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Indian Political Row Over Sri Lanka Spills Over Into Sport

A political dispute in India over relations with Sri Lanka has spilled over into the country's national pastime: cricket.

We told you last week about a key ally of India's ruling coalition withdrawing its support to the government over neighboring Sri Lanka's conduct against ethnic Tamils during the bloody civil war in that country. On Tuesday, the Indian Premier League cricket tournament, one of the world's top-paying sporting events, announced it won't feature any Sri Lankan players in games played in the southern city of Chennai. The league attracts the best players from the world's top cricketing nations.

Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu state, whose Tamil population has linguistic and cultural links to Sri Lanka's Tamils. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the political party that withdrew support from India's ruling coalition last week, is the main opposition party in the southern state.

This week, Tamil Nadu's ruling party joined the fray. The ruling party is the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and it is a bitter rival of the DMK. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaraman, who heads the ruling party, wrote to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, telling him she won't allow Sri Lankan players to play in IPL matches in the state.

Here's an excerpt from her letter (h/t: Live Mint):

"In view of the popular antipathy and anger in Tamil Nadu against the actions of the government of Sri Lanka, the government 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."

In a statement outlining its decision not to field the Sri Lankan players in the southern city, the IPL cited security concerns. In response, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India Prasad Kariyawasam labeled the move unfortunate.

Eight Sri Lankan players play in the IPL. Here's more from the influential Cricinfo website about the potential impact of the move:

"The 'ban' will affect Chennai Super Kings, who play all their eight home matches in Chennai; however, their Sri Lankan contingent consists of only two fringe players, Nuwan Kulasekara and Akila Dananjaya. Franchises that will be significantly hit, at least for the lone game they play in Chennai in the league phase, include Mumbai Indians (Lasith Malinga), Delhi Daredevils (Mahela Jayawardene), Sunrisers Hyderabad (Kumar Sangakkara) and Pune Warriors (Angelo Mathews). Chennai also hosts some of the knockout matches, where these players would be crucial if their teams make it that far."

Why does any of this matter? India's links to Sri Lanka are close and its involvement in that country's bloody civil war deep. NPR's Scott Neuman provides some background:

"In 1987, Indian peacekeepers were sent to Sri Lanka by Congress party Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. There, the troops quickly became engulfed in the civil war, siding with the government in Colombo against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, even as the rebels enjoyed support among many of India's own Tamil minority. In 1991, Gandhi was himself assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber as he campaigned in Tamil Nadu. Gandhi's widow, Sonia Gandhi, is Congress party president."

The Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009, and a U.N. investigation concluded that Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-dominated government may be responsible for the deaths of 40,000 Tamil civilians in the closing months of the war. Last week, the U.N. Human Rights Council called on Sri Lanka to more thoroughly investigate possible war crimes committed by both sides during the civil war. India voted in favor of the measure.

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