FO° Books

Goa, 1961

Goa, 1961: The Complete Story of Nationalism and Integration" sheds light on the overlooked episode of India's forceful liberation of Portuguese-ruled Goa in 1961. Faleiro carefully dissects the events, from the intriguing lead-up to the swift invasion and its aftermath. Highlighting lesser-known details such as failed negotiations and flawed intelligence, Faleiro paints a comprehensive portrait. While centered on Goa, the book hints at broader consequences, including its potential impact on the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. This rich analysis captures the complexities of decolonization, leaving readers pondering historical "what-ifs" and the nuanced forces that shape nations.

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September 02, 2023 23:07 EDT

THE BACKGROUND – 1510: Goa Turns Portuguese

Portugal, although puny with a population of just over a million and nothing noteworthy about her ocean-going traditions, was the first European nation to chart a sea route to Asia.

The fall of Constantinople (now Istanbul) to the Ottoman Turks on 29 May  1453 made Portugal feel the need to open a new battlefront with the Ottoman Empire by joining forces with the mythical Rei Preste  João (King Prester John of Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia), for which naval power was a prerequisite. Until then, Portugal only had half-decked sailboats and sailors who were unable to navigate out of sight of land and into the oceans.

A far-sighted Portuguese prince, Dom Henrique, better known as Henry the Navigator, invested some of his own wealth and that of the templars into shipbuilding and navigation. He launched a maritime school at Sagres on Portugal’s southwestern cape of São  Vicente facing the Atlantic. (Modern historians call Sagres a myth. In 1960, the Portuguese in Goa built a monument—a sextant with a  mariner’s globe—to commemorate 500 years of the Sagres School for navigation at Campal in Panjim. Portugal’s vessel to commemorate  the fifteenth-century voyages of discovery was named Sagres—she docked at Mormugao, Goa, in the mid-1990s amidst howls of protest  by local freedom fighters.) 

At Sagres, or some such place, Portuguese sailors were trained in cosmology, cartography, math, medicine and shipbuilding by hired Arabs, Jews, Genoese and Moroccans.

Henry the Navigator sponsored annual maritime expeditions to explore and map the west coast of Africa, to establish provisioning points en route and to constantly modify and improve the sturdiness of his sail ships. He died in 1460. After a lull of two decades, his nephew, King João II (1481–95), picked up the threads in 1480.

In 1487–88, Bartolomeu Dias made the historic rounding  of the much-feared Cape of torments, where Adamastor, the  tempestuous sea devil, was believed to swallow sail ships and turn white men black. With Portugal’s maritime conquest, the Cape of torments became the Cape of Good Hope. It was then that King  João II conceived the Plano da India, a plan entailing the search for a sea route to India. the fall of Constantinople to the ottomans had closed the land route to Asia and the trade of spices, silks and other Asian merchandise was now a monopoly in the hands of seafaring Arabs and Venetian merchants, who profiteered at the cost of Europe. Portugal would soon emerge a European leader in maritime discovery—and of the lucrative Asian trade!  the Portuguese were the first to arrive in India. Discoverer Vasco da Gama dropped anchor near Calicut in May 1498, long before the Mughals stepped into India. Calicut was, coincidentally, the hometown of India’s future defense minister, Vengalil Krishnan Kurup Krishna Menon—the principal backstage actor in the  1961 operation Vijay, which evicted the Portuguese after more than four-and-a-half centuries in India.

The Portuguese discovery of a sea route to India was an epoch- defining moment in the history of mankind. It would open the gates to an ‘Age of Discoveries’, lead to lands hitherto unknown to
the European world—in Africa, Asia, Australia and, accidentally, the Americas—and spur a commercial revolution, the initial indicators of globalization and a world economy. It was to change the world’s history, economics and politics. It had an underbelly too: it would  lead to colonialism and spur slavery.

Interestingly, Portugal’s prideful narrative of the ‘Age of  Discoveries makes no mention of the burgeoning and highly  profitable African slave trade that continued well into the nineteenth
century. Film-maker and journalist Ana Naomi de Sousa writes: ‘Until now, there has never been a single explicit reference, memorial or monument in Portugal’s public space to its pioneering role in the transatlantic slave trade, nor any acknowledgment of the millions of lives that were stolen between the 15th and 19th centuries. there is also a deafening silence on the cruelty and brutality that the Portuguese inflicted to achieve the domination of their trading posts and colonies.’

When it arrived at the shores of south-west India, Portugal was barely out of the late Middle Ages and on the threshold of the early Renaissance. Lisbon, established circa 1200 BC, was the oldest European capital city—older than Madrid, Rome, Paris and London. The Indian civilization was far more ancient, second only to Mesopotamia and Egypt, older than the civilizations of Maya/Mexico, China and Andes (Aztec, Inca); and all of those, much older than Europe.

The Portuguese set up spice-trading bases in Cochin (Kochi) and Cannanore (Kannur) on the Malabar coast. They raked in such giddy profits that the envious European royalty nicknamed their king, Manuel I, the Fortunate. Their Asian capital, initially in Cochin, was shifted to Goa in 1530, fifteen years after he died, thanks to Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor in India from 1509 to 1515. Albuquerque had conquered the Cidade de Goa (City of Goa) in 1510, and it appeared as though he had fallen in love with the place because he wanted it to be Portugal’s Asian capital.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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