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Goa Opinion Poll

The Goa Opinion Poll was a referendum held in the state of Goa, India, on 16 January 1967, to decide the future of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu within the Indian Union. Although popularly called an opinion poll, it was in fact, a referendum, as the results of the poll were binding on the government of India. The referendum offered the people of Goa a choice between continuing as a union territory or merging with the state of Maharashtra. It is the only referendum to have been held in independent India.[1][2][3] The people of Goa voted against the merger and Goa continued to be a union territory. Subsequently, in 1987, Goa became a full-fledged state within the Indian Union.

Background

India gained its independence from the British in 1947. Goa was the largest part of the Portuguese possession in India, the other territories being small enclaves. In 1961, India incorporated these territories after a military invasion. At the time of Goa’s accession into India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had promised that Goa would retain its distinct identity. Even prior to the annexation of Goa, the government of independent India had promised that the people of Goa would be consulted on any decision about their territory.[4]

In the meantime, the provinces of India had been reorganized on linguistic basis. This happened due to the intense political movements for language-based states as well as a need to effectively administer a diverse country. Among the prominent movements for linguistic states was the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. In 1960, The state of Bombay was partitioned into two new states: the state of Maharashtra, which encompassed the Marathi speaking areas; and Gujarat where Gujarati was predominant.

The language question

One of the main reasons leading to the referendum was the diglossic situation among the people of Goa.[1] Konkani was the main language spoken in Goa. Apart from this, many Konkani people were bilingual; they spoke both Marathi and Konkani. Among the Hindus in Goa, Marathi occupied a higher status and their culture was similar to the culture of the neighbouring state. Konkani was spoken at home and in the bazaars, but religious literature, ceremonies etc. were in Marathi. Some people in Goa considered Konkani to be a dialect of Marathi and hence by reason, considered all Goans to be of Marathi ethnicity.[5][6] As a result there were demands from various sections in Goa as well as from Maharashtra to merge Goa into Maharashtra.

The enclaves of Daman and Diu were Gujarati-speaking areas and bordered the new state of Gujarat.

Political situation

Since Goa was an acquired territory, it was not given immediate statehood but was incorporated as a Union Territory, expectedly for a decade. Unlike other Union Territories, which were directly administered by the central government in New Delhi, Goa was allowed to have its own state legislature. Goa's first polls were held on 9 December 1963.

The two main parties, UGP and MGP, were formed with two opposing ideologies. The Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (Pro-Maharashtra Goan Party) wanted to merge the state of Goa into the newly formed state of Maharashtra. The United Goans Party wanted to retain independent statehood for the former Portuguese enclaves.[7] The MGP had the support of the lower castes among Goa's Hindus, whereas the UGP was dominated by Catholics with some support from upper-caste Hindus.[8][9]

Of the 30 seats in the Goa, Daman and Diu assembly, 28 belonged to Goa, and one each to Daman and Diu. MGP formed the government, having secured 16 seats while UGP secured 12. The assembly of Goa, Daman and Diu convened on 9 January 1964.

Demand for a referendum

Prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru had promised in 1963 that Goa would remain a Union Territory for ten years after which the future of Goa would be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of Goa. The MGP was not prepared to wait for that long.[10]

The MGP and politicians in Maharashtra were elated at the victory and touted it as a mandate that the majority of Goans were in favour of merger.[11] Dayanand Bandodkar, the leader of MGP and the first Chief Minister of Goa, proclaimed that by voting the MGP into power, the people of Goa had, in effect, voted in favour of merger with Maharashtra. According to them, passing a bill in the state legislature was all that was needed. Passing a bill in the assembly would be easy for the MGP as they had a simple majority.

In a representative democracy like India, the elected representatives take the decisions. It is in very rare conditions that the onus of decision making is put directly on the public.

The United Goans Party, headed by Dr. Jack de Sequeira, also knew that if the issue was put to vote in the state assembly, merger was a foregone conclusion. Merging Goa into another state was a monumental decision.[12] Also the very future of the state and the identity of the Goan people was at stake.[13] So they pressed for a people's referendum instead of a vote among the representatives; as was the norm in a Parliamentary democracy like India.

Dr. Jack visited New Delhi along with his MLAs and impressed Nehru about the need of an opinion poll on this matter. However he died before Parliament could take this decision could be taken and Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded him as Prime Minister. A delegation consisting of MGP MLAs and Maharashtra’s leaders went to New Delhi to convince him that a vote on the merger should be conducted in the Goa Assembly.

