Though Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Mahabalipuram was a diplomatic exercise meant to improve Sino-Indian ties, Prime Minister Narendra Modi missed no opportunity to use the occasion to expand the influence of his party, the BJP, in Tamil Nadu, where it contested the last Lok Sabha election in alliance with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham.
No doubt Mahabalipuram has an old connection with China yet it is a fact that there are several other places in India that have historical links with our northern neighbour. For example travellers Fa-Hien made a pilgrimage to Pataliputra (now Patna), Bodh Gaya, Benaras, etc in the 5th century and Hiuen Tsang visited Benaras, Bodh Gaya, Kanauj, Kushinagar etc in 7th century. But none of these places was selected for hosting President Xi Jinping.
There were strong trade links between several Indian cities and China through Silk Routes.
Thus the choice of a Tamil town for this summit has a political motive as well.
Before the Lok Sabha election, the BJP thrust all its energy on West Bengal and Odisha and achieved big success. Post-May 2019 verdict, the party has turned its attention towards Tamil Nadu as this is the state––apart from Kerala––where it performed poorly. The AIADMK won one seat while the saffron party drew a blank.
In the first major move, Modi made two Tamilians Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar as the Union finance and external affairs minister respectively. The appointment of the latter was more surprising as he had no experience in politics. In fact, he is an old China hand. Sitharaman too had little experience in economic matters yet she was trusted with a very responsible job and that too at a time when the Indian economy is not performing well.
In recent months Modi has been visiting Tamil Nadu on one pretext or the other. During speeches, he would greet the crowd in Tamil. This was evident during his recent visit to the United States as well.
Some analysts see a political message in the way he hugged the chairman of ISRO, K Sivan, a Tamilian, after the landing of Chandrayaan 2 on the moon last month.
His government swung into damage limitation exercise after Union home minister Amit Shah‘s statement on the Hindi language on the occasion of Hindi Diwas on September 13. The problem with Tamil Nadu is that one of the Tamil parties AIADMK has grown quite weak after the demise of J Jayalalithaa. Though rival party DMK also lost its leader K Karunanidhi only months later, his party managed to recover.
The problem with the state is that there is little scope for the national party though the Congress in alliance with DMK and Left parties did relatively better in the last Lok Sabha election.
As the Assembly election is due in Tamil Nadu in 2012, the BJP will do everything to improve its bargaining position if it contests poll in alliance with AIADMK.
While Stalin has managed to emerge as the leader of DMK helping the UPA to sweep the Lok Sabha poll even when NDA performed very well elsewhere in the country, the AIADMK under the leadership of chief minister Palanasami has failed disastrously.
The BJP may like to fill the vacuum created after the death of Jayalalithaa. But the problem is that no national party has emerged as an alternative ever since the Congress was defeated five decades back.