Wednesday 28 July 2010

GOA: The Merger Issue and the Opinion Poll of 1967 brought to you by Praxy Fernandes

After Goa's Liberation in 1961, a section of Goan society sought Justify Fullto merge Goa with Maharashtra. Several years later in 1966 the Government of India authorised a plesbicite on this issue that is now referred to as the Historic Opinion Poll

Long before the Liberation and annexation of Goa, the Government of India had made it clear on several occasions that the people of Goa would be consulted in any decision about the future status of their territory. After Goa’s liberation on December 19, 1961, several pronouncements indicated that the Government of India would do its best to maintain Goa’s inherent Portuguese culture, similar to the French culture established in Pondicherry. The 1962 Election Manifesto of the Indian National Congress stated that whether Goa merged with Maharashtra or not would be decided by the Goans themselves. Addressing a public meeting in 1963, the then Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru stated that Goa would remain a Union Territory for ten years after which Goans would decide the future status of Goa by way of a referendum.

The first elections in the newly formed Union Territory were held in 1963. The Maharashtra Gomantak Party (MGP) that was established six months prior to the elections won a majority. The elections were fought mainly on the party’s advocacy of merging Goa with Maharashtra.

Contrary to what the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru stated, the MGP did not want to wait for those 10 years to decide Goa’s fate. The party tried to engineer the merger of Goa with Maharashtra. This attempt was stalled largely on account of the Government of India’s preoccupation with the 1965 war with Pakistan.

As soon as the war ended the issue of Goa’s merger was raised in Goan political circles. The Congress Party’s Central Working Committee in its meeting of September 3, 1966 deliberated on this issue and decided to hold a plebiscite to decide the fate of Goa. Subsequently, the Indira Gandhi-led governing Congress party of the Government of India introduced the Goa, Daman and Diu (Opinion Poll) Act in the Indian Parliament. The Bill was first passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on December 1, 1966. Next, the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) passed the bill on December 7, 1966. The President of India gave the Bill his assent on December 16, 1966. The Bill, with its 34 clauses, was enacted and specified that a poll would determine whether Goa should merge with Maharashtra, and Daman & Diu with Gujarat, or continue to remain a Union Territory. The Indian Parliament recommended that the Opinion Poll be conducted prior to the fourth General Elections in the country. Accordingly, January 16, 1967 was fixed as the date for the Opinion Poll.

“The Opinion Poll Act” faced severe criticism from within the territory of Goa. The United Goans Party demanded a separate referendum for the institution of an independent legislature and wanted to eliminate the idea of a merger. This led to a splinter in the party: four members of the Legislative Assembly, headed by Mr. Alvaro Deloyla Furtado left the party since they did not favour the idea of the Opinion Poll. Thus, The United Goans Party had two groups — the Sequeira group and the Furtado group named after the leaders, Dr Jack de Sequeira and Mr Alvaro Deloyla Furtado. The Goa Congress Committee initially wanted to boycott the Poll, but later agreed to participate and bonded together with both factions of The United Goans Party to vote down the Maharashtra Gomantak Party.

In order to ensure a free and fair election various demands were made. One was that every adult Indian citizen of Goa, Daman & Diu origin, wherever s/he might be residing, had a right to vote in the Opinion Poll. Other demands included the dismissal of the Bandodkar Ministry, the transfer of the Lt. Governor Shri K. R. Damle, the return of the ‘deputationist’ from Maharashtra, and debarring the State Reserve Police officials and personnel from casting their vote in the Opinion Poll since they were not deemed residents of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman & Diu. The Government of India conceded only one of the demands - the resignation of the Bandodkar Ministry.