Dr. Jack, along with others, went to Bangalore where an AICC session was being held and met Shastri. They opposed the move to get the merger voted in the Assembly and impressed on Shastri and Kamraj, the need to put this question before the people of Goa themselves instead of a vote in the Assembly. However Shastri died in 1966 in Tashkent and this decision was now left to the new Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Again Dr. Jack and his legislators met Indira Gandhi and submitted a memorandum that such a monumental decision affecting the future of the State could not be left to legislators alone, but should be put before the people to decide.[14] Purushottam Kakodkar, the president of the Goa unit of the Congress Party, used his personal equations with the Nehru family to lobby hard for a referendum with the central leadership. According to one source, he reportedly "almost lost his sanity" trying to do so.[15]

The referendum could be conducted via a signature campaign or by secret ballot. UGP also demanded that expatriate Goans staying in other parts of India or the world, should be allowed to vote by postal ballot. However this request was denied.

The President of India gave his assent to the Goa, Daman and Diu (Opinion Poll) Act on 16 December 1966 after it was passed in both houses of the parliament. 16 January 1967 was chosen as the date for the referendum.[4]

Now that the referendum would be conducted, the anti-merger faction feared that Bandodkar may use the state’s administrative and law-enforcement machinery to browbeat the anti-mergerists into submission.[10] The UGP demanded that the MGP government resign so that the referendum could be conducted in a free-and-fair atmosphere. The central government conceded and on 3 December 1966, the MGP government resigned .

Arguments in favour of merger

  1. Goa was too small to administer itself and its effective administration would only be possible as a part of a larger state.[4]
  2. similarities between culture and traditions of Hindus in both the states.
  3. the strong historical and cultural ties with Maharashtra
  4. the belief that Konkani is a dialect of Marathi and that Marathi is the mother tongue of all Goans.[3]

The MGP had the backing of the depressed classes and landless tenants of Goa as well as the landlord warrior class which were ethnically Marathas along with the other Goans and were of the thinking that the clerks (Brahmins or shenvis) had won undue favors from Portuguese in terms of land and money which they consider themselves as the rightful heir as they were the rulers. They were convinced that the only way to overthrow the dominance of the upper caste Hindu Brahmins, bhatkaars(land-owners) and the Catholics who had benefited from Portuguese rule; was to merge into Maharashtra. After merger these previously dominant groups would count for nothing within the vast Maharashtrian populace and their influence would vanish.

The MGP had promised that Goa would be granted several concessions after merger with Maharashtra. The chief minister of Maharashtra, Vasantrao Naik, backed up these promises. Some of these promises were:

  1. Preferential treatment to Goans in government jobs
  2. Industrial and agricultural development
  3. Prohibition would not be applicable to Goa
  4. government notices in Konkani
  5. setting up a separate university for Goa
  6. development of Konkani[4]

Arguments against the merger

  1. Konkani is an independent language and not a dialect of Marathi. It was underdeveloped due to the suppression of the language.[12]
  2. Konkani would be replaced by Marathi
  3. Goa had an identity of its own. Goan culture was a mix of East and the west having been under Portuguese occupation for nearly 450 years.[3]
  4. if Goa was merged Goan culture would be subsumed in Marathi culture and disappear.
  5. Goa would be reduced from a state to a "backwater district of Maharashtra".
  6. Prohibition would be imposed in Goa, which had a significant rate of alcohol consumption and brewing industry. It would also affect the toddy tappers(Render caste)
  7. Merger would result in a loss of jobs for Goans. The Shiv Sena, a Marathi regionalist party had emerged in Maharashtra in 1966 which favoured a sons-of-the-soil policy; demanding preferential treatment for ethnic Marathis in jobs. It also spearheaded violent attacks against South Indians in the city of Bombay. If their moves succeeded, Goans would be sidelined for jobs in their own state.[4]

The Christians of Goa accounted for 250,000 Roman Catholics during the 1960s a major portion of the Goan population and had considerable influence were fearful that the merger would reduce their political influence to nothing in the merged entity.[12] Many Goan Hindus, on the other hand, have relatives in Maharashtra, and most speak a dialect of the Marathi language. But the determining question was whether Goa should cease to exist.[12]

However there [16] After Independence, India had seen communal riots and the emergence of more powerful Hindu-nationalist groups such as the RSS.[17]

Unlike the Hindus, for whom Marathi was a medium of religious instruction, the Christians did not use Marathi. They mostly spoke in Konkani and did not have any feelings for Marathi. The pro-merger argument that Konkani was a dialect of Marathi did not please them.[12]

Buildup to the referendum

Campaigning for the referendum began one month before the vote and was vigorous.[18]

The pro-merger group received support from leaders of Maharashtra, cutting across political lines.[19]

Dr.Sequeria toured extensively over Goa conducting public meetings explaining the anti-merger stand. He also went to many places outside Goa, such as the city of Bombay which had a sizeable Goan community to highlight the issue. However, later it turned out that this was in vain as only resident Goans were allowed to vote. He was aided in his tasks by his son Erasmo.

