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Why Modi chose Mahabalipuram as venue to meet Xi

By R Rajagopalan
October 07, 2019 11:47 IST
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Xi's presence in Mahabalipuram is more of a political message from Modi to the world -- as well as to regional parties in South India that they should be beware of the BJP's rise, says R Rajagopalan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mahabalipuram later this week for the second informal summit between them after the first in Wuhan, China, in April 2018.

That the Chinese president consented to the talks in the coastal town in Tamil Nadu is itself an indication of Modi's outreach.

But why did PM Modi choose Mahabalipuram to be the venue of the meet? Is it linked to national, international or bilateral or multilateral politics?

The answer is yes, this is how it plays out. 


International aspects

Recently, in an unprecedented development, PM Modi jointly addressed a huge crowd in Houston along with American President Donald Trump as part of the 'Howdy, Modi' event.

The bonhomie that played out between Modi and the United States president during the event was witnessed worldwide.

Modi even gave a headstart to President Trump's 2020 campaign by saying 'Abki baar, Trump sarkar'.   

This personal outreach to world leaders has given Modi a high stature among them. 

Modi had visited 45 countries in his first term. His one-to-one dialogues with world leaders have not only built a pro-India image but also helped isolate Pakistan as 'Terroristan' on international platforms.

In the past two years, Modi and Xi have met 10 times.

Continuing the emphasis on one-to-one dialogues, Modi is holding the meeting with Xi far away from New Delhi, where diplomats of other countries in Chanakyapuri are keenly waiting for the outcome of the talks.

Modi's return to power with such a massive mandate has also helped build a strong image of India overseas.

Domestic politics

The Bharatiya Janata Party has planned to focus on South India, especially on Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The party hopes to secure a maximum of 15 seats from these two seats in 2024.

Soon after the 2014 victory, Modi and party president Amit Shah had started focusing on West Bengal and Northeastern states. In 2019, these states contributed at least 30 seats to the BJP's tally of 303.

Similarly, Modi-Shah are focusing on Tamil Nadu and Kerala now. That's why Modi has been visiting Tamil Nadu regularly.

The negative feelings about Modi and the BJP among the locals would substantially decrease with the presence of the Chinese president in South India, it is hoped.

Besides, archaeological finds have shown that Mahabalipuram, an important port city during the reign of the Pallavas, saw trade with regions in China, and this fact will be touched upon during the informal summit between the two leaders. 

Needless to say, Mahapalipuram will be highlighted as a a tourist spot and even tourists from China would like to visit the coastal city, thus helping to bring infrastructure development and new activities to Mahabalipuram and adjacent districts.

The world will looking at the Modi-Xi meeting in Mahabalipuram which will dominate the media coverage during the second week of October.

The presence of the Chinese president along with a 250-strong contingent in Mahapalipuram for two days will be a big boost for Modi politically in Tamil Nadu.

It will also send a strong message to the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its leader M K Stalin, who has been on a tirade against Modi.

Conversely, it will boost the image of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, an ally of the BJP. 

Sino-India relations under Modi

Observers and experts in New Delhi hail the engagement between India and China over the past few years.

Narayani Basu, a New Delhi-based author and independent foreign policy analyst with a special focus on China, said, "Such sustained engagement between the two countries signals a new level of maturity."

"There has been a fairly successful attempt at de-linking historical geopolitical and territorial issues from issues which are economic in nature.

"As a result, the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and border issues have not managed to overshadow the remaining business between the two countries," Basu said.

In his 2019 campaign, Modi portrayed a hardline image of himself and his government, especially on issues of national security.

Similarly, Xi has emerged as a stronger leader since his reappointment last year -- his approach marked by a higher-than-ever emphasis on economic nationalism and connectivity.

Modi made a reference to this in his meeting with Xi on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet.

Sino-India ties have also being guided by the strong personalities of both the leaders.

Thus, Xi's presence in Mahabalipuram is more of a political message from Modi to the world -- as well as to regional parties in South India that they should be beware of the BJP's rise.

R Rajagopalan is a senior journalist in New Delhi.

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