“On January 16, we are completing 50 years for the historical day – Opinion Poll – that changed the lives of Goans. Back in 1967, on this day Goans were given a choice whether they want to maintain a separate identity as a union territory or merge and become a part of Maharashtra,” said writer and assistant professor and head of department of Konkani, Parvatibai Chowgule College of Arts and Science, Margao, Hanumant Chopdekar at the 5th edition of Luis de Menezes Braganza Lecture Series held at IMB, Panaji that concluded on Friday. He was joined by educationalist, Narayan Desai for a panel discussion on ‘Opinion Poll: Socio-Political Identity of Goa’.
Desai said that it was this day that decided the fate of Goa, “It was on the day of Opinion Poll when Goans decided their destiny – whether they want to maintain an identity for Goa or be known as a mere taluka of Maharashtra,” said Desai. Chopdekar explaining what led to Opinion Poll said: “There are several reasons such as historical, socio-political, socio-linguistic and cultural that led to Goa Opinion Poll. Some Marathi speaking Hindus in Goa were in favour of the merger as their way of life was somewhat similar to that of Maharashtrians but this would mean that people from other religions such as Catholics and Muslims would have problems in the long run,” said Chopdekar.
When India got its independence in 1947, states were made on the basis of culture and the languages spoken in that region. “At that time, Goa was under the Portuguese rule and after it got liberated in 1961, the question of what should be done with Goa came up. Maharashtra wanted Goa to merge with it owning to similarities between culture and traditions of Hindus in both the states,” said Chopdekar adding that Purshottam Kakodkar played an important role here by proposing before the then prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi that the fate of Goa should be decided by the Goans and not any political party. The voters had to vote either for a ‘flower’ – in favour of the merger or ‘two leaves’ – to retain Goa’s identity. Chopdekar said the ink used for voting was red in colour which meant that it would be the first and last Opinion Poll in the history of Indian politics.
After Goa Opinion Poll was announced, several individuals, in favour and against the merger, took a front seat in spreading awareness about the pros and cons of this merger. “Social activists such as Jack de Sequeira, Shabu Dessai from Cuncolim and Uday Bhembre amongst others made people understand that Goa needed to remain as a union territory to protect its distinctive identity,” said Chopdekar.
The Catholic community wanted Goa to remain as a union territory as they preferred to be 30 per cent minority in Goa over 0.3 per cent minority in Maharashtra. “It is often believed that all Hindus were in favour of the merger but it’s not so. In Pernem out of 8,741 voters who voted, 5,967 voters were in favour of the merger while 2,304 people were against it. While in Benaulim, out of 11,485 voters, 629 were in favour while 10,769 were against the merger. This clearly shows that not all Hindus were in favour of the merger,” concluded Chopdekar.