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When the Nizam of Hyderabad plotted to buy Goa

The land-locked state of Hyderabad desperately needed a seaport to realize the Nizam’s secret dream of being an independent country

It would take 14 years, failed efforts at diplomacy, and military action for Goa to become part of the Indian Union in 1961
It would take 14 years, failed efforts at diplomacy, and military action for Goa to become part of the Indian Union in 1961 (File photo)

After the Interim Government of India took office on 2 September 1946, it appointed Mirza Rashid Ali Baig—the prince of a small kingdom near Delhi—as India’s first consul general in Panjim. On 15 August 1947 while India rejoiced, M.R.A. Baig hoisted the national tricolour at the consulate (with Portugal’s flag also flying at full mast, a Portuguese pre-condition).

That evening, Baig threw a party that was jam-packed. According to the consul’s son, author Murad Ali Baig, then an eight-year-old (who now has a house in Goa), the consul was “told that the entire Portuguese police, army and navy personnel had locked themselves inside their barracks fearing an uprising and a naval vessel had left the port”. Seeing a historic opportunity, M.R.A. Baig urgently cabled Prime Minister Nehru to declare Goa independent. The reply was that such a hasty step “would not look good to the world and that Portugal would eventually have to recognize the ‘historic inevitability’ of leaving the colony.”

Also read: The secrets in Goa's Portuguese-era portrait art gallery

After the British left in 1947, India grappled with the fallout of Partition, communal strife, a refugee crisis, food shortages and to cap it all, the 1947-48 invasion of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan. Towards the end of the J&K operations, the Congress Party adopted a resolution in Jaipur on 18 December 1948 on the need to integrate the surviving remnants of colonial rule in India. This was reiterated at Nasik and Calcutta in 1952.

The French, with four small enclaves (Pondicherry and Karaikal on the Tamil coast, Yanam on the Andhra coast and Mahe on the Kerala coast—Chandernagar north of Calcutta had merged with India in June 1949), negotiated with India, secured some guarantees for the people of their possessions and gracefully left after signing a bilateral treaty with India on 28 May 1956. India expected Portugal to follow suit. That did not happen.

The land-locked state of Hyderabad, which had signed a one-year standstill/status quo agreement with India, desperately needed a seaport to realize the Nizam’s secret dream. Once the richest man in the world—he famously used the famous 438-crore Jacob diamond that he had found in his father’s shoe as a paperweight—the Nizam offered to buy Goa. The Portuguese spurned the offer and said it could neither cede nor lease (não alienava nem arrendava) and reportedly made a counterproposal that negotiations similar to those between South Africa and Portugal (on a similar question) could be arranged.


Cover of 'Goa, 1961: The Complete Story of Nationalism and Integration' by Valmiki Faleiro, published by Penguin Random House India, 408 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>699
Cover of 'Goa, 1961: The Complete Story of Nationalism and Integration' by Valmiki Faleiro, published by Penguin Random House India, 408 pages, 699

Dr P.D. Gaitonde also quotes a special adviser to Portugal’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations who spoke of a plan to smuggle in arms, ammunition and other war material from Alexandria to Indian princely states (to resist accession to the Union of India) in vessels of a dummy shipping company registered under the Panamian flag via Goa. The Nizam and his friends were all for the idea negotiated by private individuals in London. Portugal’s Ambassador in London, Palmella, scotched rumours of Portugal’s talks with the Nizam through Sir Alexander Rogers acting on behalf of the Nizam. Portuguese foreign minister, Caeiro da Mata, categorically told India’s high commissioner to London, Krishna Menon, in Paris on 24 July 1948, that Portugal had no direct or indirect contact with the Nizam.

The Goan Political Conference held in Bombay on 21 and 22 June 1947 denounced the move of the Nizam to buy Goa. Gandhi said the Indian Union would not allow such a transaction. The National Standard of Bombay wrote: “The [Goan Political] Conference has also warned the Portuguese government and the colonial authorities against entering into any negotiations with the Nizam’s government in the transference in any manner of any strip of land to His Exalted Highness.”

Although infuriated by the Nizam’s actions in 1948, Nehru later only made a passing reference to it.

In the words of army commander Lt Gen. Eric A. Vas, a Goan with origins in Saligao: “When the partition of India took place ... Indian princes [were] bound by special treaty relations with the British Crown, which exercised its domain over them under the Doctrine of Paramountcy. This doctrine ... conceded no independent status to any prince. The Indian successor Government could not be expected to accept a position which its predecessor had rejected for good reason.”

A month before the partition, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of undivided India, addressing the princes for the last time in his capacity as the Crown Representative had advised them that practical considerations left them only with the choice of accession either to India or Pakistan subject, among other considerations, to the factor of geographical contiguity. In other words, Indian princes were to join whichever nation abutted their territory and only in case both India and Pakistan adjoined their land (e.g., J&K) would they be free to join either country—and that in no circumstance would Britain confer dominion status on any princely state. Hyderabad, a Hindu-majority state, was fully within India. Yet its Muslim ruler asked India for one year’s time and then plotted to buy Goa, have his own seaport and join Pakistan as the third wing of that country. Nehru was incensed at this transparent betrayal of trust.

The Portuguese occupation of Goa was a double insult for Indian nationalism. Portugal called her possessions in India ‘Estado da Índia’ (State of India), thereby implying two Indias on the world map. Author Emil Lengyel notes in the book Krishna Menon: “... Goa was the last remaining reminder of the past humiliation of the subcontinent. There, hated colonialism still conducted itself in the spirit of olden days, ruffling Indian patriotic sentiment. And Portugal itself, ruled by its apparently perennial Prime Minister, Dr Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, was in every way the social, political and economic antithesis of democratic, socialist India. Salazar’s Portugal was also considered particularly obnoxious for another reason. Indians were familiar with Africa, the ‘Dark Continent’, and they knew that it was darkest wherever Portugal ruled. It was an anomaly and an abomination to have a slice of Portugal right in the core-land of progressive-minded India. But what was New Delhi to do? It was dedicated to the policy of non-violence.”

Excerpted with permission from Goa, 1961: The Complete Story of Nationalism and Integration by Valmiki Faleiro, published by Penguin Random House India

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