On Wednesday, Antonia Costa, Portugal’s Prime Minister of Goan-Indian descent arrived in Goa for a visit to the land of his forefathers in a somewhat liberating twist to this region’s colonial tale that stretched for 451 years from 1510.
Costa, 55, the son of Goan poet and writer Orlando Costa, will be in Goa for two days, and will take time off from his packed official schedule to visit his ancestral home in Margao, 35 km from capital Panjim, where his first cousins and their families still live.
His official schedule is a mix of state, and cultural events. It includes visits to the Mangueshi temple in Ponda, the Old Goa Church Complex, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and a walk in Panjim’s Latin quarter of Fontainhas, which houses the office of the Fundacao Oriente, a Portuguese cultural foundation that organises cultural and artistic events in India. Prime Minister Costa is also scheduled to inaugurate a new Portuguese language training institute in the state capital named after Portuguese national poet Camoes.
He is also scheduled to meet Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar and Governor Mridula Sinha.
At a civic felicitation, Costa is to be presented with a published English translation of his late father’s work. The older Costa spent his youth in Goa before migrating to Portugal for higher studies where he later settled.
Attempt to polarise?
What created some embarrassment to the state government ahead of Costa’s visit was a statement by leaders of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party that the Portuguese premier should apologise to Goa for the destruction Portugal’s retreating army caused during the Indian take over of Goa in 1961, and for the damage the former colonial nation caused to this region.
The party was until last month part of the ruling coalition in the state along with the Bharatiya Janata Party. It severed relations in order to contest the February 4 elections as part of a hardline saffron coalition with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh breakaway Goa Suraksha Manch and the Shiv Sena.
The statement, which was made by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party’s chief ministerial aspirant, Ramkrishna Sudhin Dhavlikar, is seen as a move to polarise discourse in the state ahead of the elections.
Dhavlikar also reiterated his attack on the Portuguese consular office in Goa, which he blamed for issuing passports to Goans, and said it should be shifted out of the state.
The statements, however, elicited sharp reactions from political parties and some freedom fighters.
Contesting their view of nationalism, freedom fighter Alvaro Pereira, who was interred for five years during the freedom struggle for Goa, said: “Some people feel only they are nationalistic. India’s relations with Portugal have been set right in 1974 by the late socialist party leader Mario Soares and the two countries now enjoy friendly relations. The British colonialists did far worse damage, but nothing is said of them.”
India and Portugal restored diplomatic relations by a 1974 treaty when a new democratic government came to power after the overthrow of the authoritarian regime that ran a repressive colonial and domestic policy.
Despite this, Goa’s freedom fighters – a vast number of whom have been given pensions and multiple benefits post liberation – have traditionally been divided on matters of Portugal’s cultural footprint in Goa.
A small but vocal saffron-leaning section have opposed Portuguese language teaching in the state, the restoration of Luso-Indian heritage architecture, and the setting up of Luso cultural institutions in the state.
Other freedom fighters like Pereira rue that the “personal opinions” of a few of their number have come to be erroneously projected in the media as the voice of all the freedom fighters, many of whom are now getting on in age.
‘MGP must apologise instead’
Prabhakar Timble of the regional Goa Forward Party said that the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party “with its right wing Sanatanist ideology”, was “in a subtle way targeting Goa’s Catholic population, by raking up the Portuguese passport issue. But don’t they know that seeking passports is a pure economic compulsion, and that all communities are taking Portuguese passports today?”
Timble added: “If raking up the past and seeking apologies for wrongs is okay, then upper caste Hindus should daily apologise to lower caste Hindus for the torture they have suffered over the centuries.”
Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shantaram Naik also scoffed at Dhavlikar’s stance, but said that the leader had the right to voice his personal opinion.
“It is left to people to judge what significance the statements of a local leader of a small regional party has, when they make a demand of international significance,” said Naik. “I feel though that if apologies are due to Goans, then the MGP should apologise to Goans for trying to merge Goa into Maharashtra in the sixties.”