Ramdas Athawale's call for ban on Chinese food adds tadka to India-China rift

The Indian Army’s face-off with the Chinese over the Himalayan border in Ladakh was unfortunate. The public ire that the violent interaction sparked was but inevitable. However, Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale’s recent and rather mindless call to ‘ban restaurants selling Chinese food and boycott Chinese food’ is populist, off-the-mark and preposterous, to say the least. In the Covid-19 situation, it was his ‘Go Corona Go’ slogan that was mocked, quoted and remixed, over and over, across borders on social media while jeering at India’s attempts to tackle the virus.

Athawale’s faux pas are historic. Why, the leader of the Republican Party of India (RPI) forgot to mention his own name while taking the oath of office and secrecy as Union minister of state in 2016. Now, with his call for a ban on restaurants selling Chinese food and boycotting Chinese food himself, he has placed millions of restaurateurs across India, Chinese food lovers and the food industry in a quandary. At a time, when ‘Chinese food’ is prepared, sold, and consumed mostly by the poorest, generating jingoistic hatred will cause more harm than good.

The Chinese themselves, have precious little to do with the eponymous food being sold in India and will not be affected in the least with Athawale’s call for a ban. Why, most 'Chinese' food cooked in India has absolutely no bearing on the fare cooked in China. Here, it is cooked by Punjabis, Bengalis, Assamese, Gujaratis, Odias, Rajasthanis even Kannadigas, with a dash of their own, distinct ‘tadkas’ to taste, so it is hardly ‘Chinese’ by any stretch of the imagination And the Chinese fare that tickles Indian taste buds include chilli chicken and Manchurian - credited to Nelson Wang of China Garden, who added garlic, ginger, chillies and soya sauce, instead of the regular garam masala, to create the desi version of fried rice which, instead of being steamed, is oily and seasoned with generous helpings of red chilli powder, green chillies and the rest.

So now, restaurants offering pure desi versions of 'Chinese' food at the millions of roadside stalls across India, on highways, in crowded markets or near nakas and chowks, even grocery shops and supermar - kets selling Chinese food ingredi - ents, are at risk of being attacked, broken down or destroyed by jing - o istic elements spurred by Atha - wale’s utterances.

That the ingre - dients in the foods being passed off as 'Chinese' are purely Indian will now be everyone's blind spot, as the all-too-familiar ‘anger’ towards China risks spilling over within an India struggling to stand on its feet, following an economically crippling lockdown. Why, look at Ching’s Secret that claims to be, since 1996, ‘a mind-blowing blend of Indian Masalas and Chinese Spices’ and ‘India’s second-largest cuisine and the soul food of the country from Kashmir to Kanya Kumari.’

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