Chennai: Old timers at Mamallapuram fondly, and proudly, recall witnessing two former Prime Ministers of India to the historic town — Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. And one Chinese Premier too in Zhou Enlai who drove in from Chennai during his December 1956 visit and received a rousing welcome from the people, besides tender coconut water.
For Zhou Enlai, it was meant to be a trip down the memory lane as his ancestors had shared strong trade and cultural links with Mamallapuram, a flourishing Pallava port city till about the end of the ninth century. It was an important landing point on the Chinese Silk Route - it is said that the silk industry in Kancheepuram owed its roots to the Chinese - and was also a busy export centre for Indian spices. The trade-culture ties lasted for at least 2,000 years, according to archaeologists, who refer to the ample epigraphic evidence, including the rock inscriptions of Chinese symbols and coins found during the excavations in and around Mamallauram.
The popular Tamil magazine 'Ananda Vikatan' had carried the pictures of the robust reception that Zhou got at Chennai, where he also found time to watch a Tamil movie being shot at the Gemini Studios and a dance by Padmini. On the official side, there was also a trip to the new Integral Coach Factory (ICF) set up by Pandit Nehru.
But then there has been an equally exhaustive and extensive account of the Chinese deceit — or more pointedly the betrayal of Nehru by Zhou (Chou) through persuasion and coercion — that ultimately led to the humiliating defeat in the 1962 war. And there has been frequent visits by the historians of the rickety India-China relations, of a particular CIA report that had talked of how Zhou had worked on adapting with perfection to his dealing with Nehru's India what the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu had written way back in 500 BCE -a masterpiece of strategy to handle war and diplomacy to subdue difficult nations and people, titled 'The Art of War'.
If CIA had then concluded that Zhou had effectively neutralised Nehruvian 'bhai-bhai' blind faith through a strategy that mixed persuasion and coercion, there are now disturbing similarities of how Xi's China has been using Pakistan as its strategy to 'subdue' India. It remains to be seen if the 'informal summit' at Mamallapuram will improve things between the Dragon and the Elephant....