UNSUNG HEROES OF THE OPINION POLL!

Goa’s historic Opinion Poll of January 16, 1967 liberated Goa from being becoming a part of Maharashtra. It is an exciting narrative like no other, it celebrates the spirit of Goa for Goa has historically had an identity in a class of its own…as many niz Goenkars who love Goa will tell you! We present a chapter from RAJAN NARAYAN and Dr Sharon D’Cruz book `The Triumph of Secularism: Battle of the Opinion Poll’ in Goa’ (published in 2011 by Goa Publications Pvt Ltd, Vasco da Gama, Goa, hardcover, Rs350) if only to remind and refresh readers memory of how secularism is forged, defined in Goa’s historic Opinion Poll of 1967…in which Goans from all walks of life chose to be just that – independently Goa!

Chapter 16

Unsung Heroes
THE ANNIVERSARY OF the Opinion Poll, January 16, is usually accompanied by the controversial subject of identifying the Father of the Opinion Poll. In more recent times, statues of Jack Sequeira have been erected in various parts of the state, including a traffic island in Dona Paula. There can be no dispute about the major role that Jack Sequeira played in the defeat of the pro-merger, pro-Maharashtra forces in the Opinion Poll. Indeed, Jack Sequeira’s efforts to preserve the unique and distinct identity of Goa go back to the formation of the United Goans Party, which fought the first elections to the Legislative Assembly of the then union territory of Goa on the plank of not just maintaining the status quo of union territory, but creating a full-fledged state and recognising Konkani as the official language of the state.
There are others, of course, who argue that while Jack Sequeira undoubtedly played a major role, his task was relatively simpler because he was canvassing for the Christian population’s vote, who in any case were vehemently against merger. So much so, he was preaching to a community which was already committed to the cause of retaining the distinct identity of Goa. And although Jack Sequeira got the credit for the Opinion Poll victory, there were other Christians like Urminda Lima Leitao (the only woman MLA in the first Legislative Assembly of Goa) and Dr. Alvaro Loyola de Furtado, to mention only a few. These leaders played a significant role in mobilising the Christian community to come out in large numbers to vote against the merger of Goa with Maharashtra.
Goans in Mumbai and other parts of the country also participated in the campaign and specially came to Goa to vote in the Opinion Poll. Consequent to the decision of the Election Commissioner to permit Goans (who had ancestral homes in Goa) in Mumbai and other parts of the country to register themselves as voters, as many as 25,000 Goans who were living outside the state are reported to have registered themselves as voters and travelled to Goa to cast their votes in the crucial Opinion Poll. The majority of those who registered themselves and came to Goa to vote—some even from countries outside India—were Goan Christians.
If you talk to the Hindu section of the population, particularly those who were involved in the Opinion Poll, many of them inevitably tend to give credit to Purushottam Kakodkar. It was Purushottam Kakodkar who, because of his closeness to the Nehru family, played a significant role in persuading the first prime minister of the country, Jawaharlal Nehru, to declare Goa a union territory. As far back as in September 9, 1963, then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Purushottam Kakodkar, who had apparently insisted on resigning from his post as president of the Goa Pradesh Congress because of the split in the Congress in Goa on the issue of merger with Maharashtra. In his letter, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote, “I see that some people are laying great stress on the merger of Goa with Maharashtra. I think this is very wrong and foolish of them. I have said that the future of Goa will be decided by the people of Goa. This does not mean so soon after liberation we should consider the merger of Goa with Maharashtra …for the present it is essential that Goa should remain a Union Territory and settle down.”
Following the death of Nehru, the Maharashtra lobby within the Congress almost persuaded Nehru’s successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, to merge Goa with Maharashtra. The claim being that the first election to the Legislative Assembly of Goa was fought on the issue of merger and that the victory of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and its Praja Socialist Party allies was a mandate for merger of Goa with Maharashtra. It was Purushottam Kadkodkar’s frustration over his inability to persuade Lal Bahadur Shastri and other members of the Congress Parliamentary Board to maintain status quo that provoked him to take sanyaas.
This concerned Indira Gandhi (who succeeded Lal Bahadur Shastri after his sudden death in Tashkent). In fact, she is reported to have sent the then general secretary of the Congress, S. K. Patil, to Rishikesh where Kakodkar had taken refuge. In response to a letter from Kakodkar, Indira Gandhi wrote to him on April 14, 1966, “We have all been very concerned for these last few months. I am glad that you decided to write as there was not only anxiety on the part of the central and state governments, but there was considerable uneasiness in the public mind over your so called disappearance. I can understand your desire to be alone to think things over. The Goa issue is a complicated one and, in politics, one cannot proceed very logically or as one wants.”
