Monday, September 03, 2007


Recalling the “liberation” of Goa


Looking back, some of the reactions to the “invasion” of Goa, both Indian and Western, are amusing and bewildering.

In my last column I wrote of Goa’s more-or-less happy integration with India, based on a recent visit to that territory. In this column I wish to recall the moment when Goa passed from Portuguese to Indian rule, based on some historical documen ts of the time.

Lingering remnants

India became independent in August 1947. By the end of 1948, some five hundred princely States had been persuaded — or, in a few cases, 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. But Goa, and its appendage Daman, remained outside Indian control, as an irritating reminder of the long —and still unfinished — history of European colonialism in the sub-continent.

Finally, in December 1961, the Indian Army went into Goa and forced the garrison there to surrender. In the papers of Penderel Moon, a former ICS man who had also worked with the Government of free India, I found two letters commenting on the action. A British army officer living in retirement in Roorkee wrote to Moon that “not a single Indian has any qualms about Goa except the Eastern Economist. Public opinion approved from the word go and has had no difficulty in justifying it since!”

Voices of dissent

This was not true. Also in the Moon papers, I found a letter written by a serving Cabinet Minister, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, which said: “I have personally been very sad about Goa. It was really the enormous and continuous pressure from his own and all the other political parties of India, in particular that of the Jan Sangh and the Communists, that finally drove our Prime Minister to accede to their demands. I feel the triumph has not been worth the price we have had to pay for it. For some time, at any rate, India’s voice will not count as much as it has done in the past in the world councils for peace”.

One does not know whether the Rajkumari expressed her reservations in Cabinet meetings. But another old Gandhian, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, wrote in his journal Swarajya that after the action in Goa, India could no longer claim t o be on a “mission for promoting peace”. Rajaji’s thoughts were echoed by this newspaper, which feared that “by her action India might have endangered the high esteem in which she has been held all over the world”.

Western commentators were less equivocal in their criticisms. 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 sanct imony 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. Five hundred years of religious, social, and racial and cultural interpretations have sharply differentiated him from other peoples of the Indian subcontinent”.

Off the mark

Forty-five years later, one reads these judgements with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment. That some Goans are Catholics and that many Goans speak Konkani does not mean that they do not or cannot consider themselves Indian. And which Goan now sees himself as a “Mediterrenean European”? Also, the charge that Indians were being hypocritical and sanctimonious falls away in the light of the behaviour, in later decades, of the world’s superpowers. Who, in the face of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 or the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, could consider India’s action in Goa to be illegitimate? Those other invasions brought untold misery and suffering to the people they claimed to “liberate”. In contrast, few Goans now would wish to exchange Indian rule for that of the Portuguese.

I shall end this recollection on a less serious note. In February 1962, two months after the event, the Illustrated Weekly of India printed a cover story celebrating Goa’s reunion with the motherland. Here the Weekly’s editor, A.S. Raman, wrote about his walking into a store in Panjim where the following conversation ensued:

Salesman: “We’ve got some very nice German ball-points for you, sir. Would you like to see them?”

Journalist: “Only ball-points! No, thanks. Your signboard lists a number of other items, bigger and more luxurious. What are they?”

Salesman: “Oh, yes, sir. We’ve hankies, ties, socks, gloves, watch-straps, belts, ash-trays, cigarette cases and a variety of curios and novelties”.

Journalist: “Where are all the transistors and tape-recorders, refrigerators and radiograms?”

Salesman: “All sold out, sir”.

Journalist: “You must be experiencing a big boom”.

Salesman: “Yes, sir, thanks to the liberation”.

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