Wednesday 19 September 2018

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Goans unite to oppose Vasco da Gama celebrations

 

IFollowing Kerala, the fifth centenary celebrations has become a public issue in Goa, the state ruled by the Portuguese for 450 years. Led by the freedom fighters, several political parties have joined the peoples' front - Deshpremi Nagrik Samiti (Patriotic Citizens' Committee) - to protest.

Goa was conquered not by Vasco da Gama, but Afonso de Albuquerque in 1510. In fact Gama never came to Goa. But people here look at him as a coloniser and not a discoverer of India as has been glorified by some historians.

"He never discovered India, but reached Calicut with the help of a pilot Ahmed Ibn Masjid, provided by Sultan of Malindi in East Africa. The route upto Cape of the Good Hope was already explored by Bartolemeu Dias, another Portuguese navigator, who had to return due to turbulent weather. How then Gama becomes a discoverer", asks Prabhakar Sinari, Goa's veteran freedom fighter and former IGP.

He also refuses to believe that Gama came purely with trading interest. Recalling Portuguese capturing eight colonies, starting from Ceuta in Morocco in 1415 to the occupying of Mallacca in 1511, he states : Gama's expedition in 1498 was planned to find suitable sea route to India, solely for the purpose of eventually capturing the territories, monopolising the trade and forcibly convert the natives, as they did earlier as well as later.

"Colonisation is a consequence of our own weaknesses. India was under foreign rulers like Mughals much before Vasco da Gama reached here. Fifteenth century events should not be judged by applying logic and morals of 20th century", states Adv Radharao Gracias, spokesperson of United Goans Democratic Party.

Prof K M Mathew, dean of faculty of social sciences at Goa University also refuses to call him a coloniser. "Subsequent to his discovery, they found Indian situation favourable and exploited it with brutality. We also can't deny that his discovery opened the gates of India to the West", he opines.

Erasmo Sequeira, a former MP, also sees no reason to abstain from celebrations. "His advent to India brought many good things. The common civil code we are practicing is just one example for which the whole country envies us. The celebrations can highlight its positive aspects. Historians can have critical appreciation of his arrival. The rest of us can just celebrate it".

"But we can't forget that Gama came to India with a sword in one hand and the Bible in the other. His main purpose was to colonise and spread Christianity. The secular India can't commemorate such a person's arrival", states Dr Suresh Amonkar, the local BJP chief.

Prof Surendra Sirsat, president of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, also feels Britishers were much better than Portuguese, who tried to destroy local religion and culture. All signs of these rulers should be eliminated from the state, he asserts.

His sentiments are also shared by his party leader, union law minister Ramakant Khalap. "It's better to abstain from the celebration when the issue has become controversial", he says. He has also "conveyed the sentiments of Goans" to Prime Minister I K Gujral, though he declines to comment on the demand to pass a resolution in the Parliament, opposing the celebrations.

Though state chief minister Pratapsing Rane terms it as a non-issue, his local party chief disagrees. "How can I forget that my father was shot dead and my brothers were imprisoned by the Portuguese police when I was just nine years old", asks Nirmala Sawant, president of Goa Pradesh Congress Committee. The Portuguese national anthem still glorifies such heroes, she points out.

The debate in Goa goes beyond whether Gama discovered India or not. The political parties are up in arms, joining hands with the freedom fighters, as Deshpremi Nagrik Samiti. The Sangh Parivar however is more active in it, mainly highlighting the religious brutalities the Portuguese were involved in. BJP chief L K Advani's Swarn Jayanti Rath Yatra was also utilised for the purpose when it passed through Goa.

"We don't want to repeat the history but strengthen the bilateral relations between two countries, using the fifth centenary celebrations. It has a global purpose. The Government of India is committed to modern relations based on objectivity and a mature approach to reality", said Jaime Gama, Portugal's external affairs minister, during his visit here in February.

"Not we, they are digging up the past by glorifying Gama's arrival. What's the aim of celebrations if not to remember the past", Dr Amonkar of the BJP counter-argues. The Samiti, whose members burnt Gama's effigy at the rally, has also opposed the week-long berthing of San Gabriel, a model of the vessel used by Vasco da Gama, at Mormugao harbour here.

Sinari has even gone to the extent of demanding public apology from Portugal for its past misdeeds before building new relations. "Civilised nations don't settle issues through apologies", says Dr Mathew, who prefers a seminar on Gama's visit to India rather than celebrations.

Sequeira, the former MP, feels Indians should be more worried about current economic colonialism than long dead political colonialism of the past. History should not be a cause for rancour and bitterness, he adds.

Adv Gracias, who also prefers introspection rather than celebrations, suggests a pao-bhaji party to highlight positive aspects of the Portuguese rule. "The pao (bread) is obviously Portuguese and the ingredients of bhaji - potato, tomato and chillies - were introduced into India from the Americans by the Portuguese. It's a favourite dish of Goans today."






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