This quirky episode in history breaks through so many concepts that it is worth sharing. Goa was conquered and colonised by the Portuguese in 1510. It had its ups and downs over the centuries but somehow managed to resist the attacks by other invaders till 1961. This is when India sent their army to re-take it by force. The ensuing fight was bloody and bitter but the Portuguese defenders were isolated and in the end had to surrender. As is usual in history the event has different names, depending on which side is referring to it. To Indians it is known as Liberation of Goa. Portuguese call it Invasion of Goa. From a neutral perspective it is referred to as Portuguese-Indian War.

In the Indian view Goa was part of the subcontinent conquered by a colonial power and its re-unification with the motherland was only fair and reasonable. But hang on, India, which sent troops to Goa in 1961, had not existed in 1510 when the Portuguese colonised Goa! How can a political entity only 14 years old in 1961 stake a rightful claim on a piece of land governed for 451 years by a sovereign nation? Moreover, India itself was a country first formed through waves of conquests – both by indigenous tribes and foreign invaders. Even after gaining independence from the Brits India forcefully incorporated the territories of Junagadh and Hyderabad. From this perspective, the Goa events of 1961 can be viewed as an act of good old territorial expansion rather than liberation from colonial occupation.

Ok – so what was the reaction of the world power brokers? Before the 1961 coup UN were somewhat supportive of the status quo and advocated negotiations to sort out any issues. To be fair Salazar, ruling Portugal at that time, was not very co-operative but be that as it may it is India who drew the first blood. In fact, even well before 1961 India organised, sponsored and actively supported terrorist activities against Goa and other Portuguese held enclaves in the subcontinent. We are not talking dropping leaflets but rather blowing up infrastructure like bridges and power stations. The terrorists operated from the Indian territory, crossing the border to hit their targets and retreating to safety when the job was done. The Portuguese were helpless to resist these incursion without attacking the terrorist bases.

Considering the legacy of non-violence and peaceful protest which formed the ethos of India’s independence it sucks that they employed the tactics of first sponsoring terrorism and then launching a full-out armed assault on a territory governed by a sovereign nation. As the then president of Pakistan Ayub Khan adequately put it “The forcible taking of Goa by India has demonstrated what we in Pakistan have never had any illusions about – that India would not hesitate to attack if it were in her interest to do so and if she felt that the other side was too weak to resist.” This puts a different perspective on Gandhi’s tactics; perhaps the British Empire was simply too powerful to be taken head on? There is no moral high ground in this approach. As JFK subsequently told the Indian ambassador in Washington “You spent the last fifteen years preaching morality to us, and then you go ahead and act the way any normal country would behave…. People are saying, the preacher has been caught coming out of the brothel.”

UN Security Council voted on the resolution sponsored by US, UK, France and Turkey condemning the use of force by India but it was vetoed by the champions of World peace – USSR. What a fitting epilogue to the sorry military adventure involving colonial history, nationalism and Cold War politics.


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