Looking back

Print edition : December 30, 2011

Goa: Fifty years after liberation from Portuguese rule, the loss of regional identity and culture figures repeatedly in its introspection.

in Panaji

A ROW OF sunbeds on Baga Beach in Goa.-AFP

ON December 19, Goa completes 50 years of its liberation from Portugal's colonial rule and integration into the Indian union. In 1961, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to send the Indian armed forces into Goa, Daman and Diu the last Asian outpost of Portugal's Estado da India. It was a decision the pacifist Nehru took after 14 years of attempting to negotiate a peaceful departure for the Portuguese, like the French and the British before them. But Portugal's dictator, Dr Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, rendered this impossible. His position that Goa was not its colony but an integral part of Portugal's overseas provinces made negotiation an exercise in futility.

From all accounts, by November 1961, the Goa question had reached its decisive moment. The delay, stemming from his moral principles of peaceful negotiation over military solutions, was eroding Nehru's stature as a leader of the anti-colonial movement. African leaders, especially Goan Indians in the forefront of freedom struggles in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola, were pressing for India's military intervention in Goa, hoping, as it did, that it would have a domino effect (Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique got their independence in 1974-75). In the face of the growing belligerence of both the Jan Sangh, the forerunner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Communist Party of India on the question of a military strike on Goa, Nehru was clearly pressed to the wall on the eve of a general election. An impending election for Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon in the North Bombay constituency was no less a factor. In an action codenamed Operation Vijay, 40,000 troops from several Indian regiments were amassed at the Goa, Daman and Diu borders, and on the night of December 17 and 18 they were moved into Goa, where they met with little resistance from 3,000-odd Portuguese soldiers. Salazar had left his troops with merely a token defence system but expected them to hold out for at least eight days, before he could garner support from his North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies and the United Nations Security Council.

Portugal's last Governor-General, Vassalo de Silva, in defiance of Salazar's orders to burn Goa and defend it to the last, chose to surrender peacefully. This earned him the gratitude of Goans though he paid a high price for his action. He was declared a traitor and imprisoned on his return to Portugal. In the U.N., the Soviet Union used its veto to block a Security Council motion for an end to conflict and the retreat of Indian troops. In international fora and on the ground, the battle for Goa was over within 40 hours. Portugal, the first European power to enter Asia, was also the last to leave, having stayed on the continent for 451 years.

LOCAL PEOPLE CHEER the Indian Army after the siege of Goa ended.-DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION/GOA

The transition of power was not easy and no one expected it to be. The complications of shifting from a Portuguese system of administration to the British system that the Indian bureaucracy followed and the recruitment of clerical staff on deputation were some of the early hiccups. Nehru had promised to accord special consideration to Goa's unique identity and culture. But sections within the Congress, especially in Maharashtra, allied with the newly formed Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) to push for Goa's merger with Maharashtra. While this was rejected by a majority vote in a keenly fought opinion poll held in January 1967, the caste and religious polarisation that the MGP engendered was to remain a divisive factor in Goa's politics for decades. It vilified Goa's 38 per cent Catholic population, targeted its mid-level landowners during land reforms, and encouraged the occupation of the houses of migrant Catholics.

The Union Territory status that Nehru accorded Goa lasted 27 years. Goa attained statehood in 1987. The years it was a Union Territory were, in hindsight, Goa's golden period, says the veteran journalist Gurudas Singbal. There was no dearth of funds from a benevolent Centre and a friendly Nehru-Gandhi family, with Goa as the pet State of the Indian Union.

Colonial troops departing after the liberation of Goa.-DEPARTMENT OF INFORMATION/GOA

The government was keen to prove that for all the symbolic and emotional attachment the Portuguese had for Goa, its own status as a diminished, largely non-industrialised, European country meant that Portugal had little to offer Goa by way of dynamic development. Goa's economy ran on remittances from its migr population that numbered 150,000 residing in other parts of India at the time of liberation. Mining had just begun to pick up in 1950 and it funded a largely import-based economy that mesmerised its elite with fancy cars and the good life, at a time when the rest of India lived under a controlled economy.

Old-timers suggest that though hierarchical and tilted in favour of the upper classes, life was not so bleak in Goa. By and large, Portugal had permitted the village communes to run themselves and left the feudal system intact. The more restless and ambitious migrated for work; their earnings in Bombay (now Mumbai), Aden, Karachi, East Africa and other colonial British territories contributed to the mansions and small homesteads that dot the landscape. Those left behind practised subsistence farming and fishing, retail and import/export trade and other professions to sustain themselves. Goans ran the bureaucracy to a large extent. It was a fairly orderly system in the villages and towns, both blessed by bounteous natural beauty and planned urbanity. Despite their travails, communities were closely knit and cordial, and coexisted peacefully. All these factors contributed to the resident Goan being largely apathetic to change or involvement in the freedom struggle. Though Goans recognised that their future lay with India, much of the struggle was launched from outside Goa because of the Salazar regime's brutal intolerance and censorship.

