Baldness to acne, our China syndrome

Big neighbour’s incursions have prompted excursions in mixed metaphors before, too

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Ashish Mehta | May 2, 2013



Chinese incursions into the Indian territory are not new. And our political leaders resorting to linguistic misadventure in response is also, unfortunately, not new.

There were incursions in Aksai Chin ahead of the 1962 war. When the inimitable Piloo Mody raised the matter in parliament, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who was otherwise a gifted orator, tried to downplay the issue. Nehru said it was a barren, inhospitable land and India had lost little by its occupation by China.

"Not a blade of grass grows in Aksai Chin," Nehru famously said. (To which freedom fighter Mahavir Tyagi retorted, pointing to his bald head and saying: "Nothing grows here either... should it be cut off or given away to somebody?")

A similar case of mixed metaphors, once again with a bodily reference, has come up half a century later. External affairs minister Salman Khurshid has compared the standoff over the Chinese incursion in Ladakh's Depsang valley as "acne".

"One little spot is acne, which cannot force you to say that this is not a beautiful face... that acne can be addressed by simply applying an ointment," he told a Ficci conference on April 25. “Ointment is part of the process of growing up, just as acne is part of the process of growing up. And the relation between India and China is a relationship which is growing up.”

From baldness to acne, it is a shift towards juvenile delinquency in a matter of supreme national importance.

But two days later, the later-day Nehru too had his version of blade-of-grass. "It is a localised problem,” said prime minister Manmohan Singh. What next? Sending the block development officer to Indo-China border talks?

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