears of the Moslems may be met by a further increase in the powers of the Provinces, possibly rearranged and regrouped, subject only to a minimum of control necessary to secure some measure of unity on foreign, defence and economic policy. A change in that direction would no doubt also meet the hesitation of the Princes."

In the same speech Mr.Amery praised the scheme of Functional Representation adopted by Hyderabad as a means of securing agreement among the communities.

He pleaded for irremovable executives at the Centre "more on the lines of the American Executive, that is, independent of the Legislature for the term of its office, whether directly elected or nominated by the Provinces and the States, with a definite proportion allocated to different elements".

These suggestions of Mr.Amery raise issues which cannot here be discussed.3 Mr. Amery has urged them as a means to unity. But they serve exactly the opposite purpose; they create further controversy on the constitutional problem. These appear as the means which the British contemplate for preserving their control over India by indirect methods, of depriving the majority of the Indian people, both Hindu and Moslem, of their right to direct their own destinies without external interference. Mr. Amery’s contribution to the cause of Indian unity is an insidious attempt to break it in the interests of British rule. That is the truth of the matter.

Mr.Amery’s policy was made up in 1940. His mind cannot accept the prospect of others than white men enjoying status such as the British enjoy. Perhaps he feels that it is in the interests of the "lesser breeds without the law" to be governed by the British. If a show of disinterestedness must be put up, Mr. Amery will repeat the pledges of Britain times without number, taking care that nothing is done to implement them. His policy is based on distrust of Indians and it is no wonder that he could rally no party in India to accept his policy, not even the minorities whose self-constituted guardian he is.

Two further quotations from Mr. Amery will make the position clear. Talking of the August offer in Parliament when the present expansion was announced (1st August, 1941), Mr. Amery said: "The offer was a welcome assurance to the Moslems and other important elements that their fate would not be settled over their heads by some deal between the British Government and the Congress Party." He admitted however, "On the other hand it is perfectly true that it did come as a shock not only to the Congress but also to many other moderate elements in India, and even here (in Britain), because it made clear that a new stage must inevitably intervene before India could attain her goal."

For the attainment of the goal the agreement between the principal elements is the essential pre-requisite. Otherwise, Britain will not transfer power. Three questions arise: What is to be the length of the new stage? What are the principal elements? What is the nature of the agreement?

To the first question the answer is that the new stage will last as long as his ‘agreement’ is not forthcoming. To the second question Mr. Amery’s answer is:

"The main elements in India’s national life include not only political organisations or great religious and cultural communities, but they also include geographical and administrative elements, Provinces of British India, more especially those which have not thrown away the responsibilities of self-government, and Indian States."

This, it will be seen, is an improvement on Lord Zetland’s list two years ago. This has omitted some, e.g., British interests; but has added others, e.g., Provinces. Essentially, the principal elements would be what the British Government recognises as principal elements.

On the nature of the agreement Mr. Amery said: "Nor is the substantial agreement, which we wish to see achieved, necessarily dependent on the fiat of Party leaders." What this means it is difficult to guess. No one can be definite as to the nature of the agreement which will satisfy Mr. Amery’s test.

In the face of the overwhelming evidence here presented, mostly in Mr. Amery’s words, can there be any doubt about the British intention not to part with power?

That the freedom that is promised for India is not seriously meant would also be clear from the non-application of the Atlantic Charter to India. This Charter proclaims in its third point the right to self-determination of all peoples of Europe, overrun by the Axis powers, at the end of the War. Whatever prospects of freedom and security, political and economic, it may hold out are for the European peoples and for the White Dominions of Britain and America, not for the peoples of Asia. That by Dominion Status for India, freedom is not meant is evident from the denials of both Mr. Amery and Mr. Churchill that it applies to India. In the words of Mr. Churchill (9th September, 194l):

"the joint declaration does not qualify in any way the various statements of policy which have been made from time to time about the development of the constitutional government in India, Burma or other parts of the British Empire."

Similarly, the answers to Mr. U. Saw, the late Premier of Burma, on the issue of Dominion Status makes it clear beyond doubt that freedom for non-white peoples in the British Empire is not the same as for white peoples. The British Empire will not drop willingly its burden of ruling the less fortunate subjects of the Empire.

In July last, when it had become clear that the co-operation of the major political parties in India could not be obtained on the terms of the Government’s offer, the British Government proceeded to implement the offer of 1940 by the expansion of the Council and by setting up the National Defence Council. The utility of these bodies is very limited. The new Viceroy’s Council, with a non-official majority, is no doubt a considerable advance on the Council of the older days. The men chosen are certainly among the best we can secure in this country. But the portfolios allotted to them, and the changes that have taken place since 1935 in the work of the Council impair their usefulness a great deal. Under their inspiration a fresh approach to our constitutional difficulties has been partially made without modifying the fundamental policy. The political prisoners have been released and a more congenial atmosphere for the solution of the deadlock prevails. And the approach of danger to the shores of India has provided a new occasion for an agreement between the Government and the people.

The Congress has reviewed the situation and once again returned to its policy of full co-operation on certain conditions. The Poona offer has been virtually repeated and Gandhiji has again withdrawn from the Congress. Mr. Rajagopalachari has been carrying on a vigorous campaign in the country to support the War and to maintain the morale of the people in this crisis, and addressing fervent appeals to the British Government to trust India, to declare her free and give her the opportunity to defend herself against aggression. But on the evidence on record, can it be hoped that a change will come in the tragic show of the second most populous country in the world witnessing, with a supreme lack of interest and utter helplessness, her fate being decided by the armies of other Powers, both friends and foes? Time alone will show.

February 24, 1942

1 Round Table

2 Quoted from the white paper

3 See an article by the present writer in The Twentieth Century (April, 1940) for a discussion of the problem of the Executive in our future constitution, Sir Tej Bahadur’s forthcoming pamphlet on ‘Functional Representation’, the writer’s on ‘Irremovable Executives’, and Prof. M. Venkatarangiah’s ‘The Reformed Constitution of Hyderabad (The Triveni Quarterly, Vol. XIII, No.3)

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