The tiatrists of Goa (stage-play performers and writers) campaigned earnestly with Konkani songs written by young writers like Channeache Rati inspired many Goans.

Goa's main Marathi newspaper Gomantak pursued a pro-merger view. To counter this Rashtramat a new Marathi daily, was started to influence the Marathi readers (who were mostly pro-merger) against the merger. Its chief editor was Chandrakant Keni . Uday Bhembre wrote a fiery column Brahmastra, took a stance opposing his pro-merger father. The Rashtramat proved critical in bringing many of the pro-Marathi faction to vote against the merger.[20][21]

Referendum

The referendum offered the people of Goa, Daman and Diu two options

  1. To remain a Union Territory of India. Or
  2. To merge Goa with Maharastra; and Daman and Diu with Gujarat.[1]

The two options were represented by two symbols: A flower for merger, and two leaves for retaining independent identity. Voters had to pace a "X" mark against the symbol of choice.

The poll was held on 16 January 1967. Polling was largely peaceful with reports of a few incidents. Supporters from both sides tried their best to ensure that people voted.

Results

Choice Votes %
Separate territory 172,191 54.20
Merger 138,170 43.50
Total 317,633 100
Registered voters/turnout 388,432 81.77

There were 388,432 eligible voters. A total of 317,633 votes were polled. Three days were allotted for the counting. 54.20% voted against merger whereas 43.50% voted in favour. Thus, despite the Hindus' numerical superiority, Goans rejected the merger with Maharashtra by a vote of 172,191 to 138,170.[12] The anti-mergerists won by 34,021 votes.[22] In the territorial capital of Panjim, the results were cheered by a crowd of 10,000, who danced in the streets carrying branches symbolic of victory, set off firecrackers, and created such a joyous disturbance that the government had to call in police with tear gas to restore order. Goa is not yet gone.[12]

An analysis of the voting patterns shows that the voting patterns closely followed the patterns of the 1963 assembly election. However, a significant section of MGP's supporters had voted against the merger without which the pro-merger faction would have won.[4]

Criticism

The opinion poll received a great deal of criticism from the anti-mergerists. Their grievance was that the Opinion Poll only offered them status-quo as a self administering union territory instead of full statehood that they desired. According to them the referendum should not have been on the issue of merger with Goa, but whether Goa should have an independent legislature or not. This issue led to a split in the UGP.[23]

Subsequent events

Despite the MGP's pro-merger move being defeated, it won the subsequent elections again in 1967 and 1972.[1] For the UGP, although the opinion poll victory was a vindication of their efforts, it did not translate into electoral gains. Dr Jack de Sequeira was criticized for agreeing to clause in the referendum that did not confer full statehood to Goa. A group led by Alvaro de Loyola Furtado split from the party.[4] The party later faded away.

Statehood

Goa did not achieve full statehood in 1971 as was expected. Following persistent demands; including a 1976 resolution by the Goa assembly demanding full statehood; Goa finally became a state on 30 May 1987. Daman and Diu were separated from Goa and continue to be administered as the Union territory of Daman and Diu.

The status of Konkani

The status of Konkani was closely related to the issue of statehood for Goa. Although the issue of statehood was resolved in 1967, the Konkani Marathi dispute continued to simmer. In 1975 the Sahitya Akademi recognised Konkani as an independent language.

In 1987, the Goa legislative assembly passed a bill making Konkani the official language of Goa. Although the bill did not explicitly grant Marathi any official status in Goa, it contains safeguards for the use of Marathi in official communication and education.

In 1992, Konkani was included in the Eight Schedule of the constitution of India.

Honours

Although Jack de Sequeira faced some flak for compromising on the issue of full statehood; nonetheless, for his stalwart leadership of the UGP and tireless efforts that led to the referendum; he is known as the Father of the Opinion Poll in Goa.[24] For his leadership of the entertainers Ulhas Buyao earned the title Goem Shair (Goa's Poet).

16 January is observed as Asmitai Dis (Identity Day) in Goa.

See also

References

External links

  • THE HISTORIC OPINION POLL - Sandesh Prabhudesai (also includes constituency-wise results).
  • GOA: The Merger Issue and the Opinion Poll of 1967 (includes details of pre-referendum opinion polls)
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