Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Two headlines in the last month are a good example of the irony at work in Goan politics. Following Portugal’s surprise win at the Euro 2016, one headline read: “Euro win unites Goa & Portugal” (12 July, 2016). The second headline a few days later read: “27,000 Goans with both Portuguese and Indian passports to be struck off poll rolls” (20 July, 2016). The first headline highlighted the emotional bonds between Goa and Portugal, with many of the comments by former Goan footballers emphasizing that the Portuguese football team had such a large support base here due to the “Portuguese rule” over different parts of Goa over a period of 451 years. The second headline drew our attention to the legal and diplomatic issue surrounding the vexed dual citizenship affair, and the current impossibility to hold both Portuguese and Indian citizenship at the same time.

If one were to look at the legal history, Portugal started recognizing certain tax-paying Goans as its citizens at least from 1826 when the Carta Constitutional was brought into force, reinforced further in 1910. The Salazarian Estado Novo despite its curbs on political organization did not restrict the right of citizenship of Goans. This was markedly different from what happened in neighboring British India where Britain refused to recognize even elite Indians as imperial citizens. It is interesting to note how following Portugal’s success on the football pitch, emotional ties are highlighted more by commentators than the legal ties, and when the question of legal issues emerge, the emotional ties are always kept out. It seems that the celebrations over football have nothing to do with this legal history that saw Goans first being recognized as Portuguese citizens, and after the Indian armed action, saw Goans reclaiming this right to work and engage with a larger European world.

To be fair, following or in the build-up to any big football match that Portugal plays, there are always reports that pour from the former ‘colonies’ about the support the football team receives and how it is the colonial history that provides this connect. However, parts of this colonial history which included the extension of citizenship to the colonies is not highlighted or willfully ignored. In Goa, the celebrations over such a victory additionally get hijacked by nationalism wherein rightwing groups declare that it is anti-national to cheer for the Portuguese football team. Thus, the history of colonial oppression is one that liberal as well as rightwing observers remember during such sporting events, as it is certainly odd to cheer a former colonizers’ football team in a post-colonial world. While the moderate or liberal commentators may marvel at the emotional display for the Portuguese team (in Goa as well as in other former colonies), the rightwing commentators would outright condemn it.

If the fascination with the emotional response to the Portuguese football team is marked by a selective memory of colonial history, the issue of dual citizenship is marked by a complete amnesia about the same. The legal history of the Portuguese citizenship of Goans is ignored and the issue is seen entirely through the lens of Indian cultural nationalism that seems to supersede everything. 

The rationale given to strike-off 27,000 Goans from the electoral rolls was that “as per the Representation of People’s Act and the Election Rules, one has to be an Indian citizen to cast one’s vote. Also, the concept of dual citizenship does not exist in the country [India]”. What such a statement does not account for is the fact that Indian laws were unilaterally imposed on Goa from 1961without any regard for the region’s history or without the assent of the inhabitants. With the normalization of diplomatic relations between Lisbon and New Delhi in 1975, Portugal gave the option to reclaim its citizenship to those who were residing in the former Portuguese India, as well as their children. Bearing in mind such a history, Jason Keith Fernandes, a legal anthropologist and Herald columnist argued that “if Goan migration seems to be turning into a one-way exit, it is because of the oppressive legal regime that the Indian state insists on. Goans are not obtaining Portuguese passports; they are merely reclaiming the Portuguese citizenship that they have always enjoyed… A legal regime honest about history would undoubtedly allow for a more dynamic movement of Goans between Goa and other places”.
In East Timor
The move to remove 27,000 Goans from the Indian electoral rolls also reeks of a sinister and short-sighted plan, especially since the assembly elections are round the corner. A demographic swing of 27,000 people who will not be able to vote either makes it easy for some or difficult for others in the forthcoming elections. Given that the legal question is not yet debated and settled properly, hasty moves such as deleting names off electoral rolls will further compromise Goan identity. Yet again the destiny of large number of Goans will be determined by some who are unwilling to safeguard those interests and dismissive of Goa’s legal history, making the mobility of Goans in and out of their own homeland difficult. Most probably the issue of allowing Goans to hold dual citizenship will remain unresolved as the issue would lose its political value after the elections, while liberal and rightwing commentators would continue to wonder why in Goa (as well as in other former Portuguese colonies) a football match can evoke such emotional responses.

It would perhaps not be out of place to say that the Goan support to the Portuguese football team emerges not only due to a shared colonial history, but also a legal history of equal citizenship embedded within the shared colonial history. Eder’s brilliant and fantastic 109th-minute strike should essentially remind us of this.

(First published in O Heraldo, dt: 3 August, 2016)

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