Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 972

Goa's liberation and Sri Lanka's crisis

By Janaka Perera – Asian Tribune

Exactly 45 years ago, on December 18-19, 1961, Indian troops marched into Goa, the last of South Asia 's Portuguese colonial strongholds following a lightening air and land attack on Dec. 18. It was the first time the Indian Air Force went into action against a foreign power. The now-defunct Ceylon Observer reported the event as the front page lead news in its late edition the same day. Virtually the entire page was devoted to Operation Goa.

The Portuguese were the first European power to land in India and Sri Lanka the last to leave the former. Goa was the base from where between 1505 and 1656 Portuguese controlled parts of this country's coastal areas where they proved to be her worst colonial ruler.

Goa figures prominently in the life of the great Kandyan monarch King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1591-1604) alias Konappu Bandara who had combat training there until the opportunity dawned on his return to Sri Lanka to rise against the Portuguese in Danture in the Kandyan hills in 1594. His victory prevented in the nick of time the island from becoming another Goa or an Asian aberration like the Philippines. The Portuguese called him the `Traitor of Kandy.'

The process to drive them out of Goa began from the day they set on Indian soil in 1510 and was completed in 1961. The effort to dislodge them from the land they had conquered and occupied was a long process that was fraught with bloodshed, grief, sacrifice and frustration. Things reached a climax when Fascist Dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar seized power in Portugal in 1932. An attempt made in 1945 to introduce democracy to Portugal failed and Salazar further tightened his grip in the country and its overseas colonies.

Fascist repression extended to Goa with press censorship, suspension of laws and the Portuguese Governor's autocratic rule. Any printed word - even invitation cards - had to be submitted for pre-censorship. If any newspaper disobeyed this order, the Governor was empowered without any reference to the judiciary, to suspend the newspaper, close down the printing press and impose heavy fines. Newspapers and periodicals were to function only as mouthpieces of government.

On June 18, 1946 Goanese Freedom fighter Ram Manohar Lohia called for a gathering of Goans to agitate against the suspension of civil liberties. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent freedom campaign they looked forward to becoming a part of free India. But they were in for a big disappointment.

Gandhian principles can be effective only in a society that provides some opportunity for dissent. This was the case of the British Empire despite all its repressive measures against Gandhi's followers and the civil disobedience movement. Non-violence has absolutely no effect under a Salazar, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin or a Prabhakaran. In such circumstances Gandhi would have perhaps been permanently behind bars or disappeared without a trace if not executed publicly.So the issue in Goa under Salazar's Fascism was one of democracy versus autocracy as much as it was of ending Portuguese colonialism.

Despite repeated Indian requests the Portuguese refused to give up Goa where a struggle to oust the colonial ruler was already being waged. Both Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as well as Defense Minister, Krishna Menon had made it clear that their government would be compelled to resort to the use of force as an option, if all diplomatic efforts to make Lisbon give up the colony failed. Yet the Portugal turned down every attempt the Indian Government made to solve the problem of Goa by peaceful means.

People were fed up with Prime Minister Nehru and the Congress Party's stand of 'waiting and watching' policy until a seminar on Portuguese colonialism was held in New Delhi in October 1961.

Foreign representatives, especially from Africa attended the seminar which brought about a change in Nehru's thinking. So after 14 years of patient waiting from 1947 – the year the British departed India - Delhi decided it was time for action, which Lisbon never anticipated.

Indian military action was swift and met with little resistance from the Portuguese forces. They had neither anti-aircraft defences nor combat aircraft to defend their positions. This robbed the IAF of a realistic battlefield scenario. When Indian troops marched into Goa, the people welcomed it with shouts of joy. Thus Goa rejoined Mother India.

Portuguese Governor, Manuel Vassalo De Silva, signed the surrender document on December 19th and 3306 Portuguese troops of European origin laid down their arms. They were repatriated to Portugal after a few months.

The West's hypocritical reaction to the Indian military operation exposed these rich nations' double standards towards developing countries. Some Western governments virtually tolerated Lisbon's ludicrous claim that Goa was Portuguese territory. Earlier, Portuguese Dictator Salazar had paid no attention to the representations that both the USA and Britain made to him to settle the issue of Goa with India. This left no alternative for the Nehru Government but to drive the Portuguese out by force of arms.

