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India’s Goa, Goa’s Portugal: Bonds Of History As Strong As Before

Goans continue to take advantage of Portuguese citizenship laws, as India hopes to strengthen its ties with the European Union via the Iberian country’s PM with Goan roots

India’s Goa, Goa’s Portugal: Bonds Of History As Strong As Before
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Goa is a special state with a history it doesn’t share with the rest of India. British rule did not extend to Goa, which had uninterru­pted Portuguese rule for nearly 450 years since 1510, when the Portuguese establi­s­hed their pre­se­nce by defeating the ruler of the Bijapur Sultanate. India’s free­dom movement against Bri­tish colonial rule is not part of the state’s colle­ctive memory.

Goa became an integral part of India in 1961, after the latter sent its army to ‘liberate’ the former. But 450 years of Portuguese occ­u­p­ation have left an ind­elible impact on the cul­ture, cuisine and archite­cture of the tiny state, and giv­es this tou­rist parad­ise a distinct, hard-to-quantify flavour.

In a delicious irony of history, Portugal’s curr­ent Prime Minister Antonio Costa has Goan roots. To the credit of the Portuguese public, their PM’s evid­ent pride in his Goan heritage has not stood in the way of his political asc­en­d­a­ncy. The 60-year-old Cos­ta first became PM in 2015 as the leader of the centre-left Partido Socialista. Nobody expected his government to last, but he survived a minority coal­ition gover­nment for four years with far-left supp­ort, and won a second term in 2019. Calling snap pol­ls in January 30, 2022, he again trounced his opponents and became PM for a third term, with a clear majority. His handling of the pandemic and rollout of vaccines helped Portugal do better than other European coun­tries.

One wing of his family is still living in Margao, whi­le the PM himself was born in Lisbon. His fat­her, Orlando da Costa, was, in fact, a famous anti-­colonial novelist.

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Gaonkar Roots Demonstration in front of the Indian Parliament in 1955. Photograph: Getty Images

Ties between India and Portugal got a fillip during Costa’s three terms as PM. With India gearing up for closer ties with Europe, Portugal’s importance in India’s foreign policy is a given. Delhi and Lisbon have made good use of the PM’s India connection. In 2017, Costa was the chief guest for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

“There is a positive momentum in relati­ons bet­w­een the two countries. The underst­a­nding between PMs Modi and Costa has contri­buted immeasurably to bringing the two countries closer,” says Manish Chauhan, Ind­ia’s ambassador to Portugal. “The Porto Sum­mit between India and the EU in May 2021, which was hosted by Portugal, was a landm­ark event. It brought PM Modi and the leaders of EU+27 together in an unprecedented and histo­ric event, paving the way for more tangible exc­h­an­ges between India and Europe. Our bilateral relationship has continued to deepen even in the mid­st of the pandemic, and the two sides have made much progress on issues such as mig­ration and mobility,” Chauhan adds. He says the two cou­ntries can cooperate and pool resources on “trade, connectivity, tec­h­nology, renewable ene­rgy, tourism, start-ups, digital connectivity and medical supply chains”.

But relations between India and Portugal weren’t always so good, especially just after India’s ind­ependence, when Lisbon refused to give up its claims on Goa. India established diplomatic relations with Por­tugal in 1949, two years after it won freedom from the British. But soon, relati­ons tur­ned sour over Portugal’s continued “occ­u­pat­ion” of Goa. India’s PM Jawaharlal Nehru ord­e­red neg­otiations with Portugal to give up Goa. But when it was caught in a deadlock, India and Portugal deci­ded to cut off diplom­atic ties in September 1955. In 1961, India sent in its Army to liberate Goa. Sin­ce then, Goa has been part of India, which put its ties with Portugal in deep freeze. All through this period, chan­ges were taking place in Portugal, with a movem­ent demanding democracy at home and decolonisation abroad. As it gathered force, Portugal’s relations with India picked up, culmin­ating in a 1974 treaty that led to re-estab­l­ishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

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Gaonkar Roots Portuguese PM Antonio Costa. Photograph: Getty Images

The ‘special relations’ enjoyed by Goans persi­sted even after the state became a part of Ind­ia. People born in Goa before 1961 were regarded as de facto citizens of Portugal through the Nat­ion­a­lity Law 37/81 and additional legislations for all of Lisbon’s former colonies. Portuguese citizenship could also be claimed up to the third generation of descendants of residents in the former colonies. Many Goans used this provision to migrate to Por­tugal, and from there—with EU citizenship—across Europe. Many went to Britain, which was then part of the EU.

According to a MEA report on Portugal, of the 10 million people in the country, the Indian community is estimated at around 70,000, inc­l­uding over 7,000 who are Indian citizens. This is the thi­rd-hi­g­hest number of persons of Ind­ian origin in Eu­r­­ope after the UK and the Netherla­nds. The In­dian community enjoys a special posit­ion in Portugal because of its historical relations with India.

Migration of the community took place in two tranches—before Goa’s liberation, and after. The­­re are others, many of them Gujaratis, who also migrated to Portugal from its former African colonies like Mozambique and Angola.

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‍Marsha De’Souza, 34, is a Goan working at an MNC in Qatar. She has registered for a Portugu­ese passport as a third-generation descendent of Portuguese colonials. Her reason for doing so is simple. “The opportunities are much better if you have an EU passport. Even in Qatar, Weste­rners are better paid than Indians. It opens the doors for better jobs. In Goa today, jobs are sca­rce and not as well paying. Not that I want to lea­­ve Goa, but when I think of working abroad, it is much easier with a Portuguese and EU pas­sport.” She has just begun formalities and hopes to apply next year. “I have mixed feelings,” she admits. “If I app­ly and change my mind, it will be difficult for the next generation.”

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Though she was born long after the Portugu­ese had left Goa, she admits she has great affect­ion for the Portuguese. “They have been incre­di­bly gene­r­ous to the people of Goa and have welco­med us with warmth. Goans have long embraced Portug­uese culture rather than the culture of India.” Was this mostly among Christians? “No, Hindu and Christian Goans share a composite culture, which is different from the rest of India,” she explains.

Joe Broker is a second-generation descendent who opted for a Portuguese passport and used the EU protocol to settle in the UK. Growing up in Ind­ian Goa, his Portuguese speaking and writing skills were not great, precluding job opportunities in Portugal. “If one makes the effort to get into the system, Portugal is welcoming to desc­e­n­dants of its former colonies,” Broker says.  

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Any regrets on leaving Goa? “Yes, nostalgia. But the Portuguese passport opens doors of opportunity,” he adds. No, there is no regret. In fact, he bel­ieves this was the best decision he had made in his life. For the next generation of Portuguese of Goan origin, their old homeland will be a memory.

This is one part of the Goa story. For most of the current generation of Goans, Portuguese rule has no resonance, barring stories retold by elderly relatives.

(This appeared in the print edition as "A Lusophone Route")

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