MUMBAI // An influential right-wing Hindu party in Mumbai has warned that it will try and stop Australian cricketers playing in parts of India because of attacks on expatriate Indians living in the country. Bal Thackeray, who heads the radical Shiv Sena party, said the activists plan to disrupt matches involving the Australian side, like they did ahead of a Test match against Pakistan in 1999, when they dug up the pitch.
"We will not allow kangaroo cricketers to play in Mumbai and Maharashtra till the attacks on Indians are stopped," the ageing Thackeray wrote in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamna. "Our boys are being stabbed, burnt and shot at in that country and still our cricketers have no qualms in playing with them. Do they have any national pride?" The murder of Nitin Garg, 21, in Melbourne earlier this month caused anger among Indians in Australia and overseas, and prompted India's foreign minister SM Krishna to suggest it would hurt ties.
The murder followed a spate of violence against Indian students in Melbourne over the past 18 months that has included beatings, robberies and stabbings and has threatened Australia's education industry. Top Australian stars such as the captain Ricky Ponting, Andrew Symonds, Matthew Hayden and Shane Watson are star attractions in the third edition of the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) in March-April.
Two major cities in Maharashtra, Mumbai and Nagpur, are due to host IPL matches and Shiv Sena is particularly influential in the state. The party's north Indian chapter also threatened to disrupt matches involving Australians in New Delhi, another IPL venue. "We will do our best to ensure the matches in New Delhi are also cancelled," the chapter's head Sandeep Kulkarni said. "We have very strong units across this region."
Shiv Sena has in the past prevented Pakistan's national team from playing in Maharashtra for what it says is Islamabad's backing of militant activities in India. Party activists dug up the wicket at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground in New Delhi a few weeks ahead of a Test match against Pakistan. The pitch was repaired in time for the match to go ahead. Thackeray praised movie legend Amitabh Bachchan for refusing an award from Queensland University in protest at the attack on students in Australia.
"I would have been happy if our cricketers too had shown similar self-respect in the matter," he wrote. "But cricket has become a game of money, and self-respect and patriotism have taken a back-seat." * AFP