By Balaji Sudas Shenoy
Jack de Sequeira, the founder president of the erstwhile United Goans Party was a great son of Goa. During a crucial cross current in Goa’s history he articulated the aspirations of a definite section of Goans and symbolised in himself the distinct identity of Goa within the Indian Union. A man of words and deeds, he was never destined to be the chief minister of Goa, but power strode with him for the fifteen crucial and eventful years from 1963-1977, when he played a significant role as leader of opposition of the Goa, Daman and Diu legislative assembly. This article is dedicated is this great Goan visionary Joao Hugo Eduardo de Sequeira popularly known as Jack de Sequeira and who is remembered as Father of the Opinion Poll in Goa. Keeping aside questions as to whether he really is the father of the Opinion Poll or whether the Poll was a collective effort of like-minded, one can indeed say that he played a pivotal role in convincing the Government of India to hold an Opinion Poll to decide the issue of the merger of Goa with the state of Maharashtra. This article is a tribute to Sequeira for his contribution towards propagating the idea of a separate identity for Goa by way of his eloquence and grassroots mobilisation. This article is to remember him on his birth centenary year.
Born on April 20, 1915 in Burma, now known as Myanmar, the youngest son of Erasmo de Sequeira and Ana Julio de Sequeira, Joao Hugo Eduardo de Sequeira completed his elementary education in Goa in Lyceum and later obtained Medico Circugiao at the Escola Medico de Goa. He was a brilliant student and at the tender age of 21 wanted to take up blood research, but his father passed away and he was forced to take over the family business at ‘Agencia Sequeira’, a leading business house of Goa at that particular time. As a young man sports came naturally to him and he along with his brother Frank played tennis. At the young age of 23 he married Lilia Margarida de Goveia Pinto and had nine children; three sons and six daughters.
Little did he realise that he would play a key role in the history of Goan politics. The struggle for Goa’s freedom was at its zenith. Indian army stepped on Goan soil to liberate Goa from colonial yoke. Soon after liberation parliamentary democracy was established in the territory. Any attempt at government formation in a democracy is preceded by the formation of political parties, coalitions or mergers and free and fair elections. With the advent of liberation, political parties offering alternative ideologies, interests and attachments made their appearance for the first time on Goan soil. Indian National Congress (INC) was seen as a major contender for power as it was a systematically organised party. Suddenly the question of Goa’s identity sprang up which caused disagreement over the issue among members of the INC, which led to the emergence of two political parties; Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) – demanding Goa’s merger with Maharashtra – and the United Goans Party (UGP) – a counter reaction to the MGP. Based on these issues the first general elections took palace in Goa in 1963.
Sequeira was the leader of a group known as ‘Goyncho Pokx’, which was one of the groups that later came together to form United Goans (UG) Party. He became the president of the UGP, which was an antithesis to MGP that was formed with the core ideology of merging Goa with Maharashtra. Countering this stand of MGP, the United Goans Party was formed by merging Goencho Pokx of Jack Sequeira, the Partido Indiano of Alvsaro Loyola de Furtado, the Goa National union of J M Desouza and United Fronts of Goans and Democratic Party who shared a common goal, that of separate identity for Goa, and which was against the merger of Goa with Maharashtra. Sequeira was the president of the party since its inception in 1963 till its merger with Janata Dal in 1977.
Sequeira was a good orator and was in a position to tilt the balance with his fluent rhetoric. He managed to bring people into UGP fold. This subsequently led to the convincing victory of the UGP under his able leadership. He left no stone unturned to ensure victory.
The first assembly elections results came as surprise. People gave their mandate to MGP. Runner up in these elections was the UGP with the Congress losing miserably in 29 constituencies out of thirty. But one analyses the electoral verdict it is understood that UGP received large share of popular vote by virtue of wining with wider margins in the twelve constituencies from where they were elected. Thus the popular mandate in Goa was in favour of maintaining separate identity of Goa. It was Jack Sequeira who was honoured with the position of leader of opposition in the first legislative assembly. In parliamentary democracy it is the leader of opposition who has to keep a watch over moves of the government. He later met the then prime minister Nehru to convince him about Goa’s unique identity and not to merge Goa with Maharashtra.
Sequeira understood the democratic process clearly and was convinced that though the people voted for MGP the majority were against the merger. Convincing Nehru was a difficult task but the eloquent Sequeira made the Congress government think about Goa’s issue seriously. Very soon Nehru decided to solve the issue by a referendum but before he could take any further decision he passed away. The decision was left to the next prime minister Shastri, who decided to take up Goa’s issue, but he too died at Tashkent. The decision was now left to Indira Gandhi, who stood for Sequeira’s cause and decided to hold an Opinion Poll in Goa that would decide the future of Goa. Independent India had never had a poll of such a nature. And though leaders of Maharashtra wielded significant influence in the corridors of powers in New Delhi, Sequeira led the battle with will and tenacity and clarity of purpose. The subsequent historic Opinion Poll that saw the people of Goa vote against merger laid the foundation for statehood, which came two decades later. While Sequeira’s was not the sole contribution in winning Goa a separate identity his role remains significant because even on the floor of the house he led the opposition on this issue. The government wanted to merge Goa with Maharashtra by passing a resolution in the house.
The hallmark of his leadership was as much his oratory as his scrupulously done homework. Even the then chief minister Bandodkar shook on occasions at the sheer strength of Sequeira’s presentation and rhetoric and there were several occasions when he caught the ruling party on the wrong foot thanks to his voracious appetite for detailed analysis.
We should remember Sequeira’s contribution because it was he who had that foresight and vision to know the repercussion of a merger. If late Dayanand Bandodkar laid the foundation of Goa’s development, it was Jack de Sequeira who struggled to preserve Goa’s separate identity.
He was never destined to be the chief minister of Goa but he had the ability and intelligence with vision to rule over Goa.
Soon after Opinion Poll there was a vertical split in the UGP as there were many within UGP, who were not happy with Jack Sequeira and his leadership and his style of functioning. By 1977 UGP was completely at odds. Some members joined the Janata Party while some others chose to join the Indian National Congress. This resulted in the death of the UGP.
Sequeira contested elections from the Santa Cruz Constituency from 1963 till 1979 and was member of the Goa legislative assembly from that constituency. Later he merged the UGP into the Janata Party. He lost the general elections in the 1980s. He took the mandate positively and never contested any elections. He went back to Agencia Sequeira and spent some time with his family and passed away on October 16, 1989.
(The writer is research assistant and research scholar at the department of political science, Goa University)