Apart from Indira Gandhi, even then Congress president, K. Kamaraj, was concerned about Kakodkar’s disappearance. In a letter addressed to Purushottam Kakodakar dated April 8, 1966, Kamraj wrote, “I am happy that you are alright. Your sudden disappearance had caused anxiety to all of us, particularly your relatives and colleagues in Goa. There is a lot of work waiting for you and I feel you should now sincerely think of going back to Goa as early as possible.” There can be no doubt that Purushottam Kakodkar’s disappearance played a major role in persuading Indira Gandhi and Kamraj to reject the demand for merger of Goa with Maharashtra and hold an unprecedented opinion poll to let the people of Goa decide their own future.
Besides Dr. Loyola de Furtado, Jack Sequeira and Purushottam Kakodkar, it is acknowledged that Padma Bhushan Ravindra Kelekar (who formed the Anti-Merger Front in October 1966, soon after S.K. Patil announced the Congress Parliamentary Board’s decision to hold an opinion poll) played a major role in protecting the unique and distinct identity of Goa. Along with Ravindra Kelekar, credit for winning the battle of the Opinion Poll should also go to Chandrakant Keni whon, as the editor of the Marathi newspaper Rashtramat, not only countered the tendentious propaganda of the pro-merger Chowgule-owned Gomantak but, in his own right, played a major role in persuading significant sections of the Hindu community to vote against merger. The results of the Opinion Poll show that not only the Hindu Saraswats, but even a significant section of the Hindu Bahujan Samaj voted against merger, contrary to the expectations of the MGP and its Maharashtrian patrons.
Uday Bhembre, with his powerful column in the Rashtramat and his eloquent speeches, undoubtedly managed to persuade several Hindus who were sitting on the fence to vote against merger. Uday Bhembre, as he himself told us, was conscious of the fact that the Bahujan Samaj was supporting the MGP and the pro-merger group not because they were in favour of the merger, but because of their great love and affection for Dayanand Bandodkar, who was seen not only as a clean politician, but perceived by many as a messiah who would liberate the Bahujan Samaj from the tyranny of the bhatkars through the Tenancy Act and the Mundkar Act.
While all the leaders belonging to the Konkaniwadi group were unsparing in their attack on Dayanand Bandodkar, some of them also strategically praised Bandodkar. Uday Bhembre recalls that he used the very adulation that Bandodkar attracted to dramatise the consequences of the Bahujan Samaj voting for merger by pointing out at a public meeting at Ponda that their leader Bandodkar would be totally marginalised if Goa was merged as their “beloved Bandokar would cease to be the chief minister and may be reduced to the status of zilla parishad chief!” There are suggestions from MGP leaders like Gajanand Raikar that Bandokar himself, towards the end of the campaign, began to realise that it was not in his personal interest for Goa to merge with Maharashtra.
Unlike many leaders, Christian and Hindu, whose followers insist that one or the other leader is the father or mother or uncle or aunt of the Opinion Poll, nobody talks about the mining magnate from Vasco da Gama who staked the future of his entire business empire on the outcome of the Opinion Poll. V.M. Salgaocar, who was virtually the finance minister of the Anti–Merger Front, never sought any credit for his monumental contribution to the victory of the anti-merger group. This was because V.M. Salgaocar not only donated huge amounts of money, but took a very active part in the Anti-Merger Opinion Poll campaign because of his deep and abiding love for Goa.
At the time of liberation, many industrialists, including mine owners, were worried about their future in India and many of them were even considering relocating in various other parts of the world. I recall the late Pascoal Menezes, founder of the Cosme Matias Menezes group, talking about a discussion he had with V.M. Salgaocar immediately after liberation. Pascoal had even greater cause for concern because the source of his enormous wealth was trading, which came to a complete halt because of the then government’s obsession with self-reliance. The ban on imported goods (the foundation of the CMM empire) drove Pascoal to despair. He pointed out to V.M. Salgaocar that the new Indian government might not renew or recognise the mining concessions that had been granted by the Portuguese and advised him to consider relocating to a country outside India. To which V.M. Salgaocar’s replied, according to Pascoal Menezes, that he was a son of the red soil of Goa; that he owed everything that life had given him to this red soil of Goa; that he would never consider the idea of living anywhere else.
