Chennai/New Delhi: Political rivalry between the two key Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu over the treatment of Tamils in Sri Lanka cast its shadow over cricket, besides posing a challenge for Indian diplomacy with Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa on Tuesday informing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that she would not permit cricketers from the island nation to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL) matches in the state.
Jayalalithaa spelt out her stand in a letter to Singh a day after both the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), within hours of each other, urged the Prime Minister not to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting—the biennial meeting of countries that were former British colonies—to be held in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo in November.
“In view of the popular antipathy and anger in Tamil Nadu against the actions of the government of Sri Lanka, the govern ment of Tamil Nadu is of the view that IPL matches involving Sri Lankan players, umpires and other officials should not be played in Tamil Nadu,” the AIADMK leader wrote in her letter to Singh.
Thirteen Sri Lankan cricketers are participating in IPL. Batsman Mahela Jayawardene is captain of Delhi Daredevils while wicketkeeper-batsman Kumar Sangakkara is leading the Sunrisers Hyderbad team, which is owned by Chennai-based Sun TV Network Ltd. The controversy comes days before the start of IPL’s sixth edition on 3 April.
Tensions have been running high in Tamil Nadu over the treatment meted out to Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, especially during the last phases of the island’s civil war that ended in May 2009. Protests have been largely spearheaded by students, with the state government indefinitely shutting colleges. Tamil Nadu’s Tamils share close ties with the ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka, which is dominated by the Sinhalese.
The DMK, which was till 19 March an ally of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, withdrew support citing the Union government’s inability to condemn Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. This came before India voted in favour of a US-sponsored resolution censuring Sri Lanka’s rights record in Geneva on 21 March.
The DMK’s actions took place against the backdrop of political parties readying for a national election, with the tenure of the current UPA government ending in May 2014.
In New Delhi, IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla told reporters the league was reviewing the situation. “We have to take two things into account. We have to take the local sentiments into account, and at same time the safety and security of the Sri Lankan players are paramount,” Shukla said, though he added that the tournament would go ahead and he expected Chennai would continue to be an IPL venue. However, he said, “We can’t ignore the advice from the local administration.”
Indranil Das Blah, partner at CAA KWAN, a talent and entertainment agency, said, “It is unfortunate that politics is colliding with cricket, but it isn’t the first time. It has happened globally as well for other sports events such as football and the Olympics.”
A media buyer from a leading agency that represents large advertisers said, “Advertisers don’t invest for foreign players as much as they do for Indian cricketers playing in the league. So, no impact on advertising (is foreseen). However, it’s the team compositions that will undergo a change when they play in Tamil Nadu.” The person did not want to be identified.
Sri Lankan sports minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage has ruled out Sri Lankan players joining IPL without safety guarantees from the Indian government, PTI reported.
Nishantha Ranatunga, Sri Lanka Cricket secretary, said it had sought the Indian foreign ministry’s advice, and players will be given suggestions depending on those instructions, another PTI report said.
An Indian government official pointed out that Sri Lanka “is a friendly country” and not one with which India shares hostile relations—reflecting the diplomatic quandary the government is in.
This is not the first time Jayalalithaa has played tough on the issue of Sri Lankans in Tamil Nadu. In February, the southern state refused to host the Asian Athletics Championships because of the participation of Sri Lanka. Last year, Sri Lankan football teams in Tamil Nadu for training sessions were sent back.
Analysts, however, were critical of Jayalalithaa’s move this time. “Though Jayalalithaa has taken a strong stance since the last five years on this issue, I don’t see eye-to-eye with Jayalaithaa on this (prohibiting Sri Lankan IPL players in Chennai). It is not good for development. It will further aggravate the already delicate situation between the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils,” said Cho Ramaswamy, a political commentator and editor of Tamil weekly Tughlak.
G. Parthasarthy, a former Indian ambassador to Myanmar and one with experience of Sri Lanka, said, “The world would read this (India’s inability to contain the fallout of local politics) as an abdication of authority by the Union government.”
He pointed to the instance of Shiv Sena activists in Mumbai digging up the pitch to prevent Pakistani cricketers from playing there in 1999 and 2003. The incidents have resulted in Pakistani cricketers avoiding Maharashtra as a venue. “This (the Sri Lankan case) will be taken as another instance that the writ of the Centre does not run in the state,” Parthasarthy said.
Aminah Sheikh in Mumbai contributed to this story.