Monday, January 18, 2010

The Day of January 16

The Day of January 16

But for a historic occasion whose 42nd anniversary is today, the Goa we know would never have come into being. Had it not been for the Opinion Poll of 16 January 1967, today, Goa would have been the most remote district of Maharashtra’s most backward region. It would have been even less developed than neighbouring Sindhudurg.
Goa is the only place in India where the issue of identity was resolved through a referendum. After it was liberated by the Indian Army along with Daman and Diu on 19 December 1961, two diametrically opposite views emerged about what should happen to this tiny territory.

The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) led by the late Dayanand alias Bhau Bandodkar won the first Assembly elections and declared that Goa should be merged with neighbouring Maharashtra. The MGP felt that the culture and traditions of Goa’s majority Hindus was similar to Maharashtra, and that Marathi was the mother tongue of Goans. Konkani, they believed, was just a dialect of Marathi.
The United Goans Party (UG) led by Dr Jack Sequeira, wanted Goa to retain its own identity. It believed that Konkani was an independent language that remained underdeveloped as it was suppressed by Portuguese colonial rulers.

Most of the Christians and the bhatkars or landlords supported the UG. while the MGP’s base mainly comprised their landless Bahujan Samaj tenants who wanted economic liberation by becoming owners of the land they had been tilling for the bhatkars for generations. The Christian landless tenant classes, however, threw their lot with the UG.

But there were a large number of enlightened youth who, though they did not support the landlord class, felt that Goa’s identity would be lost if it was merged into Maharashtra. Some of them got together to start a Marathi daily, Rashtramat, to spread the anti-merger message among Marathi readers. Goa’s only Marathi daily then –Gomantak – was a strong supporter of merger.

As the debate gathered ground, Indira Gandhi, who was then the Prime Minister of India, decided to resolve the issue by holding an Opinion Poll, to fulfil her father Jawaharlal Nehru’s assurance to the people of Goa that their views would be taken into account while deciding their destiny.

The Congress Working Committee passed the Opinion Poll resolution at its meeting on 3September 1966. The Lok Sabha cleared it on 1 December 1966, while the Rajya Sabha approved on 7 December 1966. The President of India gave his assent on 16 December 1966. It was decided that the Opinion Poll would be held on 16 January 1967.
There were two options before the people of Goa, Daman & Diu – either remain a union territory or merge Goa into Maharashtra and Daman & Diu into Gujarat. They had to choose between a Flower – for merger – and Two Leaves – to remain a union territory.
Maharashtra’s politicians irrespective of party affiliation – Congress, Socialists and Communists – all wanted merger. Amar Shaikh the magnetic communist singer, brought his Lal Bawata Kala Pathak to perform and campaign for merger in the villages of Goa.

To counter this, Ulhas Buyao led a group of young artists to form the Jai Gomantak Kala Pathak, singing Konkani songs written by Manoharrai Sardesai, Shankar Bhandari and Uday Bhembre. He got an overwhelming response, so much so that pro-merger activists began disrupting Buyao's concerts in their strongholds.
In the end, it was the 120 public meetings addressed by Dr Jack Sequeira and other young Goan leaders, Rashtramat’s news reports and editorials by Chandrakant Keni, Brahmastra, a fiery column written by Uday Bhembre and an army of young activists that toiled to convince people why merger would mean Goa’s end. Educated people from the Hindu Bahujan Samaj began to realise that their future lay in Goa retaining its identity, rather than merging into Maharashtra.

On 16 January 1967, the Two Leaves symbol inched past the Flower, by just 34,021 votes. But it saved Goa. Let us celebrate this day as Asmitai Dis (identity day). For, even after statehood, the aspirations of independent Goa are yet to be realised.

(Editorial in January 16, 2010 Herald)


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A big e-welcome to you. Tumcam Maie-mogacho ieukar. Enjoy Life - This is not a rehearsal! Konkani uloi, boroi, vach ani samball - sodankal. Hich Goenchi osmitai ani amchem khalxelponn. Goenchi amchi Konkani bhas! Ekvottachem saddon Goenkaranchem. This is Gaspar Almeida from Parra, Bardez, Goa, based in Kuwait and am connected with the website created by Ulysses Menezes, and as Moderator of the famous first of its kind Gulf-Goans e-Newsletter (since 1994) and The Goan Forum and several Goan and Indian associations and forums and e-forums in Goa, India, Kuwait, The Middle East and worldwide.