The Pro-Merger View
The Pro-Merger View was spearheaded by Bhausaheb alias Dayanand Bandodkar, Chief Minister of Goa and leader of the MGP. A pro-merger group comprising of dissenting members of the Goa Territorial Congress Committee, the Communist Party of India, the Maharashtra Vilinikaran Agadhi, the Praja Socialist Party and the Jan Sangh Party lent their support to the cause of merger of Goa with Maharashtra and supported the pro-merger view of the MGP.
Those favouring merger of the territory argued that Goa had strong historical, cultural and religious ties with Maharashtra that dated back many centuries. At the time of the Opinion Poll, thousands of Goans lived and carved their careers in Bombay. Goans shared their worship of religious deities and religious practices and festivals with the people of Maharashtra. Besides religion, the affinity further extended to a common language, script, mythological heritage, literature, folklore and social customs. Even the Catholics in Goa had many customs in common with Hinduism and practiced the caste system, a unique feature not found anywhere else in Christian society.
The MGP listed several promises in their election manifesto. Goa would be granted special status until Goa was brought on par with the rest of Maharashtra. Special provisions would be granted to Goa vis-à-vis prohibition, employment opportunities and other development work, including the industrial and agriculture sectors. Government staff was promised better openings, quick promotions and no large scale transfers.
The Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Vasantrao P. Naik, reassured the people of Goa and supplemented the promises of the MGP. The warranties included issuing posters and handbills, promising development of the Konkani language, setting up of a University for Goa, establishing a separate branch of the Bombay High Court in the capital city of Panjim, protecting pay scales and service conditions of Government employees, guaranteeing free education until the College level, providing grants to educational institutions, giving concessions to backward classes, and above all certifying that there would be no prohibition in the territory of Goa.
Maharashtra’s political leaders of every political persuasion supported the merger and tried to sway the people of Goa. Even prolific singer, Shahir Amar Shaikh of the Communist Party of India visited Goa with his entourage, Lal Bawta Kala Pathak (Red Flag Artistes Troupe), and performed in several villages of Goa.
Gomantak – Goa’s first Marathi daily newspaper, owned by the Chowgule family, was at the forefront of promoting the pro-merger view.
To study this point of view several sample public opinion polls were conducted.
Goa cannot be maintained as a separate administrative unit because of its smallness and as such its merger with the adjoining states is essential.
Table 1. Agreement on Merger proposal
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 228 (28.5) 269 (67.3) 497 (41.4)
Disagree 476 (59.5) 112 (28.0) 588 (49.0)
Neutral 75 (9.4) 14 (3.5) 89 (7.4)
No Responses 21 (2.6) 5 (1.2) 26 (2.2)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)
Outside political influences and pressures created greater confusion regarding merger issue
Table 2. Agreement on the role of outside pressures
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 595 (74.4) 280 (70.0) 875 (72.9)
Disagree 89 (11.1) 67 (17.8) 156 (13.0)
Neutral 87 (10.9) 30 (7.5) 117 (9.8)
No Responses 29 (3.6) 23 (5.7) 52 (4.3)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)

Table 3. Agreement on the statement: “The fear of the minorities
is utterly unjustified
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 233 (29.1) 260 (65.0) 493 (41.0)
Disagree 403 (50.4) 75 (18.8) 478 (39.9)
Neutral 136 (17.0) 62 (15.5) 198 (16.5)
No Responses 28 (3.5) 3 (0.7) 31 (2.6)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)
The integration of Goa with its parent country (India) gives its citizens opportunities to better their prospects not only inside their territory but also within the span of a very big country.

Table 4. Integration with India is beneficial
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 735 (91.9) 398 (99.6) 1133 (94.4)
Disagree 14 (1.8) 1 (0.2) 15 (1.3)
Neutral 33 (4.1) 1 (0.2) 34 (2.8)
No Responses 18 (2.2) nil 18 (1.5)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)

