Why 14 long years? Why was Goa the last state to be freed from foreign rule in India? Even though India gained independence from the British in 1947, the Portuguese continued to control Goa for another 14 more years, officially leaving on the 19th December 1961.
Many in Goa are puzzled by this question. Why did India wait for so long to liberate Goa? Or rather what prevented India from liberating Goa from the Portuguese for 14 long years?
Well to begin with, when India negotiated independence from the British, it was only limited to British territory in India and not the one controlled by the French and Portuguese.
When India did gain independence in 1947, efforts were soon initiated to bring the French and Portuguese territories under the Indian control. Fortunately, the French agreed to hand over its possessions in India peacefully in 1954.
1955-61- Years of waiting
Portugal under António de Oliveira Salazar (whose policies were identified as nationalistic and conservative) held on to Goa. After the brutal suppression of peaceful Satyagrahis on the Goan borders by the Portuguese forces in 1955, India adopted a ‘wait and watch’ stance (India also closed its consulate in Panjim which was in operation since 1947).
During the period diplomatic efforts were stepped up. Many representations were sent to the Portugal and appeals made to the international community. Even an economic blockade was put on Portuguese territories in the country by the Indian government. To counter this blockade, the Portuguese started the ‘Aéreos da Índia Portuguesa’ an airline specifically used to supply goods to its possessions.
What prevented military actions by India all these years?
There was immense international pressure on the Indian government which prevented it from taking military action. Portugal is part of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). According to the treaty, alliance partners would help out each other in case of crisis. (Prominent countries like U.S.A, Canada, U.K, and France are some of the NATO members).
This meant any action by the Indian government against Portugal in India would lead to retaliation by NATO members. To avoid a disaster the country had to wait for the international atmosphere to change.
Finally, it did with the failed ‘Bay of pigs’ invasion, which successfully distracted the US. While the country also gained prominence as a third world leader, which meant it was not worth spoiling relations over Goa. Canada and the US (being former colonies) along with Australia and UK sympathized with Goa’s cause even though they were NATO members.
In conclusion, India did time its military action very well. That is why there were no major drawbacks for India internationally. A long time was needed for India to liberate Goa, due to the political complexities of the world politics at the time. It is definitely not possible to grasp within one article.
It wasn’t that India hesitated to use force, but rather considered the international consequences it might suffer afterwards.
Written by Shailesh Shriram Tanpure