There can no longer be any doubt on the matter. Kashmiris are determined to have a decisive say in their future that that future is democratic going by the massive turnout in the third phase of the panchayat polls in the state. This has been in defiance of threats from hardliners to stay away from the polls.
While it is never a good idea to predict that the corner has been turned in the volatile state, there have been several indicators in recent times that the people in whose name everyone seems to speak when it comes to Kashmir have given a clear signal that they want normalcy and a stake in the vast and growing Indian economy.
A significant factor is that those who have been propagating a union with Pakistan are no longer voluble. This is clearly motivated by realism that such a proposition, given the state that Pakistan is in, is not feasible, indeed it is counterproductive.
The proposals put forward by the three-member interlocutor team holds out promise if they are fine-tuned to some extent. The interlocutors have not been able to get the hardliners on board. However, they have signalled a willingness to incorporate the four points put forward by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and the five points outlined by hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
The dialogue process is far from complete without the involvement of the hardliners but the team has done well to engage civil society and its representatives in its considerations.
Gestures like renaming the governor and chief minister may sound facile on the surface but they will go a long way towards assuring the Kashmiris that their grievances, howsoever slight, are being taken seriously by the government. The pivotal point that the interlocutors have made is that of stepping up confidence-building measures and getting away from the image of the Indian State being represented by a soldier.
Of course, a continued dialogue with Pakistan has to be part of the agenda but the test will lie in how much political autonomy the government is willing to cede to the state.
The changing demographics in the state should make it incumbent on the team to take into account the aspirations of a young and restless population, one which does not subscribe to the shibboleths of the past. What must be highlighted is the benefits of being part of the Indian economic juggernaut, something which the interlocutors have not done enough.
The panchayat polls are clear indication that there is hope for a peaceful solution to this intractable problem. The government must grasp the nettle, even as it offers the olive branch through the good offices of the interlocutors.