The Anti-Merger View

The Anti-Merger View was spearheaded by Panjim's Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and leader of the United Goans Party, Dr. Joao Hugo Eduardo de Sequeira alias Dr. Jack de Sequeira and his son Erasmo Sequeira. They were assisted by both groups of The United Goans Party, the Goa Territorial Congress Committee, the Anti-Merger Front and the United Goans Party in Bombay, all of whom opposed the merger of Goa with Maharashtra.
They contended that Goans would be reduced to a minority, and that their rights and privileges would not be safeguarded. To counter the MGP-fuelled propaganda, this group raised a slogan: "Merger means slavery and Union Territory means Freedom". They advocated the view that Goa remain a Union Territory and not be deprived of her own Legislative Assembly where her own elected representatives could address issues related to Goa and Goans. The merger would spell the end of the Panjim Secretariat and the High Court resulting in considerable delays in disposal of cases.
An important feature of their discord was the preservation of Goan cultural heritage. A merger would lead to a significant loss and decadence of the Goan culture. Pre-eminent in the minds of Goans was that Goa would lose its identity – its unique blend of East and West. Goa would be reduced to a backwater district of Maharashtra just as Sawantwadi or Ratnagiri districts in the State were losing all their cultural singularities. People were alarmed also that a merger would result in the demise of Goa’s language, Konkani, which would be surreptitiously displaced by Marathi.
Another fear was the imposition of prohibition that would prevent Goans from imbibing alcohol. This would also adversely affect the toddy tappers in Goa who would lose their livelihood and income.
A major worry was the lack of employment opportunities if the merger was successful. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena was already advocating jobs for ethnic Maharashtrians only. This policy would negatively impact Central Government employees whose higher remuneration for working in a Union Territory would be first to draw their ire. Goan employees would have to compete with non-Goans with the possibility that Goans could be transferred to remote corners of Maharashtra.
Support also sprouted from the cultural arena. Entertainer, Ulhas Buyao, who was 23 at the time, established Jai Gomantak Kala Pathak. This included young writers like Dr Manoharrai Sardessai, Shankar Bhandari and Uday Bhembre (a passionate orator, whose father belonged to the opposite camp). The group composed songs and participated in 75 public meetings advocating the Anti-Merger combine in pro-merger constituencies. Ulhas Buyao, affectionately called “Goem Shahir,” composed and sang the anthem, Goenchea Mhojea Goenkaramno in support for the Anti-Merger view that inspired thousands of Goans to sing-along.
In addition, a daily Marathi newspaper, Rashtramat, was set up to counter the pro-merger camp. Chandrakant Keni was appointed editor and Uday Bhembre penned a supportive column, Brahmastra.
Once again, to study this point of view several sample public opinion polls were conducted.

Table 5. It would be in the interest of Goa if it is treated as a
centrally administered State for some years
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 572 (71.5) 183 (45.8) 755 (62.9)
Disagree 158 (19.7) 198 (49.5) 356 (29.7)
Neutral 51 (6.4) 15 (3.7) 66 (5.5)
No Responses 19 (2.4) 4 (1.0) 23 (1.9)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)

Goans have a legitimate fear of being totally absorbed, if Goa is merged with
Maharashtra, and thus lose its individual character.
Table 6. Agreement on loss of cultural identity
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 490 (61.3) 156 (39.0) 646 (53.8)
Disagree 222 (27.7) 226 (56.6) 448 (37.3)
Neutral 63 (7.9) 16 (4.0) 79 (6.6)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)

Table 8. Agreement on loss of cultural peculiarities on Merger
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 486 (60.8) 159 (39.8) 645 (53.7)
Disagree 233 (29.1) 220 (55.0) 453 (37.8)
Neutral 61 (7.6) 15 (3.7) 76 (6.3)
No Responses 20 (2.5) 6 (1.5) 26 (2.2)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)

Table 9 Agreement on the statement : "Opposition to merger of Goa with any
of the neighbouring states is justified because it will lead to loss of employment or
inadequate salaries for the Goans. They will also not be able to withstand the
competition from the non-Goans inside their long protected and sheltered fields."
Category of Responses Frequency (%) Frequency (%) Frequency (%)
Agree 511 (63.9) 173 (43.25) 684 (57.0)
Disagree 220 (27.5) 205 (51.25) 425 (35.4)
Neutral 48 (6.0) 19 (4.75) 67 (5.6)
No Responses 21 (2.6) 3 (0.75) 24 (2.0)
Total 800 (100.0) 400 (100.0) 1200 (100.0)