Post-liberation, big strides made in mass education, employment in the myriad new government institutions, and infrastructure building set the pace for Goa's creditable human development indices, aided no doubt by a small, manageable population of over six lakh in 1961. Tourism began to grow organically from the hippie invasion, adding to the profits from iron ore mining. Agriculture was another story, improving for a while with government subsidies but ultimately becoming unviable. Land reforms introduced in the 1960s and 1970s empowered tenants but broke the back of the communidade system a patrilineal village cooperative and land-holding system based on the ancient gaonkari system. The communidades lost vast tracts of land, and the earthworks and irrigation facilities they maintained to keep agriculture going fell into neglect. This, combined with the fragmentation of land, impacted agriculture adversely. With no capital infusion into small holdings, farming under the new owners remained at subsistence levels. With no alternative strategies, more areas are left fallow each year, with tenants biding their time to convert usage and sell the land to developers and speculators while the State remains woefully dependent on neighbouring States for rice, fruits, vegetables and milk.


Under the MGP, the local administration favoured the subaltern castes, referred to as the Bahujan Samaj, in government jobs. Although this swelled the ranks of the government service, it did have a creditable and empowering multiplier effect. These groups slowly left their traditional occupations to take up contract work or operate private transport, though government service is still seen as the ultimate career option. Electrification, infrastructure building and primary health care improved significantly, but the public transport system has continued to remain inefficient. The Congress government, which assumed power in 1980, introduced a state-run transport system, bringing about some improvement. In fact, the tenures of six-time Chief Minister Pratapsing Rane of the Congress and Wilfred de Souza, of the Congress and later the Goa Rajiv Congress, are seen as some of the most ably governed periods in post-liberation Goa. Some observers feel Goa's problems began soon after it attained statehood. Others attribute them to economic liberalisation and globalisation, which followed shortly after. The power to sanction tenders and contracts, which was earlier vested with New Delhi, fuelled an unprecedented race among the younger, ambitious local politicians. Statehood speeded up infrastructure development and industrialisation and the growth of the tourism sector, but on the flip side it led to mindless, contract-driven project approval and hyper development, out of sync with the local needs and absorption levels and often dictated by motivated parties.

Goa's unstable governments in the 1990s were the result of the jostling for power that ensued among its many caste groupings even as the takings had increased stupendously. The Congress extended its traditional, caste-based electoral formula to include Bhandari and Maratha leaders from the MGP and Christian Chardors (Kshatriyas). In the mid-1990s, the BJP entered State politics, riding piggyback on the MGP, but ultimately abandoned the party. The decimation of the two regional parties the United Goans Party that had a strong Catholic backing and the MGP and the rise of the Congress and the BJP foretold the impending story of Goa, of its weakening regional voice.

Liberalisation and globalisation have impacted Goa disproportionately. Its branding, its East-West cultural and lifestyle mix and its tourism products of hotels and restaurants place Goa in a unique position as India's only truly international destination. Everybody, from the super rich to the poor, seeks a Goa address for both business development and residence.

A CULTURAL TROUPE from Portugal on a recent visit to Goa on an exchange programme. A fringe group in the State still views any ties with Portugal with suspicion.-FREDERICK NORONHA

A tourism growth rate of 13 per cent, which is higher than the national average, and the development of real estate and the mining industry have attracted migrant labour from neighbouring States every bad crop year, though sections of the State are uncomfortable with this phenomenon. The question of post-liberation submergence of the regional identity and culture figures repeatedly in Goa's introspection in the golden jubilee year.

In the monthly magazine Goa Today, the columnist Nandkumar Kamat writes on the emergence of a new Goa: The 2001 Census produced 27 per cent migrant population. It might have increased to 35 per cent in the 2011 Census.

PORTUGUESE CULTURE, WHICH was rejected in the 1960s, has been making a comeback recently. In this picture, a group of college students, dressed in Portuguese style, at a dance show at Mapusa.-FREDERICK NORONHA

An indication of this growing angst about the disappearance of the Goan identity is evident in the demand for a protected special status (as in the case of Himachal Pradesh) which prohibits non-ethnic Goans from purchasing land in the tourism-dependent State. There have also been protests against land acquisition. There are mixed feelings about the State's growth trajectory. The establishment of international hotel chains, an urbanised city state, a stomping ground for India's bold and beautiful, a casino and nightclub capital, an Indian equivalent of the Riviera this is a growth path that finds favour with the youth. But it rankles with others. The general feeling is that the State is at the crossroads. In 50 years, Goa has assimilated with the Indian mainstream. But no small State would welcome being subsumed by it completely.

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