Herald: Bem vindo Sua Excelência, Goa vos saúda
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Bem vindo Sua Excelência, Goa vos saúda

11 Jan 2017 03:34am IST
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11 Jan 2017 03:34am IST
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On a two-day visit Portuguese PM Antonio Costa landed in Goa late Tuesday night; he will visit his ancestral home in Margao tomorrow

Alexandre Moniz Barbosa


Sua Excelência, sejas bem vindo a Goa, sua terra paterna, a terra onde o seu pai viveu, e onde ainda-se há pessoas que o-recordam. Goa vos saúda, hoje e sempre.

Cristiano Ronaldo may have a worldwide fan following, but Goan hearts have been captivated by another Portuguese man. And so January 11 and 12 are going to be special days in Goa. The solemnity associated with the visit of a Prime Minister of a foreign land, will be tinged with emotion and a sense of pride. As he steps onto Goan soil, the Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Costa, will be stepping into history. The ties between Goa and Portugal go back 500 years, and a long colonial period that lasted all of four-and-a-half centuries. Yet, this is not the first time that a leader of democratic Portugal will be visiting the land that their country once ruled. What makes this visit extraordinary, is the person, as much as the position he holds.

For, Antonio Luis dos Santos da Costa is no ordinary Portuguese Prime Minister visiting a former colony. Costa has Goan roots, a family home that still stands in Margao, on the Rua Abade Faria where his father, the famed writer Orlando da Costa (1929-2006), grew up. Orlando the writer was known in Goa, long before Antonio made his political bow. Orlando was born in Lourenco Marques, today Maputo in Mozambique, but his growing up years were spent in Margao. He later went to Portugal, where he met and married journalist Maria Antonia Palla and of this union was born Antonio in Lisbon, a few months before Goa was liberated from colonial rule. He grew up in Portugal and, given the pro-democracy role his parents played during the last years of the Salazar dictatorship, it was no surprise that Antonio plunged into politics. 

Costa’s rise to the Palacio de Sao Bento in Lisbon, Portugal, was not dramatic, except for the events of the final few weeks before he actually moved in. He has served in various positions and the career graph could lead only to that one coveted position - the Prime Minister of Portugal. But he may not yet have achieved everything in politics. Portuguese Prime Ministers have gone on to be elected Presidents, and at this point of time age and opportunity are definitely on Costa’s side. 

Before he assumed leadership of the Socialist Party in 2014, Costa was a name already being whispered in Lisbon’s corridors of power as a potential Prime Minister. He had served in the previous governments of the Socialist Party and quit when the party fielded him for the European Parliamentary elections, which of course he won. Where perhaps other politicians may have found themselves exiled from the mainstream of Portuguese politics, Costa was not sidelined. He returned to Portuguese politics when, again at the party behest, he contested and won the elections to become Mayor of Lisbon. 

That is no ordinary position in Portuguese politics as former mayors of Lisbon had already gone on to become Prime Ministers and even Presidents of the Iberian nation. After two terms as mayor, where he turned around the capital city during a period when economic recession had set in, there was no doubt that Costa had set his eyes firmly on the Prime Ministerial position, something that the party did support.

In the winter of 2013 the Portuguese media ran news reports of Costa making a possible bid for the leadership of the party by challenging the then party General Secretary Antonio Seguro in the party polls. After a couple of weeks of intense speculation, Costa had dropped out of the race that never was, but the waters had been tested and it only needed the ripe moment for him to make the move. It came in the autumn of the following year, but before that he won a third term as Mayor of Lisbon in October 2013.

The stage for the challenge for the leadership of the Socialist Party was set, and in May of 2014 he threw down the gauntlet to Seguro. Costa took the unprecedented route of primaries to decide who would lead the Party in the following year’s elections and hence be the claimant to the Prime Minister’s post if the polls brought the Socialist Party to victory. In the September 2014 primaries he won by a landslide, but his gamble appeared to have been lost when in the October 2015 elections, though his Socialist Party emerged as the single largest party, the President gave the ruling coalition the first chance to prove its majority in the general assembly, though it did not have enough seats to claim a majority. 

The expectation was that Costa’s Socialist Party would extend support to the coalition of Pedro Passos Coelho, which despite four years of austerity measures and salary and pension cuts had emerged with more seats than the Socialist Party. But when talks between the parties failed there was no chance of the Passos Coelho government continuing in power and 11 days later the government fell, bringing the Socialist Party back to power and installing Antonio Costa in the Palacio Sao Bento.

And now, just over a year later he has come to the home of his father, only his second visit to Goa. Yet, as he strolls through the narrow streets of Fontainhas, Costa could be excused if, for a brief instance he imagines he is walking the streets of Alfama. The street signs are made out in azulejos, the architecture is Portuguese, and if he pricks his ears he is sure to hear Portuguese being spoken and perhaps the twang of the guitar accompanied by the soulful mourns of the Portuguese fado being sung. Should he sniff a little he may possibly get a whiff of bacalhau cooking or feijoada simmering, and then perhaps he may even break into a fado of Amalia Rodrigues and sing cheira bem, cheira Lisboa (its smells good, its smells Lisbon). For, however, much one may try, four-and-a-half centuries of foreign influence cannot be swept under the carpet and remain hidden, nor can five-and-a-half decades of liberation wipe it out. 

Yet the red fertile soil of Goa, will always remain Goa, and Costa, should he feel like it, could just take off his shoes and socks and let his feet rest on this soil that his father once trod on, and where Orlando was first inspired to his writing career. Goa welcomes its son, and this soil of the old home town could rub a little luck to Costa’s career.

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