Reminiscing Liberation Day

India gained independence from the colonial British rule on 15th August 1947 and on 19th December 1961 Goa was officially ceded to India after 400 years of Portuguese rule. Looking back for those of you who were there to experience the moment as well as those who have read about it would surely be a mixed reaction – bemusing and somewhat satirical.

After India gained Independence in 1947 the process of integration began and by the end of 1948, some five hundred princely States had been persuaded/coerced to join the nation. The French left Pondicherry in 1954. In the same year, activists overran the tiny Portuguese enclaves of Dadra and Nagar-Haveli. After Britain and France left India, it was expected that Portugal would leave too. But Portugal refused. Emphasising that it had been in Goa for centuries, Portugal exclaimed that the Goan Catholics would not be safe if it left. Thus Goa, and its appendage Daman, remained outside Indian control, as an irksome reminder of the long history of European colonialism in the sub-continent.

In the rest of India, people began demanding that Goa be liberated forcibly. In 1955, a satyagraha was launched by the communist and socialist parties for the freedom of Goa from the Portuguese. When the satyagrahis entered Goa, the Portuguese opened fire, killing 20 Indians. Jawaharlal Nehru imposed an economic blockade, but was not prepared to go further. He hoped that the popular movement in Goa and the pressure of world public opinion would force the hands of the Goan authorities.

Finding that his policy of patience and adherence to international ethics had not yielded results, Nehru decided to free Goa by force. Though advised by American President John F. Kennedy, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and UN Secretary-General U Thant to postpone action, Nehru made up his mind. On December 18, the Indian Army went into Goa and after a long-drawn fight forced the garrison there to surrender. The Governor General of Goa, Vassalo e Silva, signed a document of unconditional surrender.

The Western media assailed the action as a display of “Indian hypocrisy”, which represented a breach of international law by a nation that professed non-violence. Though the liberation of Goa by force raised the prestige of the government in India, it adversely affected Nehru’s international image.

In his book The Liberation of Goa, P.D. Gaitonde quotes the American historian Arthur Schelsinger as saying that “the contrast between Nehru’s incessant sanctimony on the subject of non-aggression and his brisk exercise of Machtpolitik was too comic not to cause comment. It was a little like catching the preacher in the hen-house; and it suggested that Harrow and Cambridge, in instilling the British virtues, had not neglected hypocrisy”.

Some Western critics focused on the mismatch between India’s profession of non-violence and its invasion of Goa; others on what they saw as the fundamental incompatibility of the cultures of Goa and India. One British writer argued that the “Goans are as much Mediterranean Europeans as the present descendants of various European nationalists [in the United States] are Americans”. And the Catholic Herald newspaper claimed that “wherever he goes even in India, a Goan remains a Goan, and tends to form a self contained Goan community. He certainly does not see himself as an Indian. Four hundred and fifty years of religious, social, and racial and cultural interpretations have sharply differentiated him from other people of the Indian subcontinent”.

Fifty seven years later, one may look back reminiscing and wondering how much has changed with respect to our culture – do we consider ourselves as ‘Mediterranean Europeans’ or Indians? Are we better off being ‘liberated’?

The Goa Opinion Poll, the historic referendum of 16th January 1967, contended that Goa’s personality was a synthesis of Eastern and Western Cultures and came about as Nehru had promised the preservation of this ‘cultural individuality in the political unification of India’. In the face of tremendous political pressure for merger of Goa with Maharashtra, leader of the opposition – Dr. Jack De Sequeira, Lima Leitao and mine-owners such as V. S. Dempo and V. M. Salgaocar, Ulhas Buyao-led musical group, many others both within and outside Goa, opposed Goa’s merger into Maharashtra.

House of Dempo through its newspaper Navhind Times, campaigned against the merger. House of Salgaocar opposed the merger and staunchly supported the movement for promotion of the Konkani language. Generally businessmen are eager to conceal their opinions and patronage in case of acute political disputes. Surprisingly, V. M. Salgaocar was the only industrialist who openly and ardently supported the movement. The champions of Konkani had talent, energy and time but lacked the financial resources, while the pro-merger group were financially sound. The pro-Konkani lobby found its saviour in V. M. Salgaocar who provided generous financial backing and mentoring. He did this because he believed that in the prevailing circumstances, Konkani would help the people unite across religions.

Goa was then divided on the basis of two symbols—’two leaves’ (anti-merger) and ‘rose’ (pro-merger). Those opposing the merger became very fond of the slogan – “Nako amhala shrikand puri, give me my own rice curry”.

After two days of counting votes and experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, finally Goans could breathe a sigh of relief as the voice of Goans became loud and clear. South Goa, specifically Benaulim contributed in a major way in turning the tide and literally brought us back from the brink of a merger with Maharashtra. Goa for Goans prevailed and this is probably the most important day – one that needs to be celebrated proudly.

The present political party has given recognition to this historic day by naming 16th January as ‘Asmitai Dis’. But the departed leaders of the anti-merger movement, who are no longer with us, would surely not have visualized Goa the way it is today.

As we approach another Liberation Day to be followed soon by another Asmitai Dis, maybe we should ponder on what it means to be truly Goan. If not, we would need another opinion poll to save our little State  from complete decimation.

Louella Santimano e Dias