21 Apr 2024  |   06:01am IST

Elections, Identity and a pioneer

Sushila Sawant Mendes

We are in the election mode at present. These elections are for the Lok Sabha. There are two narratives in these polls. One is the pro-Modi and the other is anti-Modi narrative. Two M.P’s from Goa may not numerically matter much for the country. Whether it is national elections or local elections, for Goan every election is about our identity and not getting over-whelmed by the national trajectory. Goa is getting urbanized and in a way losing its old charactaer. When Goa was liberated Goa accepted to be part of India rejecting a third current of remaining independent. 

aThere has never been any doubt about his honesty, generosity and sincerity of purpose. During the II World War, when there was a shortage of the most essential commodities, Dr Jack Sequeira ensured that the family firm Agencia e Sequeira sold kerosene and  matchboxes, both scare commodities at the fixed price.

This was a period when political leaders did not embrace politics to make money for not only themselves but for the next three generations to come!

The two main political parties of that time in 1967 on different sides of the political spectrum were the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), under the leadership Goa’s first Chief Minister Dayanand Bandodkar who fought for merger with the large Marathi-speaking State of Maharashtra and the United Goans Party‘s (UGP)—made up of Goencho Pokx, United Front of Goans, Partido Indiano and Goan National Union— was for  a separate status for Goa by not merging with Maharashtra and its manifesto  sought to recognise Konkani as the official language of Goa. The politics of exclusion and hatred for the ‘other’ is a later development. The 1963 electoral victory of MGP had given the party an upper hand to move a resolution in the Assembly for the merger which resulted in the opposition staging a walkout. 

Some say Sequeira is not entitled to claim the title of the ‘Father of Opinion Poll’, the only referendum to be conducted in Independent Indiaa. Each has a right to his or her opinion. The Opinion Poll victory would have not been possible without the efforts of large sections of Goan society or team Goa. However every team always requires a captain. Jak Siker was not only the founder President of the UGP in September 1963, but he was also a leader accepted by the masses. He stood tall and led from the front. He represented the Santa Cruz assembly constituency three times, but lost in his fourth attempt in 1979.Once rejected he never contested again. He belonged to the old order!

It wasn’t easy to get the Centre to agree to an Opinion Poll and it took many back and forth trips to Delhi to put the case for a referendum. Jack Sequeira and Purshottam Kakodkar (who had open access to PM Pandit Nehru) along with others like Alvaro Loyola Furtado, Uday Bhembre, Roque Santana Fernandes and Manohar Rai Sardessai were active participants against merger. Goa’s bard, Ulhas Buyao crusaded against the Sahirs Amar Sheikh and Sable, both imported by the Maharashtra Vilinkaran Samiti of Bombay.

 PM Jawaharlal Nehru had conducted mass meetings in Bombay before 1961 and one in Goa post liberation, where he always reassured the Goans that his government would protect Goa's distinct identity. However he passed away in 1963. The next PM Lal Bahadur Shashtri and the Congress President Kamaraj were convinced by the presentation of Jack Sequeira and others that the assembly results did not reflect the Goan ethos and the Legislative Assembly cannot be permitted to take such a momentum decision as to the future of the State. 

The death of Shashtri also delayed the process and as Maharashtra eyed Belgaum district from Karnataka State, Nijalingappa, the twice elected Congress CM of united Karnataka till April 1968 (also Congress President in 1967) threw his weight against Maharashtra with the Congress Parliamentary Party approving a referendum for Goa. The daughter of the ‘promisor’ as PM Indira Gandhi, got the Goa, Daman & Diu Opinion Poll Act 1966 passed, the only such act to be passed in the history of India. In February 1987, the Official Languages Act was passed by the Goa Assembly facilitating the grant of Statehood by Rajiv Gandhi government. All the three generations of the then ruling “dynasty” contributed towards safeguarding the identity of Goa.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, politicians were bitter ideological foes waging fierce battles in the Assembly attacking each other with the ferocity of a tiger. However, they maintained civility and a cordial relationship outside the house. After a fierce debate in the Assembly, Bhausaheb Bandodkar and Dr Sequeira would relax over a cup of tea and puri bhaji at Café Real. It’s strange that my childhood memory of both these leaders was always with an infectious smile on their faces. I now realise, that with no skeletons in their cupboard to hide, they deserved that smile! 

Nehru’s promise to let Goa chart its own path was finally unfolding as crowds of Goans swarmed to cast their votes. The result was the flower on the ballet paper denoting the merger received 1,38,170 votes, while the two leaves, the symbol to remain a union territory, received 1,72,191 votes. The verdict was for Goa to exist as a separate union territory, and further giving Goa its asmitai (identity).

The way to protect our identity is not to commodity our land. The slogan of the Opinion Poll, Amche Goem amka zai Goa cannot be understood as ‘Goa for Goans’. This is based on very nativist principles. The clarion call at the time of Opinion Poll, was never directed agaainst non-Goans. This time in history resonated with a belief to secure Goa a separate geographical identity by not being merged with Maharashtra and the protection of Konkani. Nativist ideologies have no place as the world is becoming a global village and such villages also need protection. Today’s elected leaders have to frame policies in retaining Goa’s history, culture and geography not commodification of its land. Commerce cannot be the sole criteria for the development of Goa; people’s development needs to go side by side.

We are in a democracy, regimes can change or regimes can be forced to change policy decisions through the vote. Jack de Sequeira was conscious of that and bargained for a vote to secure Goan identity and asmitai. His important lesson in history is that power is always vested in the people and the might of the people will triumph over any political game.

(Sushila Sawant Mendes is a Professor & Author in History and Goa Govt.’s Best Teacher Awardee)


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