VM Salgaocar loved Goa and was willing to sacrifice his business empire to preserve and protect the unique identity of Goa
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
AND a few stray thoughts for yet another Saturday. For a Saturday following the week when it was the 113th birth anniversary of the late industrialist VM Salgaocar. For a Saturday following the week when I have discovered bitterly that people respect not the person but the power the person or his position might hold. For a Saturday following the week when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced massive benefits for small and medium business sectors on the eve of the end of the country’s third coronavirus lockdown.
AND a few stray thoughts following the 113th birth anniversary of the late Mr VM Salgaocar who tragically died at the relatively young age of 68 years. Which is little more than the age till which he would have lived if he had been blessed with the gift of a long life. Tragically he died in the very hospital that he had built for the people of port town Vasco da Gama, feeling the necessity for a sophisticated medical facility down south Goa. Both his sons were away on pilgrimage with their mother on the day he died.
love for konkani
VM Salgaocar was unique among Goans because despite many inducements from the Marathi lobby he loved Goa and fought to retain its unique and distinct identity. He did not bother about titles like father of the opinion poll or uncle of the opinion poll. But nobody will deny him the credit of being the main financier of the fight against merger of Goa with Maharashtra. Indeed, some senior employees of the Salgaocar industrial group expressed the fear to me that he was so obsessed with the identity of Goa, that they thought he may sacrifice the business interests for his love of Goa. In fact, he transferred his headquarters from Vasco to Margao in the run up to the Opinion Poll. The story goes that industrialists with the Finance Minister of Maharashtra approached him with Vishwasrao Chowgule to persuade him to join the pro-merger lobby. VM Salgaocar listened to them very politely. At the end of the conversation he pointed out that if he agreed to the merger he would lose his beloved Goa. Many are the stories about his generosity towards fighting on all fronts to keep the unique identity of Goa.
I recall Jyoti Sarmalkar, the singer and the activist, telling me of an incident which happened during the anti-merger campaign. Jyoti sang with his heart and soul for an independent Goa. At the end of one of this campaign meetings Jyoti was surprised when a man in a suit approached and gave him a bundle of notes. The late VM Salgaocar was a self-made man. His was a story of rags to riches. VM Salgaocar’s father died at a very young age. He had to support his family from the age of 12. His first business venture was a grocery shop in Ribandar. The every enterprising Vasudev Salgaocar entered the wholesale market for vegetables. To save money on fares and get more space to carry his purchases from Belgavi, he befriended all the engine drivers. From the wholesale vegetable markets VM Salgaocar set his eyes on supplying provisions to the many ships that came to Mormugoa port. When he heard that the Portuguese were encouraging Goans to take up mining he promptly jumped at the opportunity and secured a mining concession. The very hardworking VM Salgaocar went personally with his mining engineers to locate the spots where ore could be found in significant quantities. When VM discovered that the most expensive aspect of mining was transport he introduced barges in Goa. The ore which was extracted at various inland areas in the hilly ghat areas was transported to the rivers by trucks. From the river loading point they were taken by barges to the MPT and this brought down the cost significantly.
export to japan
At that time the primary market for iron ore was the export market. The ore available in Goa was not of very high grade being mostly in powdery form. The only countries which had a market for Goan ore was Japan and South Korea. VMS had never gone abroad. He was nervous about the prospect of going abroad for the first time alone. He happened to be a member of the business club which had been started by the late Pascoal Menezes near his office in Rue da Ourem near the general post office. Pascoal’s sister offered to train him in the etiquette of handling knives and forks and chopsticks the way the Japanese used them, instead of spoons. The only condition imposed by Pascoal for this bit of education was that all the liquor that VMS got would be handed over to him!
pioneer in health
Besides fighting very hard for retaining the unique identity of Goa, VMS also started the Salgaocar Medical Research Center in Vasco and the Salgaocar Law College in Miramar. By a coincidence I now live very close to the Salgaocar College of Law. Among the employees of VMS was the father of the late Mario Miranda. When rumours became strong that India would soon invade Goa and take it over there were fears about the safety of the family. Miranda senior very generously offered him the hospitality of his ancestral in Loutolim till after the war Liberation War. Our heartfelt condolences to the Salgaocar family which lost its main patriarch and source of inspiration so early in life. Who set an example of hard work and honesty for the rest of the family who walked in his footwear.
WHEN I first came to Goa to start the English Herald I was told by my proprietor that I should meet all the important people in Goa, prominent among them being VM Salgaocar. We became good friends and he used to write long letters to the editor’s column fearlessly criticising all politicians for their corruption. The fearless VMS would even shout at them in public whenever he held his parties.
AND a few stray thoughts on the almost five decades I have lived and worked in Goa. I came to Goa in October 1983 at the invitation of Mario Miranda the late cartoonist to help some friends of his transform a barely read Portuguese newspaper O-HeraldO into a full-fledged English newspaper. I was successful in transforming a Portuguese paper with hardly any readership to the most influential English newspaper in the state. When we started the Herald, the only English newspaper in Goa was the Navhind Times which primarily catered to the Hindu population. If a member of the majority community chose to buy a single paper at home his choice was for a Marathi paper. So much so the newspaper market was divided between Navhind Times in English and the Gomantak in Marathi. The Herald position itself as primarily catering to the Catholic population which constituted more than 40% of the total population of the State at that time. Hindus who wanted to read an English newspaper also switched from the Gomantak to the Herald.
