Goa: Identity crises or plurality?

The former Portuguese colony and India's smallest state again stands at a cultural and political crossroads—including a citizenship conundrum

Anjuna Beach, Goa (photo courtesy HelloTravel.com)
Anjuna Beach, Goa (photo courtesy HelloTravel.com)

Aditya Anand

As the sun set on 450 years of Portuguese rule in Goa, the departing colonisers left behind an unexpected ‘gift’—a provision allowing Goans born before 1961, and also their children and grandchildren, to claim Portuguese citizenship.  

Last year, this became a bane and not a boon for some Goans, as the Union ministry of external affairs dropped a little bombshell on the passport office on 30 November 2022. Following this notification, passport authorities began revoking the Indian passports of Goans who had had {SIC} their births registered with Lisbon, as they came up for renewal—even though they were not yet Portuguese citizens. Critics have argued that this decision should not have been made at all without proper public consultations. 

Now, India does not permit dual citizenship and opting for Portuguese citizenship means bidding farewell to Indian citizenship—which is fair. Except that the ministry’s shift in policy effectively anticipates the switchover, with the date of birth registration in Portugal now considered the date of acquiring Portuguese citizenship by India—a stance clearly not in sync with the Portuguese authorities’ quite reasonable position that there is no citizenship of Portugal until such is formally granted!  

Worse, many Goans had pre-emptively registered their own or their children’s births with Lisbon (step 1, remotely done), and not followed through to a Portuguese identity card (step 2) or passport (step 3). Birth registration was widely understood as an insurance of sorts, like saving for college education—that now leaves these individuals in a legal limbo. 

Further fanning the matter into a conflagration, a recent High Court interpretation now sees those with revoked passports as an offender with no chance of an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card either— a middle ground to those who might move to Europe and then take some time to decide on surrendering citizenship or not—and no legal right to even live and work in India.  

The Goa Passport Office, in the past year, has reportedly revoked one out of every 15–20 passports sent for surrender (a step that precedes renewal too). Previously, the passport renewal process helped correct names for submission to Portuguese authorities, paving the way for citizenship. Now, everything hinging on the date of birth registration in Portugal has a domino effect on rights to property (be it land or a bank account) and inheritance. 

The lone Rajya Sabha MP from Goa, Sadanand Sheth Tanavade,  highlighted the dire consequences for approximately 70 individuals (many in Goa believe the number is much higher) who have had their Indian passports revoked and are now citizens of neither nation. He underscored too that it is only humane that those affected get due guidance in adapting to the changes and solving the conundrums, as once-citizens and their children. Yet, a year from the ministry notification, the government is yet to amend its policy or provide any support. 

Fish curry–rice the official flavour of 2023, but the tourism smells less than fresh 

The coconut-based Goan fish curry, a staple in every Goan home and heart, is now a mandatory dish on beach shack menus, courtesy the Goa government’s bid to preserve the ‘spirit of Goa’ with an official Shack Policy. 

Goan-style fish curry, rich with coconut and spice, is now mandatory on every beach shack menu, by government order (photo courtesy @TourismGoa/X)
Goan-style fish curry, rich with coconut and spice, is now mandatory on every beach shack menu, by government order (photo courtesy @TourismGoa/X)

Local fisherfolk and the shack owners’ association are singing paeans to this decision. Even establishments that earlier dished out only North Indian and Chinese fare popular with play-it-safe tourists, leaving Goa’s own iconic dishes neglected, are now forced into some authenticity of ‘local flavour’.  

However, amidst the savoury celebration, the Goa hospitality industry is struggling with changing regulations policies, with licensing hiccups in the peak season, resulting in a surprising dip in tourist turnout—despite welcoming a staggering 10 million visitors since March, exceeding pre-pandemic levels, which had led to raised hopes for winter 2023-24. Insiders reveal that delays in obtaining permissions for beach shacks are adversely affecting local businesses, especially along the shoreline. 