It was, therefore, not surprising that when some members of the Anti-Merger Front, including Ravindra Kelekar, approached him for support, V.M. Salgaocar very readily and spontaneously agreed to extend them his total support. It has been my experience that V.M. Salgaocar always committed himself mind and body, heart and soul to a project when he was convinced that it was the right thing to do. Having decided to extend his total support to the anti-merger movement, Salgaocar instructed Chandrakant Keni to use the Rashtramat to aggressively campaign to preserve status quo and counter the Gomantak and the entire Marathi press, which had been carrying on a fierce campaign for merger of Goa with Maharashtra. Salgaocar decided to bear all the expenditure of Rashtramat, which was virtually distributed free.
But Salgaocar did not stop at giving Chandrakant Keni a free hand and encouraging him to use the Rashtramat to mobilise the Hindu population against merger. Salgaocar set up his own special task force to monitor and to co-ordinate the campaign against merger. He set up a separate office for the anti-merger campaign in Margao and deputed one of his senior colleagues, E. Fernandes, to run the campaign headquarters. Another senior executive, M.K. Kavlekar, co-ordinated between the head office and the campaign office in Margao. The task force included Francisco Cruz, who was entrusted with the responsibility of printing all the posters, leaflets, and banners in Mumbai and supplying them to the activists. V.M. Salgaocar not only monitored the progress of the campaign to the most minute detail, such as how many people attended each meeting, but often attended the meetings himself, not as one of the leaders on the dais, but as a member of the audience. At one such meeting in Vasco da Gama, Ulhas Buyao was singing his heart out against merger and about the need to preserve beautiful Goa. A confidant of Salgaocar, Vithu Lotlikar, who was on the dais, told Buyao about V.M. Salgaocar’s presence among the audience. Buyao invited V.M. Salgaocar on stage, but he refused. Instead, he suggested that Buyao should come to see him at his office. The next day Buyao was very pleasantly surprised when, after meeting V.M. Salgaocar, he was presented with a garland of currency notes1. Buyao’s composition, Chanyeache Ratri, virtually became the rallying cry and the anthem of the anti-merger movement.
Not that V.M. Salgaocar did not come under tremendous pressure, both from the then chief minister Dayanand Bandokar and senior leaders from Maharashtra and the Centre. His colleagues recall that many files relating to business were held back by the then chief minister. Despite the fact that it was V.M. Salgaocar who provided the money to Dayanand Bandokar when he got a mining concession from the Portuguese government and did not have the money to operate it. There was also great pressure from the government of Maharashtra.
The late V.M. Salgaocar’s colleagues recall a visit by the then industries minister, N. Tirupde of Maharashtra. V.M. Salgaocar agreed to meet him on the insistence of his friend Vishwas Rao Chowgule, who was backing the merger movement. Always courteous, V.M. Salgaocar greeted the minister at the entrance to the building housing the Salgaocar office and personally escorted him in. He had laid out an excellent spread of tea and Goan delicacies for the honourable visiting industries minister. After the courtesies were over, the minister got down to business and made an hour-long presentation to V.M. Salgaocar on why it would be advantageous for a businessman like him to have Goa merge with Maharashtra. There was no talk of politics. The industries minister only spoke of benefits to V.M. Salgaocar and the economy of Goa consequent to merger with Maharashtra. Salgaocar listened to him very patiently. At the end of the presentation, he had only one question: “After merger will we remain Goans or will we all have to become Maharashtrians?” Chowgule and the minister got the message and left without saying another word.
When activists of the Anti-Merger Front attempted to thank V.M. Salgaocar, he inevitably chided them with, “Why are you thanking me? Instead, I should be thanking you! I am one of you. We are all humble soldiers fighting to preserve the unique identity of Goa. We are doing it for Goa, who is our mother and for Konkani which is our mother tongue.” During his lifetime V.M. Salgaocar never took credit for his contribution to the success of the anti-merger lobby in the Opinion Poll. Goa was his janma bhumi. And he was only doing his duty by supporting and participating in the anti-merger movement.
Which is why this book is dedicated to the memory of a man who was one of the major contributors to the victory of Goans in the Opinion Poll. A contributor not only of the purse, but contributor of the heart.
However, the victory in the Opinion Poll cannot be attributed to anyone individual. It was a victory of all Goans and the defeat of those who wanted to divide Goa along religious, linguistic and caste considerations. The Opinion Poll, the movement to make Konkani the official language and the more recent citizens’ movement of the Goa Bachao Abhiyan are all testimony to the fact that whenever Goans come together, cutting across communal and caste lines, the winner has been Goa.

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