Portuguese premier 'comes home' to Goa

The visit of ethnic Goan statesman may paint local Catholics in a better light
Portuguese premier 'comes home' to Goa

A Goan Hindu man greets visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Luis Costa on Jan. 11 in Panjim. (Photo by Bosco Eremita)

The Indo-Portuguese civilization has come full circle. For 450 years, the Portuguese ruled Goa in western India but now an ethnic Goan is heading the Portuguese government and last week he came home.

The official visit of the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Luis Costa to India from Jan. 7-12 aroused great local interest when they saw how their "Goan son" had risen to international stature.

When he arrived in Goa on Jan. 11 on the last leg of his India visit people lined the streets of the capital, Panjim, a brass band greeted him. The older generation of Hindus came and touched his feet, greeting him following the local custom.

His father, the writer, Orlando da Costa spent most of his youth in Goa before migrating to Lisbon where Prime Minister Costa was born in 1961.

Jovito Lopes, who accompanied Costa during his tour of Fontinhas, the oldest Latin quarter of Panjim described the encounter as "an outpouring of joy and pride from local residents."

"I can tell you that nowhere in India does the head of another country have such direct rapport with the people. He ignored local as well as Portuguese security and shook hands with everyone, telling the security guards that he was not worried because they were his people," he said.

George Pereira, a local resident, witnessed the scenes. He hugged the old and made it a point to wave to the disabled, who sat and waited to see him from the galleries of their homes, he said.

"The traditional Portuguese warmth exuded either side. It was magic, unseen and perhaps unheard of in India with a foreign leader. Undoubtedly there was a bond, which both he and the people understood," Pereira added.


Moment of Goan pride

"It was a proud moment for Goans," said Stanley Fernandes, a retired teacher. For decades, after Goa merged with India in 1961, Catholics have been "looked down upon as being lazy, laid back and fit for only dancing and drinking," he said.

"People have taken our peaceful nature for granted and exploited our attitude to life. But people like Costa are examples that "given equal opportunity, we can rise to global standards," said Fernandes, citing the case of British parliamentarian Keith Vaz, another famous Goan politician.

Arriving for a two-hour lunch break with his cousins in his ancestral home in Margao, Costa was greeted by schoolchildren who broke into a Portuguese aria.

Before the visit, however, Hindu groups and their allies headed by Goa's Public Works Department Minister Sudin Dhavliker demanded that Costa apologize for the destruction and atrocities committed on Goans during colonial rule.

However, Hindu fanatics who had in the past destroyed anything Portuguese, even name plates, were conspicuous by their silence despite the thoroughfares of Panaji being gaily decorated with Portuguese and Indian national flags.

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India and Portugal are modern nations with a good relationship and those like Dhavalikar, "who know nothing of foreign policy should shut up rather than spew venom.  Dhavalikar has forgotten the honored adage that the 'guest is God,'" said Vikas Kamat, a social observer.

In fact, a group of predominantly Hindu traders heading the management of the town market of Margao welcomed "the enchanting son" with an advertisement. He was also warmly welcomed into temples by Hindu priests.

Costa said that his visit had a strong emotional side and a personal motivation because, as a person of Indian origin, [we can build] the foundation for a robust and forward-looking 21st century partnership between India and Portugal.

During his Goa tour, he met Archbishop Felip Neri Ferrao, the state governor and local leaders. He also visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus at Old Goa, where the remains of Portuguese missioner, Saint Francis Xavier are kept.

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