Still, locals hope Goa will remain the favourite for winter weddings and conferences as the new year dawns, making up for damp-squib December. A recent survey by social discovery app Hunch reveals that 40 per cent of the Gen-Z cohort still considers Goa their top beach destination. 

Hyperlocal political flavours too

In the plurality of Goan politics, where ideologies collide and alliances shift like the tides, the smallest Indian state has witnessed the rise and fall of several regional parties ever since its independence from Portuguese rule.

The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP), led by the state’s inaugural chief minister, Dayanand Bandodkar, and the United Goans (UG) party, steered by Jack de Sequeira, emerged post-liberation with opposing viewpoints. The MGP championed Marathi as the language of Goans, seeking affinity with Maharashtra, while the United Goans staunchly defended Konkani, viewing Marathi as alien, foreign.

Over the years, these parties have left an indelible mark on Goa’s political landscape. The MGP and UG (Naik faction) successfully secured seats in the Lok Sabha, with the MGP contributing India’s law minister Ramakant Khalap in the I.K. Gujral government.

Congress leader and former Union law minister Ramakant Khalap (photo courtesy: X/Twitter)
Congress leader and former Union law minister Ramakant Khalap (photo courtesy: X/Twitter)
Ramakant Khalap

Enter the Goa Forward (GF) party in the 2017 assembly elections, winning three seats. However, its brief history has seen it sway with the political winds, forming an alliance with the BJP despite an aggressive anti-BJP campaign in the run-up to the polls. In the 2022 assembly elections, the GF entered into a pre-poll alliance with the Congress.

The latest on the horizon to Goa’s political future is the Revolutionary Goans Party (RGP), the youngest regional outfit, clinching one assembly seat in its inaugural elections. Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the RGP has audaciously declared candidates for both North and South Goa. Chief Manoj Parab takes the reins in North Goa, while Rubert Pereira steers the ship for South Goa.

With 9.46 per cent of the vote in the 2022 Assembly elections and a bold declaration of candidates, the RGP signals a fresh wave in Goan politics. During a recent public meeting, the RGP’s lone MLA, Viresh Borkar, criticised the BJP government on multiple fronts and underscored the party’s commitment to protecting locals’ rights. Goa’s Mhadei river dispute with neighbouring Karnataka, for instance, has gone unaddressed by Goan MPs and serves as a rallying cry for the RGP’s first foray into the national elections.

Sunburn showdown = New Year’s Eve plans upended

If your New Year’s Eve plan was set to be a bass-dropping extravaganza at the Sunburn Music Festival in Vagator, you’d better be holding on to your glow sticks. The much-anticipated EDM spectacle is dropping more than just a beat this year.

Slated to run till 31 December, the fest apparently hit a sour note with a local right-wing organisation, which saw in it a gateway to a ‘drug culture’. So the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti called on the North Goa deputy collector to shut it down.

Fireworks and other lighting extravaganza at the Sunburn (photo courtesy @SunburnFestival/X)
Fireworks and other lighting extravaganza at the Sunburn (photo courtesy @SunburnFestival/X)

Anjuna villagers and coastal residents have also been waving red flags, for extending the revelry to New Year’s Eve threatens to overshadow local businesses on a critical date.

Chief minister Dr Pramod Sawant and tourism minister Rohan Khaunte are playing their own tunes alongside, asserting the  Sunburn won’t stretch to 31 December. The festival organisers also received strict guidelines, including a music curfew for 10 p.m. Failure to comply could mean facing the music—legally. However, the organisers seem to be marching to a different beat, brazenly selling tickets for the disputed day without a care for official permission!

Meanwhile, hoteliers in Vagator do report a surge in bookings for 31 December, testament to its tourist appeal. But Sunburn could also be stealing the spotlight from the state’s hefty investment in international road shows and travel marts.

As the New Year countdown begins, Goa then finds itself at a Janus-faced crossroads, between chill and controversy, tradition and pragmatism.

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