Once upon a time, there used to a cricket tournament between Tamil Nadu and the Sri Lankan national team, before the island country received Test status in 1983. It was called the MJ Gopalan Trophy and was played to, among other things, promote cordial relations between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka.
It was stopped in 1983 but revived in 2000, and then stopped again two years later. The history of the Gopalan Trophy is significant as Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka are engaged in a bitter diplomatic battle over the inclusion of the latter’s players in the IPL following the alleged war crimes committed by the majority Sinhala government on the ethnic Tamil community. The state’s CM J Jayalalithaa has demanded that Sri Lankan players should not be allowed to play in Chennai.
Other local political parties have backed the demand. In retaliation, the former captain of the Sri Lankan team and an administrator, Arjuna Ranatunga, has said that his country’s players should not play in the IPL if they are not welcome. This is not the first time a border state has tried to arm-twist the Central government over foreign policy issues. West Bengal routinely influences New Delhi on its Bangladesh policy. After all, it bears the major brunt of refugees crossing over, besides having cultural similarities.
Be that as it may, it is important to realise that the state government’s stand is a political gimmick, and is aimed at a domestic constituency rather than any larger foreign policy objective. As long as New Delhi is aware of this, it should formulate its policies accordingly. Also, the people in Tamil Nadu must realise that it is the Centre that will decide foreign policy, not Jayalalithaa.
On the other hand, the IPL, if it is courageous enough, should move its Chennai matches to some other ground where Sri Lankan players would not face any threat. It remains to be seen whether the IPL will see through the political circus. But given what is at stake, including the fact that the BCCI chief’s company headquarters are in Chennai, it may not.