In popular memory, the freedom struggle of Goa has been reduced to a military action that was code-named Operation Vijay, which lasted from 17 to 19 December 1961 in which the Portuguese were defeated. In fact, Operation Vijay was a culmination of a long-drawn-out movement against colonial rule. It was the pressure created by this and the pro-Goan independence movement in India that exerted pressure on the Nehru government to take up military operation for control over the former Portuguese territories.
Various groups including the communists played a major role in the freedom struggle of Goa, other Portuguese enclaves and French colonial outposts is generally not recognised, though many communists were martyred, incarcerated and tortured in the quest. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to colonise parts of India and the last to leave. The colonised era began in Goa in 1510 and ended only in 1961 despite multiple revolts such as the Revolt of Pintos in 1787 and a series of revolts known as the Revolt of Ranes in 1852, 1869 and 1895. While the liberation struggle as a part of broader Indian nationalism began in 1928, with the establishment of Goa Congress Committee by Dr. TB Cunha, the movement gained momentum only from 1946 onwards, when Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia launched the movement for lost civil liberties in Goa on 18 June that year.
Satyagraha for liberation of Portuguese colonies
Multiple groups were operating within Goa with the objective of attaining freedom. The National Congress (Goa) established in 1946 advocated a non-violent struggle and was closer to the Indian National Congress. The United Front of Goans initially advocated an independent nation of Goa and the Goa People’s Party (GPP), which professed communist ideology, maintained strong links with the Communist Party of India (CPI) and later merged with it. Apart from these mass action political formations, two militant groups, the Azad Gomantak Dal (ADG) and the Goa Liberation Army, engaged in Guerrilla-style struggle against the colonial administration. All these groups later operated under the banner of Goa Action Committee (GAC) led by Cunha.
The GPP was founded by Narayan Palekar and George Vaz, with the objective to “prepare the people for a democratic revolution and the establishment of a peoples’ democracy for Goa”. It initially operated from Mumbai due to repression in Goa. There also operated another communist group called the Gomantakiya Tarun Sangh formed in 1937 by veteran communist leader Shamrao Madkaikar. This organisation mainly worked among the youth through a network of libraries and disseminated socialist and nationalist literature.
Outside Goa, India-based political parties like the CPI, Forward Bloc, Praja Socialist Party, Kisan Mazdoor Sangh and Bhartiya Jana Sangh etc. formed the Goa Vimochan Sahayak Samiti (GVSS) in June 1954 to assist the Goan liberation struggle and worked in close coordination with the GAC. In May 1955, the GVSS took the decision to organise series of Satyagraha campaign against the Portuguese regime, as part of which different batches of Satyagrahis were sent to Goa and other colonial enclaves.
The first batch of 68 Satyagrahis led by Senapati Bapat, a Gandhian, and NG Gorey, a socialist, entered Goa on 12 May. Next, on 11 June 1955, a batch of 126 communist volunteers from different parts of India entered Goa. This batch was met with brutal repression at the hands of colonial police and led to the martyrdom of Aminchand Gupta. Condemning the atrocities, the CPI called upon all other parties to strengthen the freedom struggle of Goa and demanded the Nehru government to take “direct action”.
Despite the Nehru government’s reluctance to take action and brutal atrocities committed by Portuguese colonial administration, the CPI organised another mass Satyagraha on 3 August 1955. The Portuguese officials opened fire upon them, killing two communist leaders, Baburao Thorat and Nityanand Saha. Undeterred, around 500 communist volunteers—along with almost 2,600 volunteers from other political parties—again entered Goa on 15 August 1955 in the leadership of veteran communist leader VD Chitale. The Portuguese authorities again opened fire, leading to the death of 22 marchers. After this massacre the government banned Satyagraha mobilisations.
Following the decision to ban the entry of Indians in Goa, the mass movement for Goa’s liberation dampened down until 1961 when prominent freedom fighter and CPI leader Aruna Asif Ali formed the National Campaign Committee for Goa in early 1961. The committee undertook a massive national campaign for Goa’s liberation and toured the country to build pressure on the Nehru government. On the eve of a planned march into Goa, Ali announced that if the government “hesitated any longer over 5,000 volunteers were ready to breach the Portuguese defences”.
The massive nationwide campaign for Goa’s independence and campaigns undertaken by Goan patriots forced the Nehru government to undertake military action which finally ended the Portuguese rule on 19 December 1961.
Liberation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli
The liberation of the former Portuguese enclave, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, proved to be a watershed moment that ousted the Portuguese from India. On 22 July 1954, the United Front of Goans, led by comrade George Vaz of the GPP, liberated Dadra from Portuguese control with full support of local people. Next came the liberation of Nagar Haveli over 10 and 11 August, 1954. The movement for liberation of this enclave began in 1945 when the Warli Tribe, under the CPI banner, revolted against elite caste landlords and money-lenders in the Bombay Presidency. The Warlis’ constituted 33% of Nagar Haveli’s population. Led by Godavari Parulekar, they defeated the Raj-landlord combine in a struggle that lasted two years.
GPP and CPI cadres tried to enter Nagar Haveli over June-August 1954 as well. In August that year the Indian police, on the instructions of then Bombay Presidency Chief Minister Morarji Desai, had them arrested. Desai ordered the arrest of communist activists but allowed and even encouraged Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS cadres along with the ADG to enter Nagar Haveli and take control over it on 11 August 1954.
Mohan Ranade of AGD who took part in the liberation of Silvassa, later narrated the chain of events as follows: “I was very much surprised to note the sudden change in the attitude of Bombay police authorities…they were against our entering the territory of Nagar Haveli and now they were entreating us to immediately advance towards Silvassa. Had the Portuguese presence in Nagar Haveli suddenly became more dangerous to the security of India? No, that was not the case. The truth was that the Warli tribes organised by communists were active and marching towards Silvassa under the banner of Goan Peoples’ Party… Silvassa was in danger of being falling into the hands of communists and it was exactly this that the Bombay government led by Shri. Morarji Desai wanted to avoid…”
Today the RSS claims it played a prominent role in the freedom of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. This is a half-truth, as RSS cadres entered the enclave in last days of its liberation and that too only because of how Desai intervened in the matter. Following the military action, most Western nations including the United States, United Kingdom and the NATO alliance moved a resolution against India in the Security Council. It was the Soviet Union which vetoed the move against India, as did China and Yugoslavia, the United Arab Republic and former colonial nations such as Ghana, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, which came out in full support of India. Even the banned Portuguese communist party released a statement in favour of India’s annexation of Goa and stood with Indian people.
Today, as India observes a century of communist movements, it is important to disclose the history of the anti-colonial movement in India and the world, in which communist outfits and ideas played a central role.
The author is a research scholar at JNU. The views are personal.