Friday 31 March 2023

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Who criticises Nehru vis-a-vis Goa & Why?


The ultra-nationalists believe Nehru wasted 14 long years; while another section of Goan society who believes the Portuguese should have continued in Goa – both criticise Nehru.

As we usher in the 60th anniversary of Goa’s liberation, it is important to analyse roles played by leaders and people, especially Pandit Nehru amidst the present controversy that he alone was responsible for the 14 years delay in Goans not being able to unfurl the Indian Tri-colour on Goan soil. Nehru believed since 1946 that, “Goa was a small pimple on the beautiful face of India and it would not take much time to pinch once India gained independence”. Being fully involved in the fight against British Imperialism, Nehru became engaged in the Goan question after 1947, addressing conferences, rallies, seminars, meeting delegations from Goa and above all making important policy statements on the floor of the house.

Today, much to the chagrin of lovers of history, historiography seems to be influenced by the colour of political ideology. Leaders are either humanised or demonized depending on which side of the political spectrum they belong. Historians however cannot view the happenings of the past based on the colour of the spectacles they wear. It is in the public domain that some sections have condemned the utterances made by some political leaders who have publically blamed Nehru for the delay in sending the Indian army to liberate Goa. It is therefore the need of the hour to place on record the contribution of Nehru to the history of this small State.

Early links visit to Portuguese Goa

One needs to understand Nehru’s links with Goa down the history, before rejecting or accepting his politics. In 1929, he played a key role along with TB Cunha in the repatriation of Kunbi labourers who were enticed by agents of the British tea planters of Assam and made to work like slaves. Nehru came to Goa on 9th February 1937, when his plane stopped for refuelling at Sada aerodrome near Vasco, en route from Bombay to Trivandrum where he had to address a meeting as President of the Indian National Congress. The prohibitory orders of the Portuguese government prevented Nehru from addressing or accepting flowers from the hundreds of Goans who thronged to the aerodrome. This event was reported by the then newspapers O Ultramar, O Heraldo, O Bharat and Journal de India. The impact of this event can be gauged from the fact that on 11th February, the Chefe do Cabinette Jose Carneiro de Souza e Faro, warned the authorities in Vasco to take precautions in case Nehru stopped again in Goa on his way back to Bombay. Access to the airport road and the gathering of people in the vicinity was prohibited.

Nehru, Lohia Politics

In reply to Lohia’s press statement of 8th July 1946, Nehru expressed his inability to involve with the Goa question as the INC was too engrossed with the Indian struggle. The Nehru Lohia conflict is legendary, wherein Lohia openly attacked the elitism of the Nehruvian statist project of modernisation. Lohia extended his sharp criticism of Nehru to the leadership of sterile Marxists. This aggressive approach may have led to not only Lohia’s political marginalization in the first two decades after India’s independence but also created negative perceptions among freedom fighters in Goa about Nehru. Julião Menezes has reported in January 1948 in the Gomantak (an organ of the Praja Socialist Party) of a “bogus INC Mission”, led by B B Borkar and S P Silva which met Nehru. How does one expect the followers of Lohia in Goa to gel with the INC if the Socialists and the Congress had ideological differences at the national level? The INC however passed a resolution against the high handedness of the Portuguese Government.

On 15th August 1947, Nehru in a message to the press expressed his anguish of the fact that many could not share in the freedom that had come, although they were a part of India and added that they would remain to be so whatever may happen. Goa has a linguistic and geographical identity, alongside a cultural and emotional bond. This fact was recognised by the national leaders as early as in December 1948, when the INC passed a resolution that if a change over took place Goan culture and institutions would be maintained within the larger frame work of free India. It is pertinent to understand that respect for the unique Goan identity could never be doubted once Goa was liberated from the colonial yoke.

Nehru had made it clear that his government’s policy was to settle this issue by peaceful means. A Portuguese Consul was stationed in Bombay and the Indian counterpart in Panaji. On 27th February 1950, Nehru’s government initiated negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power, however on 14thAugust; Nehru announced that this was rejected. On 6thDecember1950, he lamented that all these years we have reasoned argued and used peaceful methods, without any results. Nehru was considered the leader of the Non-aligned bloc and the author of the Panchasheela or peaceful co-existence of nations. Committing military aggression meant that Nehru would be criticised of not practicing what he preached.  Dadra and Nagar Haveli were liberated in July and August 1954 respectively, with the Azad Gomantak Dal at the vanguard.

The years 1954/55 were the years of the Satyagraha movements led by the Goa Vimochan Sahayak Samiti. Nehru’s government fearing a backlash on innocent and unarmed Satygrahis put a ban on Indians entering Goa. The resulting deportations to Portugal and massacres did not provoke Nehru and he believed non-violence would solve this issue. The Portuguese then sealed the borders and cut off the rail links. In response the Nehru government imposed an economic blockade.

Nehru in a debate in the Lok Sabha criticized Salazar’s argument the Goa was an overseas province of Portugal and argued that even NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) could not be forced to deal with the problem. Two mass rallies were addressed by Nehru in Bombay on 2nd October 1955 and 4th June1956 only on the Goa issue. The Goan Tribune printed the entire speech verbatim. He reiterated that no coercion would be used to join India.

In March 1961, Nehru met a delegation of the Goan Political Convention in Delhi. This delegation had representatives of different sections of the Goan community in Goa and in India like, Adv Louis Mendes (my father) as the representative of the Goan Clubs Federation. Some other members were Lambert Mascarenhas, Bertha Menezes Bragança, George Vaz, Vishwanath Lawande and Fr H Mascarenhas. The Deccan Chronicle of 18th December 2011, in a report “50 years back”, spoke of Nehru meeting Adv. Louis Mendes and assuring him that “the appropriate action would be taken at the appropriate time”.

In October 1961, the seminar of the Portuguese Colonial Possessions resulted in the African leaders requesting Nehru “to show the way”, so that their freedom would follow. At the Chowpatty rally in Bombay the same month for the first time Nehru spoke of the need of using “other methods” to solve the problem. Thereafter in November, Nehru visited USA, Yugoslavia and Egypt. The Defence Minister, Krishna Menon was responsible for the final decision of Operation Vijay but it could not be done without Nehru’s approval.

The ultra-nationalists believe Nehru wasted 14 long years; while another section of Goan society who believes the Portuguese should have continued in Goa – both criticise Nehru. If both the groups are against Nehru’s decisions perhaps he can be seen as a non-partisan player who did it right as he believed in peaceful negotiations and avoiding bloodshed at all costs. The dynamics and politics of the liberation struggle of Goa had to consider the national and international geo-politics of that period and therefore we need to refrain today from passing value judgements that suits our ideological stances. This would demean the very essence of a great and collective anti-colonial struggle which also criticised ideology but respected the person.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Dr Sushila Sawant Mendes

Dr Sushila Sawant Mendes is a senior faculty in History, researcher and an author. She is specialised in History of Goa, History of Ancient and Medieval India and Indian Culture & Heritage. Besides several research papers, she has penned down a book on the life of Luis de Menezes Braganza. Dr Mendes is also a member of Indian History Congress. She has also played a leading role in Goa’s historic Students’ Movement.


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