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How Nehru and Congress had betrayed Goa: Declined to send armed forces, denied support to liberation efforts

Besides not letting the army perform its task to liberate fellow Indians from foreign rule, Nehru had also opposed other revolutionaries from India who wanted to join the struggle at Goa.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was extending his motion of thanks for the President’s speech in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, he touched upon the often neglected episode of Liberation of Goa from the Portuguese in 1961. While addressing the chair on the occasion of completion of sixty years of Goan Independence and its accession to India, PM Modi made glaring remarks on why the then PM Nehru hesitated to use armed forces for helping the revolutionaries in Goa with their struggle.

Speaking about the armed revolutionary struggle which finally led to the liberation of Goa in 1961, Modi minced no words while criticising the Congress for its derailed decision-making capabilities which resulted in huge losses of a large number of Goan civilians who wanted to accede to India. He said, “This year as we celebrate sixty years of Independent Goa, I want to say, had Sardar Patel been allowed to frame a policy for Goa like Hyderabad or Junagarh, Goa would not have to wait after fifteen years of the Indian independence to liberate itself.”

PM Modi quoted from Nehru’s speech, highlighting how he had alienated his own countrymen and had tried to shame the Satyagrahis struggling for the liberation of Goa.

Further quoting the media reports of the time, he said that then PM Nehru was worried more about his personal image in the world and hence didn’t use force to liberate Goa from Portuguese colonial rule. He said, “Even when bullet shots were fired at Satyagrahis in Goa when Indian people were being fired at for fighting for India, Prime Minister Nehru had the audacity to not send the army for Goa.” According to Modi, Nehru had declined to help even the peaceful protestors for which freedom fighters in Goa had faced the colonial brunt for an additional fifteen years.

While quoting Nehru from his 1955 speech from Red Fort, PM Modi said, “There should be no fear that we will do a military operation in Goa. There is no force in and around Goa. The people think by disrupting the situation, they can convince us to send our forces there, but we won’t budge,” Insinuating the Satyagrahis who were joining the struggle in Goa from all corners of the country, are lawless elements who are disrupting the peace. Perplexed at the language used against his own countrymen, PM Modi asserted that the people of Goa would never forget what Nehru and Congress did to them.

Nehru’s lethargy in taking action for Goa

There are many speculations as to why Goa had to wait for so long to get itself liberated from the colonial rule of Portuguese alongside Dadra and Nagar Haveli and French rule in Pondicherry. What remains a fact is Nehru’s reluctance to use armed forces in operations against the foreign rulers. Initially, Nehru was in favour of using diplomatic channels to further the cause, in order to keep his identity as a ‘peace-loving’ global leader. When the diplomatic battle of gaining support from allies continued to fail, Nehru’s close aide VK Krishna Menon, the defence minister finally decided to send the army to Goa on December 11, 1961.

The Indian Government’s sudden decision to employ force owed to Menon’s election candidature against JB Kriplani in the 1962 Lok Sabha elections from North Bombay. The annexation Goa worked in favour of Menon while he won the elections defeating Kriplani. But it was Menon and not Nehru who sent the armies to help the revolutionaries of Goa.

Even while assessing Nehru’s efforts objectively, one would conclude that his over-dependence on diplomacy and perpetual seeking of validation from international platforms did not work in his favour ever. On February 27, 1950, when the Nehru Government asked the Portuguese to open negotiations about the future of Portuguese colonies in India, Portugal asserted that its territory on the Indian subcontinent was not a colony but part of metropolitan Portugal and hence its transfer was ‘non-negotiable’. The Portuguese claimed that India had no rights to this territory because the Republic of India did not exist at the time when Goa came under Portuguese rule.

A newspaper clipping reporting about the timid approach of the Indian Government to solve the Goan problem.

The Portuguese had captured Goa in the Adil Shahi period and continued to rule the territories of Goa, South Konkan and Daman and Diu for around 450 years, even after the British left the Indian Subcontinent. While PM Narendra Modi in his address opined about the role Sardar Patel could have played had he been given the responsibility of Goa, it is time to explore what role he had played before his death in 1950. Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of MK Gandhi has described in his book ‘Patel: A life’ a meeting that took place between top leaders concerning Goa’s situation in 1950. With tightly closed eyes, Patel was hearing all the points which were being made. He rose up to interject suddenly and said, “Want to enter Goa, it’s a matter of mere two hours”. However, Nehru was to decline this proposition and Patel did not interject thence.

Besides not letting the army perform its task to liberate fellow Indians from foreign rule, Nehru had also opposed other revolutionaries from India who wanted to join the struggle at Goa. A newspaper clipping from the late 1960s has reported the All India Congress Committee approving a resolution to call back Satyagrahis (peaceful protestors) to Indian soil. It read, “any entry into Goan soil by Indian Nationals will be inappropriate and even individual Satyagrahas should be avoided”. This was happening when the Goan inquisition was again showing its colours while political prisoners were being beaten up in jails.

Shefali Vaidya, author and researcher on the Goan inquisition, whose father was a revolutionary in the struggle for the liberation of Goa has recounted how Azad Gomantak Dal members were prevented from getting arms and ammunition from India and the Indian Government eventually rendered them helpless.

While going by the diplomatic means to secure the interests of Goa did make sense at a certain time, the call given by Nehru to snub Indian revolutionaries to weaken them does not add up to the puzzle. The Indian Air Force bombed Dabolim airport on December 18 and on the next day the Indian army entered Goa from the south. Facing no resistance whatsoever, by the next evening Goa had been liberated after 5,000 Portuguese armies had surrendered. Even after the episode unfolded, the diplomatic exercises did not bear fruits as many countries in Europe, America, France, China and Great Britain targeted India in the United Nations to stop the Indian army’s operations in Goa.

Nehru and the Congress collectively failed the nation and the people of Goa, resulting in its delayed accession and had actively worked against Indians who were struggling to liberate a chunk of India that was still under foreign rule long after 1947.

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Suyash Sherekar
Suyash Sherekar
Writer, Architect. Negotiating the Present as a Journalist and the Past as a Historical Researcher. News Geek. Writes on Politics and Policy, Design, Culture and Media.

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