Efforts to revive separatist sentiments appear to be making little headway in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, even as some local political figures continue using rhetoric with strongly divisive connotations.
For more than four months, the Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation (TESO) – a group launched in the 1980s to push for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka's northeast – has been wrangling with various arms of the federal government and Tamil Nadu state administration for permission to stage a conference in Chennai, the state capital.
The event was finally held on August 12th. But it proved to have little resonance in Tamil Nadu, despite local support during the 1980s for Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militants. The LTTE waged a decades-long campaign against the Sri Lankan government, only to be crushed decisively in 2009.
To gain permission for the conference, organisers had to affirm India's commitment to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Doing so effectively took any serious talk of "Tamil Eelam" – as the independent state sought by separatists would be called -- off the agenda.
Analysts say the separatist movement has become an anachronism.
M. Karunanidhi, the 90-year-old supreme leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), helped work out the terms under which the conference would be allowed to take place. He told media afterwards that "disunity" among state political leaders led to the failure to drum up public support.
Others, however, say that the support is simply not there to begin with.
"It's a misconception that the Tamilians of Tamil Nadu feel any empathy for the separatist cause in Sri Lanka," Subramanian Swamy, president of the Janata Party and a former TESO member, told Khabar South Asia.
"The DMK is desperately trying to flog a dead horse to win political relevance for itself," he said.
The party met with a lethargic response as it attempted to publicise conference resolutions at various events across Tamil Nadu. At an August 22nd event, organised in the industrial town of Tiruchi, lead speaker S. Muthuswamy – a former minister – steered clear of references to the Sri Lankan Tamils during his address.
"A major portion of his speech was devoted to price rises, power crisis and his past experience as transport minister," the TV channel IBN Live reported. "A few minutes before ending his speech, he read out the resolutions, without explaining their significance or necessity."
Earlier this month, hardliners in Tamil Nadu organised demonstrations against a rumoured Indian government decision to invite two Sri Lankan military officers for training at a defence academy in the state.
While Defence Minister A.K. Antony acknowledged an agreement had been reached on training, he said no Sri Lankan military personnel were there at present.
According to Swamy, "it is clear that although the people of Tamil Nadu don't care, the politicians are still in the illusion that Eelam is a big deal".
Local analysts say that the general disdain for a separatist agenda does not mean that people in Tamil Nadu are indifferent to the aspirations and well-being of those in Sri Lanka.
"The Tamilians of Tamil Nadu, like all Indians, are not interested in getting involved in a neighbouring country's affairs," Tamil intellectual Jayashekharan told Khabar.
"But at the same time they are conscious of the aspirations of the Tamilians of Sri Lanka for a better life."