Portugal still in denial over Goa

Brigadier Sagat Singh of India's Maroon Berets, Parachute regiment, accepts the surrender of Portuguese forces at military camp in Bambolim, Goa.Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva will be in East Timor later this year to attend the country’s independence celebrations. No such diplomatic gesture will be extended to Goa where celebrations have begun to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Goa’s accession into India in 1961.|

Portuguese historians Paulo Varela Gomes and Teotonio De Souza argue that the two cases bear no comparison. East Timor, part of a small island in the Indonesian archipelago between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, was colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Dutch colonisers took over the west of the island. In 1975, Portugal unilaterally withdrew from East Timor as it began to dissolve its colonial empire. The withdrawal was followed quickly by Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor. An UN-sponsored report said at least 100,000 Timorese were killed during the 25-year Indonesian occupation, which ended after the referendum in 1999. Portugal’s diplomatic intervention helped pave the way to East Timor’s independence in 2002 and the two countries have maintained excellent relations since.

Soon after India’s independence, Nehru initiated moves for a diplomatic solution to the Goa case. Portugal, then under the dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar
rebuffed all such approaches, forcing India’s hand in the military intervention that began on December 17, 1961. Thirty-six hours later, India was in possession of Goa, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli which had been a part of the ‘Estado da India’ (Portugal’s colonial holdings in India) for 451 years. The issue of Goa’s accession echoed as dramatically in the UN Security Council as it had on the ground.

A US-sponsored resolution supported by the UK, France and Turkey that wanted the withdrawal of Indian troops was vetoed by the Soviet Union. The Soviet move was heavily criticised in the West and Portugal went into virtual mourning, scaling down Christmas celebrations that year. Media reports also said the Salazar government had put out a reward of $ 10,000 for the capture of the Indian Brigadier Sagat Singh, the commander of the Red Berets, the parachute regiment, which were the first Indian troops to enter Panjim.

Portugal snapped diplomatic ties with India and refused to recognise the decolonisation of its Indian territories. Diplomatic relations between the two countries revived only in 1975 after Portugal itself turned into a democracy. In 1992,  Mario Soares became the first Portuguese head of state to visit Goa.

A trenchant critic of the Portuguese regime, Soares had spent long years in jail under Salazar and had many friends in the Goa freedom movement. He received a hero’s welcome in Goa. Following his visit, the Portuguese government opened a consulate in Goa and the cultural organisation Fundacao Oriente set up an office here.

Lawyer Miguel Reis is perhaps among a small minority in Portugal today who believes that Portugal should have shown better diplomatic judgment in officially honouring Goa’s golden jubilee celebrations, just as it celebrated the transfer of Macau back to China. The Portuguese, he says, need to recognise the fact that Goa’s liberation was the first major blow against the dictatorship of Salazar. “It was, in a sense, the preamble to the Portuguese Revolution, of April, 24, 1974,” he says.

“The process of decolonisation of the Estado da India, despite resulting from a military occupation, was far more peaceful than those that occurred in other colonial territories, today transformed into countries with which Portugal has excellent relations," he says.

The 50th anniversary of Goa’s decolonisation coincides ironically with 500 years of the Portuguese arrival here in 1910. Several Portuguese institutions will be joining hands to commemorate the 500 years with a major international academic symposium on contemporary Goa and its history to be held at Lisbon’s Catholic University. In November last year, the Portuguese training vessel Sagres on a voyage to commemorate 500 years of the Portuguese arrival at the Orient and the Far East, drew strong protests from freedom fighters and saffron groups after it berthed at Mormugao harbour.

“If the visit of the Portuguese vessel ‘Sagres’ was to commemorate 500 years of the Portuguese arrival in Goa, it was reprehensible,” says Eduardo Faleiro, former union minister for external affairs.


Before calling at Goa, the Sagres had docked at Jakarta where Portuguese Ambassador to Indonesia Carlos Manuel Leitao Frota said the ship’s journey was “not only to celebrate nostalgia, but also to look forward to the future”.  Portugal could have made a beginning with the golden jubilee of Goa’s liberation, but it has chosen not to.

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