Valmiki Faleiro’s ‘Goa, 1961’: Goa under Portuguese, and its liberation : The Tribune India

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Valmiki Faleiro’s ‘Goa, 1961’: Goa under Portuguese, and its liberation

Valmiki Faleiro’s ‘Goa, 1961’: Goa under Portuguese, and its liberation

Goa, 1961: The Complete Story of Nationalism and Integration by Valmiki Faleiro. Penguin Random House. Pages 408. Rs 699

Book Title: Goa, 1961: The Complete Story of Nationalism and Integration

Author: Valmiki Faleiro

Maj Gen Raj Mehta (Retd)

The tart if enigmatic dedication of ‘Goa, 1961’ — “To the Goan who held his head high from the mid-16th century to 1961” — recalls not just the 451 years of superbly documented Goan life under Portuguese rule but, more importantly, the core Goan character. That includes resilience, adaptability, fortitude against Portuguese repression and the little known but deep-rooted desire for liberation that first manifested at Salcete within 15 years of the Portuguese takeover in November 1510. This is one of the several pleasant discoveries journalist-author Valmiki Faleiro offers.

His hard-nosed, research-driven, unapologetic coverage of India’s detached, tentative, whimsical, and on occasion internationally double-faced, approach to Goan liberation makes the readers squirm. How that approach coalesced into a brusque, largely uncontested Portuguese removal — a 36-hour walk in the park using ‘an elephant to squash a mosquito’ in terms of an assembly of humongous military forces necessitated by grossly-exaggerated intelligence inputs — sees Faleiro sharing eye-opening details of India’s first tri-service assemblage in Operation Vijay-1.

The aftermath of this much-hyped operation is laced with a scholarly take on its fallouts. The author opines that the euphoria of winning against a NATO nation managed disingenuously by then Defence Minister Krishna Menon and his cohorts, and the resultant landslide political gains for the ruling party in the 1962 general elections contributed to India’s ill-preparedness and subsequent rout during the 1962 Sino-Indian war; a pungent deduction hard to challenge.

Overall, the book grips not just Goans but readers across borders. A first-time visitor is quoted as wryly noting that he didn’t just find Goa in India, but alarming swarms of Indians from Kashmir to Kerala crowding it. Faleiro cryptically deduces that while it is India’s smallest state and leads in indices of GDP, infrastructure and quality of life, will the future find Goans remaining only in name in their Goa Dourada/Goa Indica (Golden Goa/Indian Goa) homeland? An uncomfortable truth in more ways than one.

The author delves deep into Goa’s realities as he explains why he concurs with Nehru’s comment post Congress’ drubbing in Goa’s first election in 1963: “Goa ke log ajeeb hain.”

Somewhat incongruously, the Preface (by Biji Koshy, Faleiro’s college mentor) attributes the removal of ‘a pimple on the face of Mother India’ (Nehruism) to the de-facto liberation of Goa being orchestrated by the “indefatigable” Menon, he of the “mesmerising nine-hour-long (UN) speech”. The soaring prose adds that “the conquest started in 1498 by Vasco da Gama at Calicut... was ended in 1961 by Calicut native Menon”.

Faleiro repetitively supporting this assertion will needle readers because Menon is seen as the key architect of India’s 1962 war debacle. The author, in fairness, doesn’t hesitate to bring out the counter-truth that if PM Nehru is on record asking operations-in-charge, Southern Army Commander Gen JN Chaudhuri, for his conquest timeline (three days or less) on October 24. 1961, he obviously knew and approved the invasion. What Menon hid deceitfully from Nehru was the exact time of launch of the offensive.

Astute readers should set the Preface aside because Goa’s Portuguese history is traced brilliantly; the Portuguese eastern capital shifting in 1530 to Cidade de Goa from Cochin, with three coastal talukas being fully consolidated by 1543 (termed Old Conquests) whose majority inhabitants were repressively converted to the Christian Catholic faith. Almost 250 years later, the Portuguese had amalgamated the remaining (inland) talukas (new conquests) whose population they did not bother to convert and who remain primarily Hindu. A piquant situation was thus created with the far smaller area being far richer in resources and better connected even if the converts remained poor. The inland area was much larger and poorly connected, with poorer inhabitants. This reality is at the heart of Goa’s Portuguese heritage.

Covered bluntly in the book is India’s puerile diplomacy, including a poorly-thought-through seven-year economic blockade of Goa which backfired seriously. Our diplomacy was underscored by contradictions: mouthing platitudes of peace while resorting to force when national interest or political imperatives correctly demanded an unapologetic use of it. This volte face led to a loss of Nehru’s image in world forums. Internally, Goan anger remains at being promised freedom to decide their future but being arbitrarily left out in the cold when push came to shove. Most Goans wanted amalgamation with India, an issue that was ignored, having anyway allowed them to hold two passports: Indian and Portuguese.

The handling of the invasion led by ‘Majestic Menon’, a man to whom he attributes the ‘uncanny ability to turn friends into foes’, along with his infamous Goan ‘hatchet’ team of Lt Gen BM Kaul, IG GK Handoo (for intelligence acquisition) and IB Director BN Malik is treated in detail.

All three Services post operations accepted that due to poor intelligence, they had over-prepared for an operation which a fraction of their force would’ve successfully executed. Its actual conduct had few heroes, the only outstanding senior being then Brig Sagat Singh, who brought operations to a close in a matter of hours despite breakdown of communications and command at all levels. Sagat ‘exceeded expectations’, a capability he exhibited in his breathless Meghna river crossing, ending the 1971 Bangladesh War in a staggering timeframe.

Even as some proof-reading errors in naming military units irritate, as does the repetition of facts, this book qualifies as a must-read. A concluding tongue-in-cheek suggestion is that Nehru’s portrait could have overlapped that of António de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal’s PM and virtual dictator who brazenly wanted a ‘Portuguese India’, with its capital at Panjim.