“Mudar a si mesmo, e sua sorte vai mudar” goes a Portuguese proverb. Simply stated it means “change yourself to change your luck” and that is what over 80,000 Indians living in Portugal did. They became dual citizens first then single nationals. The Goan does a reality check on the issue of Goans asPortuguese National. Is it economic lure or is it emotional strings?
“A huge international racket in granting Portuguesenationality under a clause meant only for persons from Goa, Daman and Diu hasbeen grossly misused amongst others by Terrorist Masood Azad (who had beenreleased by the Government of India during the Kandahar hijacking) and AbuSalem were both found with Portuguese passports”, said the former unionminister for external affairs and Congress MP Eduardo Faleiro exposing theextent to which the system in Lisbon’s Conservatorio dos Registos Centrais (theCentral Registrar's office) responsible for processing applications, had beencompromised in 2002. Ten years later, the craze for the red passport hasn’twaned.
Born before 1961, the citizens of Goa, Daman and Diu are theprivileged Indians who have a right to become citizens of a foreign country.Every morning, the Consulate at Altinho has many Portuguese wannabes lined upto apply for passports and visas. Every year, an estimated 2000 people applyfor the mystical red passport and the pale yellow Billette from PortugueseConsulate in Goa. This, despite the fact that Portugal has shut down its Mumbaiconsular office and expelled staff involved in fake identity passport racketfrom its Delhi embassy some years ago. Goa’s relationship with Portuguesenationality runs tougher than Goa’s former colonialist’s foreign policy.
The passport has been a tool for thousands of Goans bornbefore 1961 and two generations born thereafter to live in the European Unionincluding UK, Scotland and Northern Island based on the agreements postindependent where Portugal allows Goans to attain a Portuguese passport.
“Goa is not a colony of Portugal but was an enclave of therepublic of Portugal. Until that date the government offices were a branch ofoffices in Lisbon and the births and deaths registered before 1961 were anextension to the Central Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths of Lisbon,”stated Jesito Gomindes, Goa’s largest Portuguese passport consultant based inMargao.
Goans clearly avail of this benefit for employment in theEuropean Union. While no other colony gets the same benefit across continentsand neither does the rest of India get this benefit from England or Pondicherryfrom France.
Similarly Eduardo Faleiro, former External Affairs Ministerof State in the Narasimha Rao government pointed out, “The merits of Goansgetting a Portuguese passport are many, a reason why Portugal agreed and thethen Prime Minister Rao allowed India’s first consulate to be set up outsidethe metros. Goa got the Portuguese consulate to process Bilhete de Identidadethat meets European Union identity card standards and Portuguese Passports.”
This however is not as simple. A BI holder or a Portuguesepassport holder has forfeited his rights of being an Indian and holdingcitizenship and hence cannot be allowed to contest elections or avail thebenefits of an Indian citizenship. This is where many Goans have been less thantransparent or down right devious, keeping both passports for benefits in bothcountries.
NRI Commissioner Dr Wilfred Mesquita agrees that aPortuguese citizen cannot contest elections but asserts, “Goans are green cardholders in America or British passport holders. This does not mean their birthcertificates are cancelled in Goa though citizenship is cancelled. You cannotchange the fact in terms of your place of birth or your original registrationof birth records.”
Dr Mequita while referring to the controversies of MLA’sCaitu and Glen Ticlo questions what would the government had done if atliberation, the Portuguese had smuggled out all birth and death records andeverybody was registered as a Portuguese national in Lisbon born before 1961.All this has to be considered since we became a part of India only in 1962.
Anthony Fernandes, a freedom fighter from Margao has anothertake on the issue, saying, “The problem here is the government’s silence onthis issue. Neither are they interested in dual citizenship to Goans who havegone to other countries or nor are they looking to stop the issuance ofPortuguese passports. Since Goans use the passport as a means to gainemployment in Europe, India just ignores this benefit or threat. It’s time wehave guidelines on these passports and specify the rights lost on opting forone.”
The debate ranges on. Even within the establishment inLisbon, there opinion is divided on continuing to give Portuguese passports toGoan but hasn’t really escalated as an issue which needs to be resolved in ahurry.