January 16 is celebrated in Goa every year as the Asmitai Dis (Identity Day). After Liberation Pandit Nehru had declared “we want to maintain the separate identity of Goa, its separate individuality... we have no interest in changing or surpassing that identity’. In Goa, itself, there was two opposite points of view. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party wanted merger of Goa into Maharashtra whilst the United Goans Party and the Congress held that Goa should not merge into Maharashtra. The arguments in favour of merger were that Goa was too small to administer itself, its effective administration would be possible only if it were part of a larger State and furthermore that Goa had strong historical and cultural ties with Maharashtra. The arguments against merger were that Goa had its own identity, Konkani was an independent language and not a dialect of Marathi and that, in case of merger, Goa would be reduced to a backwater district of Maharashtra. Parag Porobo who wrote a book on our first Chief Minister Dayanand Bandodkar says “Bandodkar may not have been that keen on merger and tried putting it off during his first term. But others in the MGP were much more insistent and forced the issue”.
The MGP, which had formed the State Government, felt that this matter should be decided by voting on the floor of the Assembly. This was strongly opposed by the UGP and the Congress. Thereafter, on January 16, 1967, during the premiership of Smt. Indira Gandhi, an Opinion Poll was conducted in Goa. It was for the first time in political history that such a referendum was held in Independent India and possibly in the world as referendums are generally held in autonomous regions who are seceding from a country due to various differences.
The Opinion Poll went against the demand for merger. If Goa had merged into Maharashtra it would have been one of the smallest districts of that State. Most districts of Maharashtra have a population larger than Goa. The administration of Goa would have been headed by a District Collector and not by its own representatives. Several significant benefits available to the States would not have been available to Goa. Goa is presently the State with the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. This would not have been possible if Goa had merged into Maharashtra.
After the verdict of the Opinion Poll, the Congress and the United Goans Party demanded statehood for Goa. The MGP supported this demand. In March 1971, Shri A. N. Naik of the United Goans Party brought a Private Member’s Resolution in the Goa Legislative Assembly demanding statehood for Goa. It was approved unanimously. Sometime thereafter, Shri Purushottam Kakodkar of the Congress introduced in the Lok Sabha a Bill demanding Statehood for Goa and in October 1976, Shri R. L. Pankar of the MGP moved a Private Member’s Resolution in the Legislative Assembly with the same demand. It was also passed unanimously. Dr. Jack de Sequeira, Law Minister Pratapsingh Rane, Sri A. N. Naik, Dr. L. P. Barbosa, Chandrakant Chodankar, Roque Santana Fernandes, Punaji Achrekar, Teotonio Pereira, Luta Ferrao, Leo Velho, Dr. Silverio D’Souza, Jagdish Rao and this writer participated in the debate. Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Smt. Sashikala Kakodkar, said: “In the early years after Liberation the MGP stood for merger with Maharashtra and fought for it through the Opinion Poll in a democratic way. The verdict of the Poll went against the merger. The MG Party accepted the people's verdict because it believes in the wisdom of the electorate. Goa, Daman and Diu are and should be what the people of this territory want to make of it.” Statehood was granted to Goa in May 1987, under the premiership of Shri Rajiv Gandhi.
There is presently a demand to install the statue of Dr. Jack Sequeira in the Goa Legislative Assembly complex. Dr. Jack Sequeira was the President of the United Goans Party, the first Leader of Opposition and a prominent leader of the movement for Opinion Poll and for Statehood. The statue of Shri Dayanand Bandodkar, our first Chief Minister and the President of the MGP, is already at that site. Shri Purushottam Kakodkar, used his personal equations with the Nehru family to lobby hard for the referendum with the Central leadership. Purushottam Kakodkar participated in the Quit India Movement and was imprisoned for it. He also took part in the Goa Liberation Movement and in the Civil Disobedience Movement launched by Ram Manohar Lohia in Goa in 1946. The Portuguese colonial administration deported him and kept him in detention. After being released from detention in Portugal in 1956, Kakodkar came back to Goa and set up an ashram in Margao. The ashram was used to disguise the freedom movement and many freedom fighters took refuge in the ashram. The police soon discovered the true purpose of the ashram and closed it. After Goa's liberation Kakodkar was the head of the Goa unit of the Congress Party.
Prominent leaders of the movement for Opinion Poll and Statehood were also Dr. Alvaro Loyola Furtado, Ravindra Kelekar, Shabu Desai, Urminda Lima Leitao, Chandrakant Keni and Uday Bhembre among others.
In 2011, I had arranged for a portrait of Dr. T. B. da Cunha, known as the Father of Goa’s Freedom Movement, and at my instance it was unveiled in the Central Hall of Parliament by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha on December 19, 2011, the Golden Jubilee of Goa’s Liberation, in the presence of the Prime Minister, Union Ministers, Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, Congress President and all Goan MPs. The portrait is now on permanent display at the Parliament House along with those of the foremost Indian leaders. This is the only portrait of a Goan leader in Parliament House.
I had requested the then Speaker of the Goa Legislative Assembly that the portrait of Dr. T. B. da Cunha as well as of other leaders of our Freedom Movement should be displayed in our Legislative Assembly. He wrote to me that necessary steps would be taken in this regard. However, so far nothing has been done in this matter and it should be done now. It would be in the fitness of things if the Goa Legislative Assembly displays in its premise’s panels depicting the Freedom Struggle since the inception of the colonial rule in 1510.
Selected writings of T. B. da Cunha were published by Dr. T. B. da Cunha Memorial Committee in 1961 under the caption “Goa’s Freedom Struggle”. The book is presently out of print. The Art and Culture Department of the Government of Goa should reprint it and it should be in the curriculum of our schools and colleges so as to provide a much-needed sense of direction to our society.
(The author is a former Union Minister)