CHENNAI: The stage was the ancient
town, perched on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, 50 km from Chennai. With Arjuna’s Penance, a sculpted rock tableau with images of kings and animals, as the backdrop, PM Narendra Modi got off his vehicle around 5pm.
As the evening sun dulled and waves softly lapped at the shores, Modi, dressed in white shirt and veshti, edged with a deep green border, the angavastram casually thrown on his left shoulder, walked towards his guest. If it was meant to be a soft launch of an outreach to Tamil Nadu, Modi couldn’t have pulled it off better. And, as he shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Modi may have just won a round of applause from his Tamil Nadu audience.
The sartorial diplomacy, a soft power signalling, in the Mamallapuram setting may just be the beginning of a BJP grand strategy to use the popular leader to reach Tamil hearts and prepare the political stage in a state that has been cold to Modi’s party.
Friday’s show came a few weeks after Modi’s bid to appease Tamils at a global forum. Following home minister Amit Shah’s reference to Hindi as national language and DMK-Congress combine’s attempt to flag it as “Hindi imposition”, Modi at the UN general assembly on September 27 quoted ancient Tamil poet Kaniyan Pungundranar to placate Tamil sentiments.
As millions watched on television on Friday, the PM was seen explaining to his guest the historical significance of the Mamallapuram monuments. The idea clearly was to showcase his deep interest in Tamil history and culture. The two walked a good 2 km, starting from Arjuna’s Penance to Butter Ball, Five Rathas and finally, the resplendent Shore Temple that provided the backdrop for a cultural extravaganza.
Modi could be seen talking earnestly to Xi, perhaps drawing on an ancient bond when the 8th century Pallava King Narasimhavarman-II struck the first strategic pact with the Chinese emperor to take on Tibet that had emerged a threat to China.
When they finally sat with a small group of officials to watch the hour-long cultural programme, Modi could be seen drumming his fingers in tune with the classical beat. As the show wound up around 7 pm, a triumphant Modi led his guest out of the venue that not only marked a milestone in China diplomacy, but also possibly a new political beginning in the region.