Mamallapuram, October 11 (The Hindu): The second “informal summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping began on Friday at Mamallapuram, a town famously associated with Pallava rulers, with the two leaders spending the evening together and getting a glimpse of a blend of south Indian art and culture.
In April 2018, the first summit took place in Wuhan in the wake of the Doklam crisis. The present meeting is being held in the midst of China reacting strongly to the Indian government’s decision on Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir.
As soon as Mr. Xi, who arrived in Chennai at about 2 p.m., reached Mamallapuram around 5 pm to begin the meeting, Mr. Modi, dressed in the traditional attire of Tamil Nadu, received him. While taking Mr. Xi on a tour of the monuments — Arjuna’s Penance, Panch (Five) Rathas and the Shore Temple — for over an hour, Mr. Modi was seen explaining different features of the monuments to the visiting dignitary.
The programme, lasting about 45 minutes, was a mixture of “Bharatanatyam,” the form of classical dance of Tamil Nadu and regarded as one of the oldest forms of classical dances of India, and “Kathakali,” the classical dance of Kerala.
It ended with the recital of “Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram,” a favourite ‘bhajan’ song of Mahatma Gandhi. Later, the two leaders took a photograph with all the artists. In the ambience of the Shore Temple, Mr. Modi hosted a dinner for Mr Xi.
Modi’s Sartorial Change
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to appear in the traditional south Indian attire of a white veshti (dhoti), half-sleeved spotless white shirt and an angavastram (upper cloth) while hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mamallapuram, became one of the talking points of the informal India-China summit on Friday evening.
Though he was in his customary kurta when he landed in Chennai in the afternoon, the Prime Minister sprang a surprise when he appeared in the traditional south Indian attire when he welcomed Mr. Xi in Mamallapuram later in the evening. Mr Modi, who has rarely worn dhoti, appeared comfortable in the attire throughout his interactions with the visiting Chinese head of state.
Incidentally, Mr. Modi, who has been the subject of intense criticism among sections of Tamils over the past year, had recently tried to reach out by quoting the ancient Tamil poet Kanniyan Poongundranar in the United Nations and also hailed Tamil cuisine during his last visit to Chennai. His choice of traditional Tamil attire for the informal summit is being seen as an extension of his attempts to allay apprehensions that his government was anti-Tamil.
“Tamil culture is part of Hindu culture and there is no difference between the two. It is natural for him to choose a south Indian attire when he is in Tamil Nadu,” Mr. Raghavan said, but acknowledged that the choice had become a topic of discussion among Tamils the world over on social media.
Will the attire have a positive influence in the minds of the people in Tamil Nadu for the leader and the party?
“As I said, there is no specific intention for the PM to wear this attire. But, it may have a positive influence, while some people are trying to project our PM as anti-Tamil,” Mr. Raghavan said.
It is not unusual for leaders to go in for local attire during various summits, pointed out M. Ganapathi, former Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs. Even during the India-Africa Forum Summit in Delhi in 2015, leaders who took part in the event (except for one) wore kurtas to reflect the local flavour, he recalled.
“It is laudable. It reverberates well with the local population,” he said, speaking of Mr Modi’s garb. Mr Ganapathi replied in the affirmative when asked if the move would have a positive impact on the Tamil diaspora.
Professor Ramu Manivannan of the Department of Politics and Public Administration in the University of Madras in Chennai felt there was much that could be read into the Prime Minister’s choice of attire.
“It is known to all that he is conscious of his dressing and appearance. If he has chosen the south Indian veshti for an occasion like this, which is a high-profile meeting, it shows the PM’s confidence and sense of command in the State,” Prof. Manivannan said.
“The free flowing nature of the informal summit at the UNESCO world heritage site will continue and deepen contacts at the highest level and guide the future trajectory of India-China relationship,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Ravesh Kumar tweeted.