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Cricketing ties

Not out

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GOOD SPORT: A spectator in Colombo waves the Tricolour during an India-Sri Lanka match

For cricket's sake at least, India and Sri Lanka will not let their ties with each other reach a breaking point despite all the anti-India rhetoric in Sri Lanka after the vote at the UN Human Rights Council meet in Geneva.

Of course Colombo is upset enough to cancel an April visit by an Indian parliamentary delegation to camps for displaced Tamils in northern and eastern Lanka. But the sulk is not going to extend to a rejig of cricket schedules. This is unlike India's cricketing ties with Pakistan, which have been hit off and on by political squabbles between the two nations.

The Tamils in the Lankan cricket team have been left untouched by the whole sad saga. Sri Lankan cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan is married to Chennaite Madhi Malar whose family is in the health business. He may have been known for his killer bowling instinct but has been so far from the killing fields in the north and east of his country that the conflict left him untouched. As the only Tamil in the Sri Lankan national side, he was seen as a great unifying force between the Sinhala and the Tamils. The spinning ace is also a great supporter of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Another former cricketer Arjuna Ranatunga was a vocal supporter of retired Lankan army chief General Sarath Fonseka who contested against Rajapaksa in the 2010 presidential polls. (Ranatunga claimed that he was still part of the ruling UPFA but had taken a decision to support the General on the issue of eradicating corruption. The player's brother is still with the UPFA, earlier known as the SLFP. )

The fact also is that Tamils from the northern and eastern parts of the country have not made it to the national cricket squad. "Tamils in the central provinces of Sri Lanka like Muralitharan have not been affected by the war, " notes Tamil National Alliance MP M A Sumanthiran. Only Tamils from Colombo and Kandy have made it to the national side. Says British researcher Stephen Wagg in his book Cricket and National Identity in the Post Colonial Age: "Sinhala-Tamil conflict has resulted in energies of Tamil youth being lost to the cause of cricket. " Resettlement of affected Tamils and a long period of peace might just change that.

Col R Hariharan, a decorated officer who headed the military intelligence unit of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka in the 1987-90 period, says the current stand off is not likely to damage the cultural ties between the two countries. "I don't think the Indian MPs delegation's visit is going to materialise soon as both sides will be thinking of deferring it and parties like the JVP and JHU will stage protests against it. But cricket as well as Bollywood films with Sinhala sub-titles are still hugely popular there, " reasons the officer who is now a member of South Asia Analysis, an online Intelligence think tank. "Sachin Tendulkar is a sort of national hero in Lanka and Shahrukh and Katrina are icons there too. "

The colonel has reason to believe that Indian tourists will continue to be welcome in Sri Lanka, whereas Lankan Sinhala tourists may not be so welcome in Tamil Nadu. Tamil nationalist parties are likely to turn up the heat on them.

But the ancient cultural bonds between the two countries cannot mute the angry mutterings on both sides. "By voting for the resolution, India has sent a clear signal to Sri Lanka to speed up the national reconciliation process ...in the process it has also sent a signal to the people of Tamil Nadu and Tamils everywhere that their concerns have not been marginalised in India's agenda, " he says.

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