Saturday 17 November 2018

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Opinion Poll battle of political identity, neither linguistic nor secular: Bhembre

 

Goa’s Opinion Poll, India’s only plebiscite held till date, was a battle for political identity and not linguistic or cultural identity, revealed Adv Uday Bhembre, one of the stalwarts in the battle of mid-60s.

He also strongly refuted an impression created that the battle was triumph of secularism, stating that the battle line was drawn on communal grounds – between Christians and the Hindu Bahujan Samaj.

It was a marathon interaction with the veteran leader for almost three hours last weekend in Margao, organised by Konkani Bhasha Mandal, on 7th March.

Replying to series of questions asked by Sandesh Prabhudesai, a journalist and editor of goanews.com, Udaybab (as he is widely known) disclosed several unknown facts.

As the staunch Konkani-proponent revealed, the people who opposed Goa’s merger with Maharashtra included leaders from Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party like Shabu Desai and several Goans who called Marathi  a language and Konkani its dialect.

“Even my father Laxmikant Bhembre, who had told me that I was ‘dead’ for him since I called Konkani a language, was opposed to Goa’s merger into Maharashtra”, disclosed Udaybab.

According to him, even Bandodkar had realised his mistake when they told him that he as well as others cannot become Goa’s chief minister unless Goa is kept separate from Maharashtra.

“You are right. Bhau lost because of Bhau. People wanted him as the chief minister of Goa”, said Udaybab.

According to him, the issue like Konkani is a language and not a dialect etc was argued, but as supportive issue and not the main issue. “It wasn’t a linguistic battle”, he reiterated.

Who led the battle for Goa’s identity?

While Goa was liberated from Portuguese rule in 1961 and pro-merger Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party had come to power in the first election held in 1963, the Congress at the centre had announced a plebiscite – the Opinion Poll – on 16th January 1967.

The battle for merger or not started with the MGP as well as all parties like the Congress, Praja Samajwadi and even Communist Parties of Maharashtra campaigning for the merger with the help of stalwarts like then defence minister Yeshwantrao Chavan, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vasantrao Naik, Maratha editor P K Atre, Lal Bavata Kalapathak singer Shahir Amar Sheikh etc.

Countering this, said Udaybab, spontaneous movements had started at five different levels – the Congress party of Goa, Dr Jack Sequeira’s United Goans Party, the group of writers in ‘Rashtramat’ daily, Ulhas Buyao’s ‘Jai Gomantak Kala Pathak’ and Shabu Desai’s ‘Goem Jyot’, a torch moved all over the state.

 

He agreed that it was improper to debate who the father of Opinion Poll was as the Congress at the centre initiated it and ultimately People of Goa, conscious of their identity, made it happen, not any particular leader.

“The situation at that time was the mother of Opinion Poll. But it’s difficult to say that it had one particular father. But who succeeded it were the People of Goa”, said the 75-year old fighter.

Was it a triumph of Secularism?

“I would give main credit to ‘Rashtramat’ daily, which played a major role in transforming the Hindu vote against merger through its writings as well as public meetings”, said Udaybab, whose daily column ‘Brahmastra’ in ‘Rashtramat’ was the most popular  column read by Hindu Goans in Marathi those days.

Goa was vertically divided between Christian and upper caste Brahmins opposing the merger (around 37 per cent) against the Hindu Bahujan Samaj consisting of 63 per cent. But the ultimate result of Opinion Poll was 54 per cent to retain Goan identity while 44 per cent was for the merger.

It means the Opinion Poll was won mainly because large section of Hindu Bahujan Samaj voted against the merger.

“We would have not succeeded in winning the battle if Hindu Bahujan Samaj was not diverted towards our viewpoint. This was made possible through ‘Rashtramat Parivar’, fighting against all the odds and even attacks by the mergerists on us wherever we went”, recalled Udaybab.

He also revealed that the teachers from Maharashtra working in Goa had campaigned against the merger because the pay scale for the teachers in Maharashtra was much lower than what Goa government paid.

He also admitted that the Prohibition on Liquor in Maharashtra also played little role in shifting of votes in spite of Maharashtra CM assuring to have a separate provision for Goa.

Was it a Congress blunder?

A Congressman from the time Konkani was made Goa’s official language in 1987, Udaybab however admitted that Congress and Purushottam Kakodkar also committed lots of mistakes including giving tickets to upper caste people from Bhatkar community in the first election in 1963 while also denying Congress ticket to Bhahusaheb Bandodkar.

