Wednesday, March 23, 2017

Reminiscences of Opinion Poll

When the talk of Opinion Poll was taking shape, I was appointed as the Head Master of the local school (Mae de Deus) in July 1966.

06 Jan, 2017, 11:59PM IST

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 I was looking forward to this event as I was 21 years old and eligible to vote.  
When the scheduled date was announced, I was thrilled, more particularly because I was going to vote for the first time and that too, to decide the destiny and future of Goa. However a thought was haunting me so as to what role I should play, to make my first voting a memorable one. Seeing my students in the school, some of who were of my age and what was the future of these students if Goa was to be merged with Maharashtra. With this in mind, I decided to work towards keeping Goa’s identity for future generations.
I consulted one of my friends who was very influential in Government circles as to what we should do? I was shocked when he told me that merger with Maharashtra will bring us added benefits as the State was a progressive and prosperous one and that we will have High Courts etc.  I then put a counter question to him as he was running a General Stores shop. What if tomorrow I ask you to give your shop to me as you cannot run the shop effectively and profitably. Will you give it to me? He said No! How can this happen? Then I told him that Goa is a tiny place and we can run it efficiently, than merging it with Maharashtra. He was not convinced. Then I told him that I will work against the merger and you can do as you please.
Every evening, after working hours I would go around my village Corjuem and mobilise people. At first the response was lukewarm. Gradually as the day of Opinion Poll grew closer together with women and young people, we would take out rallies shouting “Vote konala”! “Vote Don Panala!”  “Amchem Goem amkam zai!” “Down with merger!”  In this respect I must pay my tributes to the courageous women of Corjuem who are no more today but have left back legacies. They are Mrs Ana Felicia Alvares, who has left an indelible mark not only in Corjuem but also in Aldona and Moira. Mrs Claudina Castellino, Mrs. Ana Paula Lobo , her sister Mrs Catherine Pereira, Mrs Carmelina Fernandes, Mrs Irene Alvares, Mrs Milagrina Mascarenhas e Fernandes , Mrs Preciosa Pereira, Mrs Juliana Soares  and many whose names I do not remember. 
We formed small groups, went house to house to educate the people about voting and how they should vote as they were ignorant of voting systems. Finally the D- day arrived 16.01.1967. As I was appointed as the Polling Agent in Corjuem village, I was the first to vote and the feeling was scintillating and ecstatic. As instructed by the officials of the United Goans Party, I made sure that the ballot boxes were sealed securely by putting my signature and seal of UG Party given to me.
Voting was by and large peaceful. At exactly 4:55pm, I reminded the presiding Officer that the people standing the queue should be given slips to vote as they were in the queue at 5 pm. We then started issuing the slips, but the officer started from the front of the queue. I told him to start from the last person in the queue. He listened to me and started issuing the slips from the last. As we were about to finish issuing the slips, over 30 people came running and stood in line. The Presiding officer wanted to issue the slips to them. I objected telling the officer that the time was 5.05 pm and the people were not eligible to vote and they came beyond the timings of polling. They were all pro-mergerists. This made them very angry. They wanted to teach me a lesson after I came out of the polling booth. 
I was not aware of the happenings outside the polling centre as I was busy inside seeing that the ballot boxes were sealed securely and put in sacks which were also sealed and secured. I waited inside the polling station till the area officer came to collect the boxes along with UG Party officials. When I came out large number of my supporters came and surrounded me and were escorting me to take me home. I told them there was no need for it, but they would not listen. My friend Mr Patrick Mendes, late Vicentine Fernandes and Cupertino Correia instead of taking me home took me to the house of Ms Bibiana Fernandes and told her and her aged mother not to allow me to go out of the house. At around 10 p.m I heard the Chapel bells tolling, not only in Corjuem, but also Carona, Calvim etc. I knew there was trouble and I begged my hosts to allow me to go, but they would not allow me, instead  Bibiana’s mother fondly called “Shamuli” held me by my hand and would not allow me even to stand.
Next morning I came to know that there was a clash between mergerists and my supporters but were controlled by Dr. Filipino Lobo, Mr Emmanuel D’Souza,  M. Bar Manuel  and others.
On the first day of voting the mergerists were leading by about 11000 votes. It was a tense moment. On the second day their lead increased to over 20,000, but by 4pm when the counting of Salcette started the lead dwindled and on the third day “DON PANNA” won by a huge margin of 34021 votes. However the enthusiasm to celebrate was dashed as the Government clamped Section 144 throughout Goa.
I am writing my reminiscences after 50 years so that the younger generation after reading this article will be inspired to work selflessly in the coming election to elect not self-centered people, but elect those candidates who have their heart and will to protect our Bangarachem Goa.

(The author is  retired Principal of Rosary 
Higher Secondary School, 
Navelim, Salcette)