An eerie silence befell on Goa on a day which otherwise used to see political class and sections trumpet the historic ‘Opinion Poll’. Celebrated as ‘Asmitai Dis’, it is indeed Goa’s moment of reckoning. On January 16, 1967, Goa voted against merging with Maharashtra and chose to be a Union Territory. The pro-merger section lost by 34,021 votes in an epoch-making referendum.
In 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made a public statement that the Centre wanted Goa to maintain its separate identity and ‘individuality’. He stressed the fact that there was no intention of changing or suppressing that identity. With identity, Nehru wanted to preserve the distinct vibe that Goa had -- a perfect fusion of heritage with colonial and local imprints.
However, around 55 years later, successive governments and political leaders across the divide have forgotten the very essence of the referendum. Goa continues to live in uncertainty over its identity, and the picture of the past is gradually fading. We stand at a crossroads when it comes to Goanness, land policies, coastal zone management plan, protecting the environment, rights of Goans, preserving environment and ecology, a huge influx of migrant population and even medium of instruction. And while there is so much to deal with, there is a steady flow of Goans who are seeking an escape route to Europe and the Western world in search of a better life.
Yes, the State needs to rise and commemorate Opinion Poll day. We need to acknowledge, remember and honour those who were instrumental in fighting for Goa’s identity. But, while we do so, the political class and the people as a whole, must strive to protect the preserve this unique Goan identity. The Opinion Poll day would be meaningless if the State is constantly at war over subjects that define its identity.
The positives are by far few and rare. It is only a week back that the government decided to amend the Goa Change of Name and Surname Act in an attempt to plug loopholes that were exploited by migrants to change their status as ‘Goans’, and seek benefits in the State. Also, Goa has moved to the third position in 2020-21 from the 7th slot in the Niti Aayog’s Sustainable Development Goals index. The state has appointed the Planning Statistics and Evaluation Department as nodal authority to monitor and implement sustainable development goals and has asked 16 government departments to constitute teams in this regard. These are encouraging steps, but still not good enough to bring in a sense of reassurance.
While Goa goes into an election that promises doles and goodies showered by parties, there is an urgent need to address the identity crisis that Goa is currently facing. Goa has witnessed a revolt in the last few years where people have hit the streets, questioning decision-making on controversial projects. Lest we forget, the fight against the three linear projects and the coal expansion at MPT were burning issues around six months back. The government was forced to reverse decisions on the IIT project at Shel-Melauli and the controversial Bhumiputra Bill.
A major challenge now would be to arrest the fast-fading Goan identity, and this should be the focus area as the State goes into yet another election.