Bandodkar later headed the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party in 1963 and swept the polls while the Congress was literally wiped out with most of its leaders even losing their deposits, including Kakodkar.

“But Bhau Kakodkar’s contribution in terms of persuading all the leaders at the centre including almost all the prime ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Guljarilal Nanda to Indira Gandhi cannot be denied”, he said.

Was there a demand to merge Goa into Karnataka?

Question: Then Karnataka chief minister S Nijlingappa demanded that Goa be included into Karnataka since Goa’s Konkani population was 6.50 lakhs while Karnataka had 5.50 Konkani population. Also most of the rulers of Goa were from Karnataka (then Mysore province).

“But this was not a mass demand. It was an argument used by the Karnataka leaders to counter Maharashtra’s claim over Goa as well as Karnataka’s parts like Belgaum, Nipani, Karwar etc”, felt Udaybab.

Should Greater Goa have been a third option?

Udaybab doesn’t agree that Opinion Poll should have been given Greater Goa of Konkani-speaking regions as a third option.

“That would have complicated the matter and mergerists would have benefited from it. We would have lost the battle”, he feels.

Had Jack Sequeira agreed to merger?

Question: Senior journalist Rajan Narayan’s book on Opinion Poll – Triumph to Secularism – claims on its page 69 that Dr Jack Sequeira had agreed to the proposal of forming a MGP-UGP coalition government and merge Goa into Maharashtra, provided Bandodkar resigns as chief minister and offers the seat to the UGP while Maharashtra gives special financial package to Goa and maintains its identity and Konkani language.

But Udaybab feels it’s impossible that Dr Sequeira could agree to such a demand. He also finds the argument frivolous that the talks failed because Maharashtra didn’t agree with Jack Sequeira as the CM.

“I find the whole argument illogical. How any UGP leader or Dr Sequeira be the CM of Maharashtra? And I don’t think person like Dr Sequeira could agree to merge Goa into Maharashtra.”

Was it a battle for Land to the Tiller?

Question: Why is that the illiterate Hindu Bahujan Samaj, who did not know to speak,  write or read Marathi called Marathi their mother tongue and those who learnt Marathi (like Bhembre) realised that Konkani was their mother tongue? Was it because the illiterate farming community wanted Maharashtra’s Land to the Tiller Act to be implemented in Goa? And did  they fear that the upper cast Congress leadership would continue suppressing them like the Portuguese?”

Udaybab: “This argument was quite prominent during the whole campaign. The feeling was right. But we countered it when Bandodkar brought the Land to the Tiller Act in the Union Territory Government. If Bhau could do it while maintaining Goa’s identity, why do we need to merge Goa into Maharashtra, was our argument.”

Will Hindu Bahujan continue opposing Konkani?

Question: How long this saga of the Hindu Bahujan Samaj calling Marathi their tongue and opposing Konkani would continue?

Udaybab: “It’s changing. The situation is no more the same. The younger generation of Hindu Bahujan Samaj is for Konkani. It’s a question of one more generation and the Bahujan Samaj and whole Goa would call Konkani their mother tongue. The impression was created by Goa’s politicians and pro-Maharashtra writers. That doesn’t exist anymore.”

 

Can Goa be Self-sufficient?

Question: It was argued that Goa being a small state won’t be able to sustain as a self-sufficient state. After the statehood in 1987, Goa’s central grants stopped from 1990 five-year plan and all the Governments of Goa started demanding scrapping of Union Territory loan and special packages for Goa – Tax Holiday, financial package, separate criteria for Goa’s central grants and even Special Status. Does that mean Goa is still not self-sufficient?

Udaybab: “No state is self-sufficient and all depend on central assistance. But we definitely have a capacity of becoming self-sufficient. Unfortunately, Goa has not produced a single party or a leader who could work with a vision and make it self-sufficient. That’s our failure.”

Question: Why couldn’t you guide the Congress when you were the president of Congress Vichar Manch?

 Udaybab: “ They had no level to understand such things. It’s a party of opportunists. I even tried to convince Margaret Alva about it. But she couldn’t understand what I was trying to say.”

Is the dream of Opinion Poll complete?

“Definitely not. Instead of uniting both the communities of Goa, we are parting away from each other. The communal harmony of Goa is in danger. The gap is widening day by day. I really don’t know how secure Goa’s future is. I am worried.”






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