The Opinion Poll
This was the first Opinion Poll ever held in India. The campaign began in earnest a month prior to the vote. The outcome of the Poll would decide once and for all the status of Goa, and Goans recognized the significance of this event. The Election Commission allocated two symbols to the rival platforms. They were not associated with any political party of India: "Flower" for merger and "Two Leaves" to retain the Union Territory status. The voter had to mark his choice with a "X" mark against either of the two symbols. The poll campaign was largely peaceful with minor altercations that were broken up by the Goa Police. This unprecedented event drew the attention of people not only from India but overseas too. Local and Foreign Press correspondents and cameramen descended on Goa in the days preceding the Opinion Poll.
January 16, 1967 was set as the date to mark this historical occurrence. Nearly 400,000 voters of Goa cast their ballot to decide whether their territory should join the State of Maharashtra or continue as a centrally administered unit. Supporters from both sides worked hard to get people to the booths. Goans answered with a vehement enthusiasm for this process. Lengthy queues were seen long before polling had commenced. All strata of Goan society participated in the process. Farmers and office-goers joined the long queues and discussed the political issues involved. Knowledgeable merchants joined simple labourers, illiterate drivers, and other humble industrial workers in bonhomie as they rubbed shoulders in the queues. Goans from all communities - Hindus, Christians and Muslims - participated. Women turned out in great numbers as well to participate in this momentous decision. Of the total 388,432 eligible voters, 317,633 Goans turned up to vote at the 442 polling stations in 28 constituencies in Goa. Considering the bitter and rancorous campaign that had just ended, the local law enforcement was pleased to see the people of Goa display an unbelievable air of discipline, order and dignity. At the end of the polling day, the question uppermost in the minds of the people was the outcome of voting.
Both contending parties were equally confident. Dr Jack de Sequeira said, "We will get a smashing victory. We will get 70 to 75 per cent votes". His opponent, Shri D.B. Bandodkar, chief proponent of the merger declared, "I am completely confident of victory. We expect to get 60 to 65 per cent votes."
The Opinion Poll Results
The counting of the votes was scheduled to occur over three days. Interest in the outcome of the poll was so high that people abstained from going to work and students converted the event into a public holiday. Newspapers deployed staff at the counting hall to snap up to the minute updates. Some shopkeepers put up their own signs to keep score of the votes.
On the first day, votes were counted in the constituencies of Pernem, Mandrem, Bicholim, Pale and Satari – all strongholds of the Maharashtra Gomantak Party, the champions of Goa’s merger with Maharashtra. Although they led the count by 11,000 votes it was evident that the lead was far from what was expected. Besides, the voting did not go along expected religious lines.
On the second day, the MGP lead increased to 20,000 votes. However, in the course of the day it became evident the pro-merger camp had not polled as many votes as expected. By the end of the day the anti-merger camp came from behind to lead by 8888 votes.
Margao, Curtorim, Cortalim and Mormugao constituencies drove the lead of the anti-merger camp to 33,000 votes on the third day. By the end of the day the choice of the Goan people was very evident. They had rejected merger of their state with Maharashtra in the historic Opinion Poll. The final results were as follows:
Results of the Opinion Poll
Total No. of Eligible Voters 388,392
Total No. of votes polled 317,633 (81.78%)
Votes polled for Union Territory 172,191 (54.20%)
Votes polled for Merger 138,170 (43.50%)
Invalid Votes 7,272 (2.30%)

Goans were ecstatic! Thousands of fire crackers boomed across the Mandovi, Goans embraced each other and danced in the streets, they smeared colours on each other, and cried tears of uncontrollable joy.

Voting Pattern
The voting pattern that emerged clearly demonstrated that the blueprint had been more or less on the lines of the first general elections of 1963 in the whole territory of Goa. It showed similar caste and communal factors which had entered into the politics of the first general elections. The Maharashtra Gomantak Party, which was committed to the cause of merger with Maharashtra, was largely supported by the Bahujan Samaj (lower castes) whereas the United Goans Party who led the Anti-Merger View were largely supported by Catholics and upper caste Hindus. It is of particular significance to note that Hindus, the majority community, did not favour the merger, but were all in favour of maintaining the status of the Union Territory. The pro-merger faction gained in at least eight constituencies, while anti-merger combination was successful in making inroads in 20 out of 28 constituencies.
This clearly indicates that the voting trend in the Opinion Poll was not as rigid as in the first general elections but had cut across communal barriers contrary to the general expectations.
In the contemporary times, successive governments have failed to celebrated Goa’s tryst with destiny on that fateful day, January 16, 1967, now celebrated as Asmitai Dis (Goan Identity Day). It is a special day in Goa’s history when irrespective of Religion, Caste, Education and Wealth, Goans from all walks of life defeated a move to forfeit Goan identity.

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