On my recent visit to Pondicherry, the contemporary plight of Goa was
constantly being referenced as the cautionary tale that former French India
wanted to avoid at all costs. It is a strategy that has worked well since
decolonization, when Paris cannily played “good imperialist” to contrast
with Portuguese dictator’s Salazar’s deranged intransigence, and managed to
get such an excellent deal from New Delhi that the French flag only finally
came down in 1962, with umpteen benefits for Franco-Indians that Goans can
only dream about.

Today it is the nakedly criminal misgovernance in Goa, and the catastrophic
demographic displacement underway in India’s smallest state, that
stakeholders in Pondicherry seek to circumvent by any means necessary. They
have seen how every environmental, economic, cultural and social advantage
has been ground to smithereens by an incompetent, venal and selfish
political cadre in just a few decades, and justifiably congratulate
themselves for having evaded a similar fate. Again and again, from all
different walks of society, I was told “we’re better off than you because
this place remained a Union Territory. Your first mistake was becoming a

There is perverse irony to this conclusion, which labels democracy the
culprit for Goa’s contemporary plight, because Goans have single-mindedly
sought equality on democratic principle for hundreds of years, starting
from the clear-eyed demands of my fellow-islander from Divar, the first
Indian bishop Dom Matheus de Castro, who upset Portuguese relations with
the Mughal court under Shah Jehan by unstintingly pointing to colonial
discrimination, and kept demanding that Goans should never be treated as
less than anyone else.

This trait horrified the British, who kept the rest of India comfortably
at-heel in their Raj, as you can see in Richard Burton’s entertainingly
bilious 1851 *Goa, and the Blue Mountains; Or, Six Months of Sick Leave*:
“The black Indo-Portuguese is an utter radical. He has gained much by
Constitution, the “dwarfish demon” which sets everybody by the ears at Goa.
Although poverty sends forth thousands of black Portuguese to earn money in
foreign lands, they prefer the smallest competence at home, where equality
allows them to indulge in a favourite independence of manner utterly at
variance with our Ango-Indian notions concerning the proper demeanour of a
native towards a European.”

This week, India has Savarkar on its mind, so it’s useful to revisit the
kind of language that British colonial subject deployed in his famous
petition for mercy in 1913: “If the government in their manifold
beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest
advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government
which is the foremost condition of that progress. I am ready to serve the
Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious
so I hope my future conduct would be. The Mighty alone can afford to be
merciful and therefore where else can the prodigal son return but to the
parental doors of the Government?”

Such craven supplication isn’t exclusive to Savarkar, of course, though it
must be noted many Indians never grovelled to that degree, but contrast
directly to how Francisco Luis Gomes expressed himself in the Portuguese
parliament in 1861, when he roundly denounced slavery on moral grounds, and
refused to countenance inequality in the imperial writ. Look at his letter
to Lamartine, full 50 years before Savarkar’s prostrations: “I was born in
the East Indies, once the cradle of poetry, philosophy and history and now
their tomb. I belong to that race which composed the Mahabharata and
invented chess. But this nation which made codes of its poems and
formulated politics in a game is no longer alive! It survives imprisoned in
its own country. I demand for India liberty and light; as for myself, more
happy than my countrymen, I am free – civis sum.”

Gomes illustrates a curious paradox that defines the singularity of Goan
history. The terrific Lisbon-based historian Ângela Barreto Xavier
summarizes succinctly in her landmark 2022 book, *Religion & Empire in
Portuguese India: Conversion, Resistance, and the Making of Goa*: “the
majority of the population of the villages of the Old Conquests consented
to live under Portuguese imperial rule. This consent was essential for the
invention of Goa as well as for the conservation of Portuguese imperial
power. The manifestations of this consent were not limited to contributing
to the economic, financial and military sustainability of the imperium: the
consent was internalised to the extent that the imperial cause became, for
many, their own.”

This is super-important, because consent is at the heart of democratic
principle, and the facts of our history present a conundrum that is perhaps
best posed in question form. If we accept, per Barretto Xavier, that many
Goans prior to 1961 “stopped seeing themselves as colonized” and saw the
Estado as reflecting their aspirations, then how do we compute the reality
that most Goans today see themselves and their homeland as besieged to
breaking point, on the verge of extinguishment by forces of greed unleashed
precisely under the “freedoms” following “liberation”?

