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Mamallapuram waits with bated breath to host historic Modi-Xi summit

From tight security to elaborate decorative arrangements, this cultural town near Chennai, as also the route leading up it, has undergone a complete makeover in the past few days

T E Narasimhan  |  Mamallapuram 

PM Narendra Modi reaches Chennai for informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo: Twitter @narendramodi)
PM Narendra Modi reaches Chennai for informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping (Photo: Twitter @narendramodi)

True to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat initiative, Chennai and its neighbouring districts have been tidied and decked up. They are waiting to witness the historic visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his two-day summit with PM Modi at Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), almost 60 kilometres from Chennai.

Chennai and the entire stretch connecting coastal town of Mamallapuram, a Unesco World Heritage site famous for its stone carvings and rock-cut temples of the Pallava dynasty period, are under a tight security blanket.

The Chinese President is expected to reach Chennai at 2.10 pm and then proceed to the city’s Hotel ITC Grand Chola, where he would stay during his visit. PM Modi has already arrived at the Chennai airport and is about to take off in a helicopter to Thiruvadanthai near Mamallapuram. He will be lodged at Hotel Taj Fisherman's Cove. Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit and Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, along with his Cabinet colleagues, are expected to welcome the Chinese President at the airport.

After landing in Chennai, Modi tweeted saying that "may this Informal Summit further strengthen ties between India and China".

The routes from the Chennai airport to the hotel where Xi will stay, and from there to Mamallapuram, have been put under a strict security blanket. Around 16,000 police personnel have been deployed and top state police officials are monitoring the security measures. Central security forces have also been deployed additionally. The police have used photogrammetric mapping via drones to better manage the force throughout the route along East Coast Road (ECR), which connects Chennai and the summit location, and at other strategic places.

Security drills were conducted in the city using bulletproof limousines on Thursday. Not only ECR but also Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and GST Road have been closed for traffic movement. The sea closer to the city and the meeting location have been protected with war ships, Navy and Indian Coast Guard. Amid threats of a protest by Tibetan sympathisers, the security is likely to be further enhanced.

The usually busy ECR leading to Mamallapuram along the Bay of Bengal is deserted: Private vehicles are stopped 35 km before Mamallapuram; shops, resorts, hotels and petty shops, offices, schools and other educational institutions are closed. Boat rides from the famous tourist destination of Muttukadu Lake en route Mamallapuram to Fisherman's Cove, where the meetings are expected to take place, has also been closed. Some of the IT offices at Chennai’s tech hub OMR have even instructed their employees to work from home, and schools have requested parents not to send their children to school today. No private vehicles are allowed along a 20-kilometre stretch from Kovalam to Mamallapuram. Employees of State Electricity Board have been deployed in dozens in front of every transformer along the way. Resorts and surfing institutions here have also been closed.

At IT Grand Chola, where the Chinese President is going to stay, the security is very tight — guests are allowed only after they duly prove their identity.

Various native art forms like Karagattam, Poi Kal Kuthirai Aattam and others are being performed at the airport, hotel and Mamallapuram’s Shore Temple, the Five Rathas, and other monolithic monuments dating back several centuries to the Pallava Kingdom.

At Mamallapuram, the premises of the monuments are decorated with banana plants and flowers. Almost 3.5 tonnes of fruit and flowers have been used here for decoration, according to officials. N Subbaiyan IAS, a director in the Department of Horticulture and Plantation Corps, government of Tamil Nadu, told reporters that around 100,000 flowers had been sourced from Hosur and other places to decorate the location. Posters welcoming the leaders have been pasted on both sides of the road.

Hundreds of workers from various departments worked on the nearly 60-km stretch between Chennai and the tourist destination for almost a month to repair and beautify the roads and its peripheries. Construction workers have laid new roads, filled potholes, and put reflectors in place. The walls have been decorated with beautiful paintings made by school children, and efforts are afoot to make the coastal route look greener.

An Air China cargo flight landed at the Chennai airport on Tuesday evening with four cars that will be part of the Chinese President’s motorcade. Xi will drive in a car that is 18 feet long, 6.5 feet wide and five feet tall. It weighs 3,152 kg and can zip from zero to 100 kmph in a little over eight seconds.

The Chinese President is expected to spend almost 24 hours in Chennai. He is expected to start for Mamallapuram at 4 pm; at 5 pm, he will be given a guided tour of three monuments — Arjuna's Penance, Panch Rathas and the Shore Temple.

At 6 pm, he is scheduled to witness a cultural performance by a team of Kalakshetra, a Chennai art school, at Shore Temple. At 6.45 p.m, he will attend a dinner hosted by PM Modi.

On Saturday, the second day of the visit, he will arrive at the Taj Fisherman's Cove Resort & Spa at 9.50 am. At 10 am, the two leaders will have a meeting at the Machan in the hotel. At 10.50 am, the two sides will hold delegation-level talks at the Tango Hall of the hotel, and Xi will attend a lunch hosted by the PM at 11.45 am. He will depart for the Chennai international airport at 12.45 pm and board his return flight at 1.30 pm, according to officials.

This second 'informal' summit between the two leaders comes at a critical time for the neighbours; China recently criticised India's decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy and bifurcate the state into two Union territories. The first such meeting had taken place in April last year at the Chinese city of Wuhan. Sources say that the meeting between Xi and Modi this time has been scheduled in a way similar to that in Wuhan.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month raised the Kashmir issue at the UN General Assembly, and New Delhi responded by saying it did not welcome comments on its internal matters. India also remains opposed to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as it passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The Mamallapuram meeting is expected to focus on exchanging views on regional and global challenges and identifying the way forward for bilateral relations between the two nations.

The two leaders will engage in one-on-one talks during the meeting and are also expected to discuss expanding economic and development ties.

"At the regional level, we should resolve disputes peacefully through dialogue and consultations and jointly uphold regional peace and stability," said Sun Weidong, Beijing's ambassador to New Delhi.

On the Indian side, spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar said "they would also exchange views on a range of subjects unrestricted by a set agenda"

Mamallapuram has been chosen as the venue for this meet instead of New Delhi for cultural reasons and commercial links going back centuries. Also, there is logistical cause reason, too: The aircraft carrying the Chinese President and his top officials needs a larger runway, which is not available in some of the cities that were under consideration for the summit, including Modi's own constituency of Varanasi. Chennai has the infrastructure to handle such aircraft and Mamallapuram is the closest location with historical connections with China.

Available literature shows that the Pallava Kings had a trade and defence relationship with China. There was understanding that these kings would help China in keeping a check on the growth of Tibet as a powerful nation during those years. Also, Bodhidharma, one of the famous Buddhist monks in China, is believed to be the third son of a Pallava King who travelled from Kanchipuram through Mamallapuram to China in 527 AD.

First Published: Fri, October 11 2019. 12:15 IST