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Listening as a prologue

india Updated: Sep 21, 2010 21:39 IST

Once a much-needed, logical step is taken, it sometimes seems obvious, even too obvious. For many following the 39-member all-party delegation from Delhi visiting violence-wracked Jammu and Kashmir over the last two days, the ‘obvious’ step taken by many members of the delegation of going that extra mile to meet separatist leaders in the Valley may not have amounted to much. But for those who know that a ‘big picture’ solution comprises incremental yet paradigm-shifting steps, Monday’s interaction between mainstream national leaders and those in the Valley — including separatists such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik — is a gesture rife with possibilities of forward movement. For too long, the Government of India has found it difficult to manoeuvre in the space deemed as its ‘stated position’. This continues to be true for political parties on both sides of the ‘J&K divide’. These ‘talks’ also took place with political leaders looking over their own shoulders and registering the presence of their own electorates.

But despite such adherence to stated positions, pure politics did take a backseat. Critics of the exercise would rather explain this temporary suspension of disbelief as a result of gesture-politics being served on a platter; supporters would think of the two-day exercise as the act of sidestepping the dogma of not listening to a position not one’s own. Messrs Geelani, Umar Farooq and Malik restated their positions to the visitors — demanding New Delhi recognises J&K’s ‘disputed’ status. This should not surprise anyone. As we had argued last week on this page, airing of (and listening to) these differences at an official level is an important step to any future resolution.

At the same time, however, it would be foolish to think that the delegation’s visit is, by itself, the first step of a planned trajectory. It is simply a prologue without which there can be no meaningful ‘Kashmir solution’ narrative. The delegation’s visit on Tuesday to Jammu, their listening to people’s aspirations of ‘complete integration’ with the rest of India — that run counter to the more voluble aspirations of the Valley — reaffirm the complexity of the issue. But unlike the naysayers in the Valley, Delhi had the advantage of making the first move; it has now made the first move. By itself, this is a momentous event. By itself, it’s also, however, just the start before any beginning.