We were very fortunate in that within a year of the English Herald being started the Commonwealth Heads of Government Retreat was held in Goa. Which meant that suddenly we have to face the challenge of reporting on an international meeting at which 52 heads of State and government were presented. This included the then Prime Minister of the UK Margaret Thatcher and Prime Minister of Canada whose name also coincidently was Justin Trudeau, who was the son of the then Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau. The Chogum road was built specially to take the heads of state to the Taj Aguada where a special section was built specially for them. The security was very tight. I recall discussing the colour scheme of the Hermitage, the section where the heads of state stayed. A proud horticulturist told me there would be a particular colour scheme linked to each of the cottages. For instance the cottage occupied by Indira Gandhi would be white while that occupied by Margaret Thatcher would be red. I published a front page anchor on the horticulture scheme under the title “When a hundred flowers bloomed.” The security forces were extremely upset and I was almost arrested. They were alarmed as any terrorist who wanted to target a particular head of state only had to know the colour scheme of the cottages.
amchi raj bhas
There was a long standing inherent demand that Konkani should be the official language of the state. Though in the opinion poll in 1967 the majority voted for retaining the identity of Goa, we got the status only of Union Territory and not that of the full-fledged state. This was because of the Marathi lobby which had wanted Goa to be merged with Maharashtra. So much so even after the Opinion Poll victory there was a long agitation for conferring Statehood to Goa. I strongly felt that we in the Herald should take up the cause of the people. So for almost three years I wrote front page editorials demanding that “amchi bhas” should be the “raaj bhas.” It was a long struggle because Pratapsingh Rane, the chief minister and the majority of the Cabinet were in favour of Marathi. Many senior Congress leaders on the other hand were close to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The Member of Parliament from North Goa and the industrialist VM Salgaocar managed to persuade the prime minister that the demand for statehood should be granted. The Congress High Command was so mistrustful of the then CM that they had a central observer to ensure that the bill to make Konkani the official language of the State was not sabotaged. It is because the Marathi lobby was so adamant that though Konkani was made the official language of the State it had to virtually share the status with Marathi. Part of the problem was ofcourse that unlike Marathi and the other official languages there was a dispute about the script for Konkani. Indeed, when the Catholic minority who read and wrote Konkani in the Romi script learnt that Konkani in the Devanagiri script would be made the official language, they consider it a betrayal of Konkani mai.
Goa because for almost 500 years had been under Portuguese colonial rule did not have a tradition of bold investigative journalism. In fact, the majority of the editors got their salaries from the government and could not oppose the Portuguese government. So much so even after Liberation the only English paper Navhind Times was very mild and never attacked the government. The policy was to support every government and power. Having grown up in the tradition of the Indian Express which was the landmark of investigative journalism, I was the one who introduced investigative journalism in Goa. We were not afraid of any politician or political party. We exposed corruption wherever it happened without any hesitation. We also supported the few chief ministers who were honest to fight goondagiri. Though I personally paid a heavy price for exposing the than speaker of the Legistative Assembly for reportedly molesting an 18-year-old clerk, I did not surrender and continued to write fearlessly. To the extent that the people started calling me “goonda with the pen.”
The biggest mistake I made perhaps was quitting the Herald and starting my own independent news weekly. I really had no choice as by then the father A.C Fernandes who had hired me had died and the sons had taken over. Unlike the father who only wanted prestige and honour for the newspaper and himself the sons were very greedy. When the present Managing Director Raul Fernandes started pestering me for casino licenses I decided I had no choice but to start an independent weekly along with my wife who is also a veteran journalist. Several of our friends also supported us. Unfortunately, when politics took a big turn and the BJP came to power first in the State and later at the Centre we stopped getting any government ads or assignments for writing books.
I may note that I was commissioned by the government to write a book on Liberation of Goa to mark the 50th anniversary of Goa’s Liberation. I also had the good fortune of being commissioned to write a very deeply researched book on the Opinion Poll along with Sharon D’Cruz called “Triumph of Secularism” by Dattaraj Salgaocar.
No Independent media organisation can survive if the government both at the Centre and the State are hostile to it. I have realised that it is impossible to bring out an independent weekly unless you have deep pockets. My request to you on the verge of May Day, the anniversary of Goa becoming a State, is either to support the Goan Observer or take it over and run it as an independent paper if you have a financial resource.
life & Livelihood
AND a few stray thoughts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing some major compensations for locking down virtually the entire population of the country. During his last speech Narendra Modi was honest enough to admit that the choice in fighting the coronavirus was between life and livelihood. To protect the lives of the citizens of the country he atleast believed that it could be achieved only through lockdowns. Nobody realised that he would go to the extent of shutting down industries, shops, transport, and bring life itself to a standstill. The lockdown made it difficult to live, let alone bury or cremate the dead. Because of the complete lockdown of trade, industry and transport, there was no production in the country.
As Rajdeep Sardesai rightly pointed out there is no sense in announcing support to small scale units when there is neither production or income or output or employees. We tried to fill in one of Narendra Modi’s famous contactless 59 minutes form for seeking a loan for a medium and small company. Those who were part of the helpline did not even inform us that people above the age of 65 were not eligible for the loans. Since one of the first columns asked to fill in your age, they should have automatically informed you that you are not entitled to the scheme. It was only when we reached the 59th section of the form that we were informed that we were not eligible for the contactless scheme for the MSME loan and to approach our bank for other options. Which is what we have done.
Abolish the lockdowns. Open the offices, open the factories. Let all those who want to work start working. So that those who want to work need not sit at home but earn some income. If they work they will be able to earn some money. If they have money they will be able to pay their rent and feed themselves and their family. Financing factories where only 1/3rd of the people can be employed or transported is absurd as they will probably get only 1/3rd of salary and eat only 1/3rd of the roof.