Relationship between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka has hit an all-time low, with activists in the state protesting the arrival of religious tourists from Sri Lanka and the island nation retaliating by issuing a travel advisory to its citizens against visiting Tamil Nadu. With less than two weeks left for the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, cricket could well be the next casualty. Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist
After showing the red card to friendly football matches by Sri Lankan players in Tamil Nadu on Sunday, will Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa 'no ball' Indo-Lankan cricket matches at Chennai's Chepauk next? With less than two weeks left for the T20 World Cup, hosted by Sri Lanka, is it worry hour for fans of Laxmipathy Balaji and R Ashwin, the two Tamil Nadu players who are part of the team selected to play the tournament? Will the political bad blood between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka spill over to the cricket pitch as well?
On Sunday the Tamil Nadu chief minister called a halt to friendly matches with the touring students from Sri Lanka after they had already played one match against the Customs Department on August 31. The match had taken place after an official of the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium had approved the venue. The chief minister suspended him on Sunday saying he is not empowered to allow matches in the indoor stadium. That power rests with the Sports Development Authority of India.
In her statement, Jayalaltihaa categorically said that the Lankan team "will not be allowed to play any matches in the State."
Only a few days ago, Jayalalithaa asked Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to halt the ongoing training of two Lankan army officers at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, near Ooty. Other political heavyweights including DMK Chief M Karunanidhi and MDMK leader Vaiko have also urged the Centre to refrain from imparting training to Lankan military personnel anywhere in India. Then, as now, Jayalaithaa has accused the Centre of showing scant regard for the views of her government . She has also been calling for economic sanctions against Lanka, wanting displaced Tamils in Lanka to be rehabilitated, and on a par with the Sri Lankans.
While the ethnic strife may have been quelled in Lanka, relations between the island nation and Tamil Nadu in particular are as bad as they were in 1987, during the Jayawardane era. Ironically, in the mid-80s, the Lankan regime accused Tamil Nadu of hosting and training Tamil separatist rebels, alleging that its officers would not get such help. Now the Lankan officers are honing their skills in India, much to Tamil Nadu’s chagrin.
Almost all the Dravidian parties are singing the same tune when it comes to Lankan matters - they want the Centre to bring pressure on Lanka, but till now the union government has not flexed its muscle in an obvious manner. Nevertheless, experts are of the view that the recent expulsion of Lankan sportsmen is excessive and that politics should not impact on shared cultural moorings.
Despite a huge following for the sport and even the sportsmen on either side of the Palk Strait, it is a fact that there is no record of a Test match played at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk between 1982 and 2005. Sri Lanka has not played a single ODI (One Day International) in Chennai either. Will the simmering hostility between the two entities now touch cricket players taking part in T20 ?
Meanwhile, it is not only cricket in September that looms large in Sri Lanka. September is also the time when the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will review the progress made by Sri Lanka on its action plan following the UNHRC resolution earlier this year. India is one of the three reviewers, along with Spain and Benin. India would be looking at how far Lanka has progressed on devolution of power to the ethnic Tamils, whether it has fully implemented the recommendations of the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution .
Add to this the Sri Lankan claims that the on going demining works could take upto a year before Tamil can be resettled in their former strongholds completely, experts say, and you cannot miss the cold vibes between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. A lot will also depend on how well the Centre handles the situation, specially once the UNHRC review is done.
Meanwhile, there is an urgent need for the sporting spirit to prevail.
Other columns by the author
Training Lankans: Is the UPA ignoring Tamil Nadu?
Madras Day: Step forward for Namma Chennai
Madras High Court: Are we seeing the wrinkles?
Is Chennai not a city for kids?
Will the DMK get mercy for Rajiv Gandhi's killers from Pranab?
What Rajesh Khanna meant to Chennai that was Madras
Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist