Chennai, Sept. 3: The competitive anti-Lanka politics between the AIADMK and the DMK has not only strained India’s diplomatic relations with the neighbour but could make the two lakh-odd Indian Tamils in Colombo vulnerable to retaliation by Sinhala extremists, political observers believe.
Jayalalithaa’s latest move to pack off Lankan school and college football teams playing friendlies in Chennai may have earned her brownie points with vocal fringe groups here, but “injecting anti-Lanka politics into sports can be a double-edged weapon,” warned a former sports administrator.
“Sinhala extremists may then target Indian sportspersons, more so Tamil sportspersons, travelling to Sri Lanka,” he added.
A textile merchant who frequently travels to Colombo said such “mindless political games played by Tamil Nadu politicians” can hurt the business interests and livelihoods of Indian Tamils working in Colombo.
“These are ordinary folk, such as artisans at jewellery stores, cooks at restaurants and small traders dealing with clothes, kitchen items, pump sets, etc. Imagine their plight if the Sinhala anger turns against them,” he said.
“Instead of saving Lankan Tamils, our politicians will end up making Indian Tamils easy targets in Colombo.”
Jayalalithaa’s marching orders to amateur footballers from Lanka contrasts with the way the country’s professional cricketers were allowed to play IPL matches in Chennai this year and even provided VVIP security cover.
“Isn’t it hypocritical of the state government not to have qualms about (Kumar) Sangakkara, (Mahela) Jayawardene and (Lasith) Malinga playing IPL matches at Chepauk, just 2km from the state secretariat, while raising a hue and cry over school and college teams whose presence in Chennai would not have even been noticed but for this punitive action?” a Congress MP asked.
Despite Jayalalithaa’s call for an economic boycott of Sri Lanka, there has been no dip in trade between Tamil Nadu and the island nation. Over 40 per cent of the goods that leave the Chennai and Tuticorin ports land at Colombo or Trincomalee.
Although the Tamil film industry leads the anti-Lanka rhetoric, all the latest Tamil films are being screened in Colombo.
“Such gimmicks are not good for India in the long run. Tomorrow, Jayalalithaa may say that no Lankan tourist must visit the state, when more tourists from Tamil Nadu visit Sri Lanka than vice versa,” said academic V. Suryanarayanan, an expert on Indo-Sri Lanka affairs.
“Tamil Nadu’s cultural and geographical proximity to Sri Lanka cannot be wished away, and the traffic of people and trade cannot be halted by such high-decibel politics. We must improve our ties with Sri Lanka to keep off China and Pakistan.”
Suryanarayanan described India’s move to train Lankan military personnel as a diplomatic masterstroke since “we will be influencing future policy makers in their defence establishment”.
Since the Tamil Tigers’ defeat in May 2009, the anti-Lanka rhetoric in Tamil Nadu has led to attacks on Buddhist pilgrims visiting Chennai and a subsequent drop in their numbers.
“Sinhala tourists used to be among our largest customers but they bypass Chennai these days to visit other Buddhist holy spots in India,” admitted a lodge owner in Egmore, home to most of the low-cost lodges.
Colonel R. Hariharan, another Lanka watcher, cautioned: “The political fulminations on a Tamil Eelam coming out of the state serve not the Lankan Tamils but only the remaining Tamil Tigers overseas as they squabble among themselves to recover their clout among the diaspora.”
He added: “They also keep alive the Tamil Nadu bugbear in Lankan politics, to be effectively used by the ruling and Opposition parties there for their own ends. They allow the anti-India lobby in Sri Lanka to stoke sentiments inimical to Indian interests.”
The question being asked in Chennai now is: Having targeted two minor football teams from Sri Lanka, can Jayalalithaa now stop the Indian T20 team from participating in the World Cup in Sri Lanka later this month? Can she, at least, persuade the two Tamil players, R. Ashwin and L. Balaji, from dropping out?