Chennai has warmed up to welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping for the informal summit scheduled for Friday and Saturday. The fact that the leaders have chosen Mamallapuram has been a matter of pride for the state of Tamil Nadu as most summits, formal or informal, usually do not cross Lutyens Delhi.
The choice of Mamallapuram can be attributed to history rather than current geopolitical dynamics. China’s maritime ties to this town goes back to around 2,000 years, with archaeologists recovering pottery and coins from the 1st and 2nd century AD along the TN coast, including the areas near Mamallapuram. There is evidence that China sent envoys to the seaport in the 6-7th century AD, when it was part of the Pallava empire. Archaeologists have also found Tamil inscriptions in China. And then there is Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese monk, who visited Kanchipuram in the 7th century and is said to have gone
Small wonder that the choice of Mamallapuram for the summit has been seen as TN being given special status in the global diplomatic map. CM Edappadi Palaniswamy has said the talks between the leaders at the world heritage site would be a “continuation of history”, as he recalled the 1956 visit of former Chinese PM Zhou Enlai to Kuzhipanthandalam, a village near Mamallapuram. DMK chief M K Stalin has also joined the thanksgiving chorus.
Today, the vibrant town has come under a thick security blanket and is predictably made out-of-bounds for tourists. The villagers have been advised by the police not to allow anybody from outside, even relatives, to stay at Mamallapuram till the event gets over. As part of the beautification drive, street vendors and artisans designing stone sculptures have been asked to shut shop. While some have criticised the precautionary measures, others have taken them in their stride. It’s better to look at it positively as a high-profile summit of this scale happens rarely at such a historic site.