Here, the invaluable Goa University historian Parag Parobo’s 2018 paper *The
State, Networks and Family Raj in Goa* skilfully condenses the relevant
history: “The first election to the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu
was held in 1963, two years after Goa’s liberation from Portuguese rule on
19 December 1961. At that time, the Congress party had launched its
campaign much before the election was announced and was confident of a win
owing to its legacy and Jawaharlal Nehru’s role in the liberation of Goa.
The United Goans Party (UGP) and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP),
created only months before the election, emerged as two important regional

Enter the key player: “Dayanand Bandodkar, a Gomantak Maratha (stereotyped
popularly as devadasi, a caste consolidating social groups skilled in
poetry, song and dance, serving patrons/temples, and women intimately
related to temple rituals) by caste and a mine-owner, led the MGP and
launched its election campaign on the issues of land reforms, the
empowerment of the bahujan samaj—a loose conglomeration of lower castes—and
the merger of Goa with the neighbouring state of Maharashtra.”

Parobo explains that “the UGP was led by Dr Jack de Sequeira, a Catholic
Brahmin landlord who campaigned to counter the merger with Maharashtra and
strove to protect a ‘distinct’ Goan identity. Goa’s first election
surprised not only the Congress—which was not able to win a single seat in
Goa—but also the victorious MGP and brought to power a government driven by
the bahujan samaj and headed by Bandodkar. The UGP was the second-largest
party and Dr Sequeira emerged as the leader of the opposition. The two
would lead their parties again in the 1967 and 1972 elections, to perform
the same responsibilities—government and opposition, respectively.
Bandodkar and Dr Sequeira exercised considerable hold over their parties
through extensive personal networks, and in doing so, perpetrated dynastic

Those initial dynastic politics, although not at the hand of either the
Bandodkars or Sequeiras, accompanied by pernicious feudalism and casteism,
have persisted amongst the foremost banes of democracy in Goa, where it is
a matter of considerable shame that women – who long since leapfrogged
ahead of Goan men in educational and professional attainment – remain
disgracefully under-represented in leadership. Just imagine - there are
three highly qualified Goan women in the UK Parliament at this moment,
including two Cabinet ministers, but only three in our entire state
legislature, and all of those have minor responsibilities (at best) besides
owing their seats to “strongmen” spouses.

Even worse is the openly criminal nexus between Goa’s politicians and
bureaucrats, and unscrupulous special interests – casinos, real estate,
destructive mass-market tourism – that has rapidly brought democratic Goa
to its knees. Parobo again: “The second phase of family raj in Goa begins
with the attainment of statehood on 30 May 1987. From a Union Territory
comprising a 30-seat assembly, Goa became a state with an enlarged 40-seat
assembly. Statehood enhanced the administrative hold of politicians over
the state. The advent of a neoliberal economic regime that began in the
1990s created new opportunities for economic control over the resources of
the state. Ostensibly, the state has withdrawn from the economy through
policies of delicensing and removing barriers to private sector and
de-reservation. However, the state’s control has been relocated by its hold
over resources such as land, raw materials, credit, entry into formerly
reserved sectors and a favourable interpretation of regulations. Goa
illustrates the pro-business state which is more of a facilitator of
private businesses, rather than an overseer of a larger market where
competitive market dynamics determine the allocation of resources.”

There are pro-business states run responsibly (see Tamil Nadu) but that has
not happened in Goa, where governance has instead been reduced to callous
pimping of everything the Goans cherish. Would it have been different if
statehood hadn’t been achieved? In my opinion it’s a blasphemous
suggestion, because previous generations have striven for freedom and
equality on sacred democratic principles. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied
we have reached a desperate juncture despite democracy and statehood, with
rogue politicians and their cronies running roughshod against the will and
interests of their own constituencies.

It’s difficult to figure out what might rescue Goa before all is lost, but
we cannot shy away from acknowledging the comprehensive dereliction of duty
that we are witnessing from the elected “leadership”. That plight has been
clear for many years, as we were reminded by the High Court of Bombay at
Goa in its 2018 judgement against re-starting mining: “we are surprised at
the vehemence at which the State has asserted the right of the mining lease
holders. We got a feeling that the dividing line was blurred. A neutral,
balanced and measured response by the State would have been more
appropriate and commensurate with its role. This sharp contrast in the
State response in respect of these two ends of the mining spectrum, the
Mining Affected and the Mining Beneficiaries, is too stark for us not to
notice. We write it here because it pains our conscience.”

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