Liberation of Goa: Socialists fought against the Portuguese occupation

While military action finally freed Goa, socialists led by Ram Manohar Lohia were at the forefront of the resistance, recalls Arvind Mohan on the 60th Goa Liberation Day

Portuguese prisoners of war at the Indian prison camp at Vasco de Gama, Goa in 1961
Portuguese prisoners of war at the Indian prison camp at Vasco de Gama, Goa in 1961

Arvind Mohan

Portuguese Rule over Goa lasted 451 years, 250 years more than British Rule in India. In that perspective, the 60th anniversary of Goa’s liberation on December 19 may not trigger much excitement in Goa or elsewhere in India. Indeed, the effects of long periods of slavery are pronounced in Goa, which was occupied by the Portuguese in 1510 itself. It had strategic value and had enough natural resources to keep the Portuguese there.

The real heroes of Goa’s liberation in 1961 were socialist leaders Ram Manohar Lohia, Madhu Limaye and Tridib Chaudhuri. While the Government has paid scant attention to their role, socialists like Abhishek Ranjan have been at the forefront in reminding the nation of the forgotten role of socialists.

A number of valuable books have been published this year and rare documents have been unearthed. Thanks to their initiative, a number of seminars have been held this year on the subject and people who had participated in Goa’s liberation were identified and felicitated.

Most leaders of India’s freedom struggle were reluctant to focus any attention to Goa and the Portuguese occupation of Goa. They felt it could detract attention from the struggle to free the rest of India from British Rule. Even leaders like Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru were not in favour of intervening in Goa, which, they felt, could be sorted out after India won her freedom.

When the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon finally pressed 30,000 Indian troops on December 17 to liberate Goa, the Portuguese resistance lasted for just two days. But the operation was not as easy as it looks. Both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy had to be deployed and the Portuguese surrendered only after putting up a stiff fight and a half-hearted scorched earth policy. Socialists including Acharya Kripalani believe the operation was launched with political and electoral gains in mind.

The struggle for Goa’s liberation was led however by Lohia. He had the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1946 when Lohia reached Goa at the invitation of his doctor friend Dr Julio Menezes to recuperate from ill health, he learnt first-hand the restrictions imposed on Goans and the excesses by Portuguese authorities.

Outraged, Lohia mobilised and addressed a gathering of 200 Goans. It was decided to hold a public meeting and the public show of defiance electrified the freedom fighters in Goa. Several freedom fighters had been imprisoned by the Portuguese and a few like Prabhakar Sinari and Vishwanath Lokhande had also broken out of jail..

It rained heavily on the day of the public meeting but Dr Lohia managed to raise the issues of civil liberties and also of freedom from Portuguese Rule. He was arrested and put in Mudgaon jail. Mahatma Gandhi criticised the arrest and incarceration of Lohia in his newspaper ‘Harijan’ and extended his support to Goa’s liberation.

Sensing the public mood, the Portuguese took Lohia to the border and released him there. A ban was placed on any future entry by him into Goa for the next five years. Lohia promised to return within three months. But while he was unable to return, his socialist associates began mobilising Goans, who were keen that Lohia should lead their struggle. But Gandhiji wanted Goans to be at the forefront.

After Partition also, leaders of newly Independent India had little time to spare for Goa as they grappled with crises and the task of nation-building. They were reluctant to engage in a military confrontation with Portugal which was a member of NATO.

But Lohia, true to his word, returned to Goa. He was again arrested from the railway station and deported. Mahatma Gandhi once again came out in support. As socialists intensified their struggle to liberate Goa, they received a fillip when Pondicherry became free from the French in 1954.

Tridib Chaudhuri of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), PSP (Praja Socialist party) leader SM Joshi and others like Nath Pai and NG Gore also led the political struggle to free Goa. Madhu Limaye was sentenced by the Portuguese to two years in jail while Tridib Chaudhuri was sentenced to 12 years. In the adjacent forests of Karnataka, Lydia Lobo and her associates continued to broadcast from ‘Free Goan Radio’ in Portuguese and in Konkani.

When the Portuguese troops opened fire on Indian fishermen in November 1961 and killed one of them, it provided India with the pretext for military action.

(Translated from the original in Hindi)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday.)

Click here to join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines