When President Xi Jinping lands in Ahmedabad on Wednesday afternoon, he will be greeted by large hoardings welcoming him in his own language, Chinese, besides Gujarati, and English. He will be taken around the city by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who returns to his home state on Tuesday for the first time after taking office in Delhi. It is also the first time in years that a visiting international head of state is kickstarting a bilateral visit from Gujarat.
The visit may be short, lasting barely half a day, but it will cover history, underscore the importance of inter provincial cooperation, highlight the economic potential of the relationship and prepare the right political optics for the more substantive leg of the visit in Delhi.
The state government is on its toes with frenetic activity. Chief minister Anandiben Patel has personally inspected all sites which Xi would visit and assigned a minister to be in charge of each event, the city's municipal corporation has sanctioned Rs 10 crore to beautify the city, roads are being done up, trees are being trimmed, and there is unprecedented security mobilisation for the date between leaders of the world's two largest countries.
Xi will arrive shortly after 2.30 pm on Wednesday, where he will be received at the airport by the Governor of the state, and CM, Gujarat government spokesperson and minister Nitin Patel told reporters. There has been speculation that Modi himself may break protocol and receive Xi at the airport, but Patel said Modi would do so at Hotel Hyatt where Xi would head after a guard of honor. They would have a brief 15-20 minute meeting here, after which the president would retire for a short break to his suite. Incidentally, 17th also happens to be Modi's birthday though he has urged well wishers not to celebrate it.
The leaders would then witness the signing of three MOUs - to deepen links between Gujarat and Guangdong, Ahmedabad and Guangxhou and between the Chinese Development Bank and Gujarat's Industrial Extension Bureau for promotion of industrial parks and industries. The state's finance minister Saurabh Patel said the Chinese have identified sectors and areas where they would like to invest and set up parks.
But perhaps the most poignant moment the leaders will share will be at the Gandhi Ashram, on the banks of Sabarmati. The bilateral relationship, as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said recently, was one of 'cooperation and competition'. And many hope that the very act of Indian and Chinese leadership remembering the apostle of peace and non violence together will send a message of harmony.
On Monday afternoon, there was a large police presence outside the ashram, and SPG and ashram's officials had long discussions about the exact movement.
The leaders would arrive at the ashram sharp at 5 pm, one of its trustees Amrut Modi told HT. Xi will be accompanied by his wife, and Modi will personally guide them. The ashram's trustees and women of the Valmiki community, a Dalit community, will welcome them. Xi will then garland the Gandhi statue, and see the 'Gandhi in Ahmedabad' exhibition, which showcases the years the Mahatma spent in the city between 1915 and 1930. Xi will also participate for two minutes at a prayer meeting, and the ashram will then gift him a coffee table book on Gandhi, a charkha, and a painting on the Dandi March Gandhi undertook.
They will depart at 5.30 for the riverfront, Modi's pet project of beautifying the banks of Sabamarti, modelled on the Thames in London. A hoarding, with an image of Xi and Anandiben Patel, here declares India and China to be 'ancient civilisations, modernising economies'. Another one, with Modi and Xi, declares the two to be 'working together for common prosperity'.
Modi himself is understood to have thought of hosting an event here. The leaders will stroll here, and witness a photo gallery exhibiting Gujarat's cultural heritage, particularly the place of Vadnagar and the Buddhist circuit. They would retire briefly to separate tents to get refreshed, and then meet for an early dinner, where 14 members of each delegation would be in the main dining tent. The fare will be Gujarati vegetarian delicacies. They will depart for Delhi at 7.30.Delhi Beijing ties are complex, but for this one day, Ahmedabad is all decked up to ensure that Xi's visit kicks off on a note of warmth and bonhomie, and the personal chemistry- often critical in diplomacy - between the top leaders clicks. And what better place to do it than Modi's home ground, under the shadow of Gandhi, talking economics and friendship.