Goans decide Goa’s identity

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Sanjeev V Sardesai

The year from December 19, 2020 till December 19, 2021 is being celebrated as the Diamond Jubilee Year of the Liberation of Goa, Daman & Diu, from a 451-year-old colonial regime. To start this year-long celebrations, President of India Ramnath Kovind, graced the inaugural day by paying floral respect and homage on the State Martyrs Memorial at Azad Maidan, erected in memory of the supreme sacrifices of many known and unknown Goans and Indians, who gave their life, so that Goa and Goans could be free and liberated. This year is set to be packed with an itinerary of many events in relation to the Liberation of Goa through a combined Indian Armed Forces action under identity

‘Operation Vijay’.

Though the Liberation of Goa, Daman & Diu, and also the Operation Vijay, are today viewed with bitter sweet memories by sections of society, it paved a way after centuries of dynastic, oppressive and dictatorial regimes, for a governance “of the people, for the people and by the people”. The future of this land was and is now in the hands of its own peoples!

However, as the new lands were settling down, another aspect was on way to unfold another historic event in Goa, which would create an appreciative niche in the world and hold its place for over half a century. It would bring in accolades from the United Nations! This was the historic Opinion Poll of Goa, Daman & Diu, held on January 16, 1967!

The Liberation gave the Goan people a much deserved ‘freedom’, but the Opinion Poll gave its people a ‘deserving identity’! The below mentioned narrative is a firsthand interaction with a core member of the Opinion Poll, former MLA, advocate Uday Bhembre, along with former MLA and participant in the Opinion Poll struggle Nirmala Sawant, during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Opinion Poll, hosted by the BBA Department of S S Dempo College of Commerce & Economics, Cujira.

What was the core reason for holding the Opinion Poll of January 16, 1967? What would have been the consequences, in the absence of the Opinion Poll? Who were the protagonists and who were the antagonists? What was its outcome? Who were responsible for the outcome? These are some of the very important, yet unexplored facets of Goan history.

The seed for this episode of ‘merger’ was sown, in 1945, before independence of India and much prior to liberation of Goa, at a Marathi Writers Convention, held in Maharashtra. A thought was aired to merge Maharashtra with the tiny land of Goa, when it was liberated, based on linguistic rationale. It was opined that Konkani was just a dialect of Marathi, and Marathi was the mother language. However, no further progress happened thence!

On December 19, 1961, Goa, Daman & Diu gained liberation and on December 9, 1963, the first democratic elections were held in the free union territories of Goa, Daman & Diu for 30 seats – (Goa – 28 seats, Daman & Diu – 1 seat each). For this election in Goa, two regional parties Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and United Goans Party (UGP), along with Congress were in the fray. The final results put MGP with 16 seats in the ruling side and UGP with 12 seats in the opposition side, with Congress not winning a single seat in this first election. The newly elected Members of the Legislative Assembly met in the Adil Shah palace or Old Secretariat for the first time, exactly one month after the election date, on January 9, 1964.

It was then, with a moral boosting victory in the elections, that the politicians and the political party jumped on the bandwagon of merger. The MGP had already promoted the merger of Goa into Maharashtra, based on Marathi speaking criteria, as one of the issues, in their election manifesto. In 1964, the MGP brought this merger issue to the floor of the Assembly, where it must be noted that being a union territory, the administrator was the Lt Governor and all major developmental issues were finally vetted for approval by the Central Government. However, since the MGP was voted to power, it was surmised that the people of Goa had voted for a merger. In fact, a vote in the newly constituted Legislative Assembly, with a simple majority in the house, would have technically carried this merger; however, it would require the mandatory approval of the Central Government, for taking any further positive step.

The leader of opposition in the newly formed Legislative Assembly, Jack de Sequeira was absolutely against this concept of merger with Maharashtra; as such a step would shroud and totally suppress the unique identity, culture, and ethos of this land. In an attempt to overcome this grave situation, he met the then PM of India Jawaharlal Nehru to convince him about the futility of this concept. Nehru had committed and promised the Goans, after liberation, that “he would preserve the distinct identity of Goa” and also ‘protect the Konkani language’. Soon after that, PM Jawaharlal Nehru passed away and Lal Bahadur Shastri took over the helm as Prime Minister of India. Yashwantrao Chavan, a powerful Maharashtrian political leader was the Defense Minister, and the equation had changed in favour of this merger issue.

Jack de Sequeira, with some prominent Goans, met PM Shastri and a powerful leader from the South, Kamraj at Bangalore, where an AICC session was in progress, and convinced him that the people of Goa should be asked their choice, instead of an Assembly vote.

When Shastri was approached to intervene, he suggested and noted on the file that the solution to this dilemma was “to hold parliamentary elections in Goa, to decide if Goans want merger or not”. This suggestion would have sounded the death knell for the anti-merger activists, if put into effect, and their efforts would have been nipped in the bud. Tragically, PM Shastri died mysteriously in Tashkent, where he had gone to sign the Peace Treaty with Pakistan, in 1966. Morarji Desai was elected as the next Prime Minister of India.

On the other hand, in Goa, (late) Purushottam Kakodkar, who was the President of the Goa Congress Party, tried to convince his members about the fallouts of merger, but was sidelined as the thought political process of some members, in this regard, conflicted. He was of the opinion that ‘parliamentary elections were not the solution to this sensitive issue, as the elections would have turned up a similar political equation, as people voted keeping several aspects in mind such as the political party, the character of a candidate, the issues in the manifesto, etc’. The snub that he got from his colleagues provoked him to retreat to Rishikesh, without telling anybody.

After his literal disappearance from Goa, there was hue and cry that the merger activists had ‘kidnapped’ Kakodkar.

However, Kakodkar having come to know of this ruckus in Goa, contacted his well wishers and informed them of his well being. Since he was near Delhi, he agreed to meet the leaders. He met Indira Gandhi, who was then a minister in the Cabinet to seek review. However, she declined to accede to his request as Shastri had put his remark saying that ‘it was the best solution to solve the issue’. He then met Morarji Desai, who also had a similar say. But when Kakodkar asked him: ‘if someone has to raise the issue in the Cabinet, would you support it?’ he said ‘No’!

In this statement, Kakodkar saw a glimmer of hope!