The liberation of Goa

While Jawaharlal Nehru advised the U.S., the then Soviet Union, and other big powers to abjure force and work towards disarmament, he was himself faced with a dilemma in 1961: whether or not to use force to liberate Goa. It was an agonising decision for a person who adopted the Gandhian approach in international affairs.

After Britain and France left India, it was expected that Portugal would leave too. But Portugal refused. Emphasising that it had been in Goa for centuries, Portugal said that the Goan Catholics would not be safe if it left. Portugal conveniently overlooked the fact over 60% of Goans were Hindus, and many Goan Christians, like the editor Frank Moraes, had a place of honour in Indian public life. Compared to only two lakh Catholics in Goa, there were five million Catholics living peacefully in secular India. Geography, language and nationality bound the people of India with the people of Goa. It was natural that Goa, which had seen a long indigenous freedom movement, should be a part of India.

In the rest of India, people began demanding that Goa be liberated forcibly. In 1955, a satyagraha was launched by the communist and socialist parties for the freedom of Goa. When the satyagrahis entered Goa, the Portuguese opened fire, killing 20 Indians. Nehru imposed an economic blockade, but was not prepared to go further. He hoped that the popular movement in Goa and the pressure of world public opinion would force the hands of the Goan authorities.

It was in 1957, in a letter to Vinoba Bhave, that Nehru first hinted at the possibility of military action. The Goan question came alive when Portugal paid no heed to a UN resolution of December 1960 asking it to indicate when it would grant independence to its colonies in Asia and Africa. In December 1961, Portuguese soldiers in Goa fired at villagers.

Finding that his policy of patience and adherence to international ethics had not yielded results, Nehru decided to free Goa by force. Though advised by American President John F. Kennedy, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and UN Secretary-General U Thant to postpone action, Nehru made up his mind. On December 18, after a long-drawn fight against Indian troops, the Portuguese gave up resistance. The Governor General of Goa, Vassalo e Silva, signed a document of unconditional surrender.

The Western media assailed the action as a display of “Indian hypocrisy”, which represented a breach of international law by a nation that professed non-violence. Though the liberation of Goa by force raised the prestige of the government in India, it adversely affected Nehru’s international image, but only briefly. Kennedy told B.K. Nehru, India’s ambassador to the U.S., that after taking military action in Goa, Nehru may not be able to talk of non-violence as he did before. But Kennedy came to India’s rescue in India’s 1962 conflict with China.

Praveen Davar is a former Army officer, former member of the National Commission for Minorities, and a political analyst

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 7:37:43 PM |

Next Story