A few weeks ago, while reviewing Suresh Kanekar’s autobiography (a large part of which dealt with the author’s experience during Goa’s freedom struggle) I had claimed that accounts and histories regarding Goa’s decolonization were viewed through a sacral veneer of nationalism and were hagiographical in the presentation of their narratives. However, I had also pointed out that Kanekar’s memoir could be used to think afresh about Goa’s decolonization. I shall continue to grapple with this theme in reviewing Shrikant Y. Ramani’s Operation Vijay: The Ultimate Solution.
Ramani has attempted to give a blow-by-blow account of the Indian army’s action in Goa. He says that he has used both Indian and Portuguese sources. Using such multilingual sources is a requirement of methodology but the problem here is that Ramani is not critical of his sources. In many places he has, as admitted in the preface, “literally” reproduced entire documents or primary sources; one sometimes has no clue where Ramani is presenting/discussing his arguments and where he is reproducing his documentary source. The use of source material from the Indian and Portuguese sides, it must be mentioned, does help the reader in the corroboration of the events/incidents.
19 December, 1961 was a momentous event not only for Goans but also for the international community led by the United Nations. A brief survey of the academic writings that were produced before and after 1961 (including an interesting essay by Oliveira Salazar, the dictator of Portugal) suggests that the debate has been either condemning/delegitimizing India’s claims or justifying them. But a critical engagement with these ideas and arguments is missing in the book. What we get is a rather simplistic, nationalist understanding from the perspective of the Indian nation-state. 50 years later, we need much more critical and probing reflection where, apart from the great leaders, statesmen, gallant soldiers and international politics, ordinary men and women – people who had/have diverse responses and experiences to the armed action of the Indian troops also find place in our histories. Ramani in his entire 420 pages does not even consider the insecurities and uncertainties felt by the population, but everywhere we are told that the “civilian population” gave a “welcome [to] the Indian troops…”
Another reason why Ramani’s leaning towards a nationalist paradigm of history is inadequate is how he understands and perceives the history of Goa. Firstly, Ramani glosses over the native contribution in the establishment of Portuguese rule in Goa, such as the help rendered by a certain Mhall Pai Vernekar. The Estado sustained for so long only because it was propped up time and again by native elites as well as the once wealthy casado (married Portuguese settlers) population. Thus, to trace a long, linear, monolithic trajectory wherein “…Albuquerque reconquered it [Goa from Adil Shah] on 25th November 1510 where they remained till the time of Independence of India and thereafter upto 19th December 1961when they were…forced to leave Indian soil forever” is found to be problematic. We also need to recognize that the New Conquests were incorporated in the Estado between 1763 and 1819. “Old Goa,” he says, “is a city of ruins but some relics of Portuguese architecture dating back to 16-17th centuries still survive.” A simple trip to Old Goa would prove otherwise.
Ramani recognizes that “[t]oday India and Portugal…are trying to forget the dark pages in their historical past and learn lessons from history.” But relying entirely on statist sources and histories and not engaging critically with them, Ramani himself has, unwittingly or not, fallen into the trap of ‘forgetting history’. What on the other hand he ‘remembers’ is the same old textbook-narratives that we are all familiar with and thus, nothing new is contributed by the book.
Ramani asserts that “this is not a book of historical fiction”; yet the footnotes, citations and bibliography do not conform to scholarly conventions which would make one question the veracity of what is written and the scholarly rigor put into the writing of the book.
By trying to demonstrate that a nationalist paradigm of history is inadequate, my aim is not to delegitimize the sacrifices that many made for decolonization. On the contrary, what I am trying to put across is that to reduce the history of Goa’s decolonization solely to an episode of the action of the Indian army is a great disservice to the people of Goa and even Portugal, who at that time, let’s not forget, were under Salazar’s dictatorship. We need to recognize that although colonial relations have ended (with India’s armed action); the coloniality of relations still exists, as Fr. Victor Ferrao has demonstrated in his Being a Goan Christian.
Ramani’s book moves between the narratives of two nationalisms: Indian on one side and Portuguese on the other. But between these nationalisms, it appears that a lot of questions and stories have been glossed over. Rather than a history that is repetitive and cliché-ridden, we need to seriously think about bringing in fresh questions and perspectives.
Operation Vijay: The Ultimate Solution by Shrikant Y. Ramani, 2nd Edn. (Panjim: Broadway Publishing House), 2012; pp. xviii+422, Rs. 495/- [ISBN: 9789380837376]
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 18, 2013).