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Goa comes home

Portuguese prisoners of war: At the Indian Prison camp at Vasco de Gama, Goa in 1961. Photo: The HIndu Photo Library  

On December 18, 1961, Operation Vijay was put into action. Indian troops crossed the border into Goa. There was sustained land, sea and air strikes for more than 36 hours, resulting in the unconditional surrender of Portuguese forces on December 19.

Why was it that even in 1961, almost 14 years after Independence, India had to fight the Portuguese for Goa?

As you all know, Goa is a small state on the western coast of India. Despite its size it was a major trade centre and had been attracting seafarers, merchants and traders for a long time.

Because of its prime location, Goa also attracted influential dynasties like the Mauryas, the Shatavahanas, the Bhojas and so on.

In 1350 AD, Goa was conquered by the Bahmani Sultanate. But, in 1370, the Vijayanagar empire re-conquered the area. They held on to it for almost a century. In 1469, the Bahmani Sultanate conquered it again.

Enter Portugal

There was more change awaiting Goa. In 1510, Portguese admiral Afonso de Albuquerque attacked Goa. But Ismail Adil Shah, the ruler at that time, was able to defeat him. Undaunted, Albuqueque returned with a reinforced fleet and took possession.

With Goa under him, Albuquerque agreed to lower yearly dues and taxes. The first Portuguese mint in the East was set up. He left most of the customs and constitutions of the 30 villages untouched, abolishing only sati. Goa’s senate or municipal chamber maintained direct contact with the king of Portugal.

Although Goa flourished in the early years of the Portuguese conquest, the 1600s saw a gradual decline. During the Second World War, Goa remained neutral, like Portugal.

In 1947, India became Independent and all states had acceded to the union, but Goa continued to remain under the control of Portugal. The then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru insisted that Goa and a few other minor Portuguese holdings be turned over to India, but Portugal refused.

In 1954, unarmed Indians took over the land-locked enclaves of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, that lie between Gujarat and Maharatra. Portugal reported this to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The final judgement given in 1960 held that Portugal had the right to the enclaves! But, they also stated that India had a right to deny Portugal access to the enclaves over Indian Territory.

On September 1, 1955, the Indian consulate in Goa was closed. Nehru said that his government would not tolerate the Portuguese presence in Goa. India instituted a blockade against Goa, Daman and Diu, to force the Portuguese out.

In the mean time, there were also numerous representations to the Portuguese Salazar regime and attempts to highlight the issue before the international community.

But, as the status quo was maintained, on December 18, 1961 the Indian Military invaded Goa, Daman and Diu, amidst Portuguese resistance. It was called “Operation Vijay”. The Portuguese armed forces had been instructed to either defeat the enemy or die. Hence, though a cease-fire had been declared, no official truce was signed.

The Portuguese army offered a feeble resistance, as they lacked heavy weapons, and fielding 3,300 soldiers in front of a heavily armed Indian force of over 30,000 troops was impossible.

India formally annexed the territories, and Portugal’s control of its colonies ended in 1961.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2021 8:23:52 PM |

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