However, when the Indians attacked, the West suddenly `discovered' the value of non-violence in world affairs. They condemned India’s use of military means and began to stress on the importance of peaceful means, reminding the Delhi of Gandhian principles. (Today, echoes of such pontifications can be heard in Sri Lanka) To the United States , Britain , the Netherlands, France and West Germany the Indian action was not liberation but an `invasion'!

Portugal's membership in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the anti-Soviet military alliance, was far more important to them than recognizing India's rightful claim to Goa and justifying Delhi 's stance.

But Sri Lanka and all other Non-Aligned Nations and most of Asia backed the Indian action. Even China – which was then involved in a border dispute with India – expressed support for New Delhi's move against the Portuguese. Not surprisingly, the Soviet Bloc countries too took political advantage of this situation and lambasted the USA and other Western nations for supporting colonialism.

The New York Times of December 19, 1961 reporting the Western response to the Goa 's liberation stated:

"Adlai E. Stevenson warned the Security Council early today that the United Nations was in danger of dying as the result of a Soviet veto killing a Western resolution to tend the Indian invasion of Goa. The resolution would have urged India to accept an immediate cease-fire and recall her invasion troops from Goa and two other Portuguese enclaves on the Indian coast. Moscow , however, hailed the invasion as a liberation drive and accused the United States of hypocrisy in its criticism of India 's military moves. Observers believed the Russians were trying to fan resentment against NATO, to which both Portugal and the United States belong."

Since Goa 's liberation diplomatic relations between Portugal and India remained cut off for decades. It was much later that Lisbon-Delhi ties improved, with Portugal agreeing to return to India the gold and assets it had plundered during the colonial era. It recalled a related event in Sri Lanka 's history - the address of Lascorin Commander Mudaliyar Don Cosme Kulatunga to his kinsmen at his house stirring them to rebellion against the Portuguese and thus paving the way for the Kandyan Army to rout Portuguese forces under General Constantino De Saa De Noronha at Randeniwela, Badulla in 1630.

Cosme Kulatunga said: "...there is not a single year when all that there is in Ceylon does not pass to Goa and from Goa to Portugal." (The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon by Fernao De Queyroz Vol.II pages 762-764)

Yet, shamelessly, a well-known Sri Lankan political party leader wanted to celebrate last year the 5 th Centenary of the Portuguese landing here. It is indeed puzzling why he wanted to rejoice the dawn of European colonialism whereas it would have been far more sensible if he had thought of commemorating over half-century of Sri Lanka-Portugal diplomatic relations. Perhaps his inane idea reflects his thinking on Sri Lanka 's national issues.

Regrettably 26 years after Operation Goa, when India intervened in Sri Lanka 's North and East it resulted neither in restoring democracy nor liberating the Tamil people there. It did not end Prabhakaran's tyranny. Instead he continues to terrorize all communities having bitten the hand that fed him – killing Indian soldiers and assassinating Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Delhi's mistake was to put the cart before the horse – attempting to `liberate' Tamils before introducing democratic freedoms to LTTE-dominated areas. In fact India's initial decision to assist the Tigers during the Indira Gandhi regime heralded the beginning of the end of political pluralism in the North and the formation of a rogue state within Sri Lanka. It was the exact opposite of the policy that Delhi pursued in Goa. In Sri Lanka the Indians tried a `balancing' act which eventually served neither the Tamils nor Sinhalas and instead ended up with the LTTE attacking the Indian Peace Keeping Force.

Yet it appears that Delhi though not directly intervening in Sri Lanka is still largely pursuing the same indecisive policy that has drawn India 's Janatha Party President Subramanian Swamy's strong criticism.

And now we find some Western do-gooders and their local agents warning Sri Lanka against the use of armed force against the Northern Pol Pot insisting that the government should reach "a negotiated settlement" with him.

Liberation holds no meaning to those living without freedom of expression. Goa rejoining the Indian Union ( Asia's largest democracy) spelt the end of Fascism and autocracy there. Most of all it has taken the wind out of the sails of a so-called Goanese independence-from-India movement.

In Sri Lanka it is now time to take the wind out of the sails of LTTE's Fascist separatism.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this


.