The road from January 16, 1967, to January 16, 2023, has been long, winding and forked.
One man has walked that road, keeping pace with the Goa he loves, the journey taking him through a kaleidoscope of issues that today make him fear that Goa could in the future be in danger of losing its statehood.
While that may raise a few eyebrows in surprise, to Jnanpith awardee and literary giant Damodar Mauzo, the possibility is very real.
“I am afraid that if things continue like this, there will be a day when we will lose our statehood. I hope it doesn’t happen,” Mauzo, a bhai to many and whose statements resonate with the Goans, told this writer on the sidelines of the Goa Arts and Literature Fest.
But before we come to the substantiations of this statement, we have to look at how Mauzo has arrived at them and been linked to the core issues that concern Goan identity over the past 56 years, from the Opinion Poll to the language agitation, and now to the campaign for the Mhadei.
“I think I have been part of most of these movements which fought for the identity of Goa,” Mauzo says rather modestly.
History will bear out that he has been, not just a part, but at the forefront of them all, standing on stage for what he firmly believes is the truth. “I hail from Majorda,” Mauzo says.
“After Liberation, I saw a section of the people was apprehensive about what would happen next. I had to be with the people of Majorda, who were mainly Catholics. Inwardly I could relate to it; I could identify with their apprehensions. Maybe it’s because of it that I felt the need to come out openly to support the people. My upbringing was also instrumental in making me take this thought ahead.”
In the early years after Liberation, the first assault on the Goan identity was the possibility of merging the nascent union territory with neighbouring Maharashtra.
Merger, Mauzo says, threatened the freedom of Goans, which is why he worked against it. “All through I knew I was on the right track. I was never shaky. I knew that we had to oppose the merger and we did.”
Still in college in Mumbai, Mauzo addressed a rally and got him a mention in the newspapers, the first time his name appeared in The Times of India. Linked to the question of the merger were identity and language.
“When we fought for the Opinion Poll, Konkani was one factor at the back of our minds. We knew that merger meant Marathi. There would be no Konkani. We had to fight anti-merger and then for Konkani. I was a voracious reader and read Marathi books, but realised that I can best express myself in my language, and so took up writing in Konkani.”
Mauzo’s role in the Konkani agitation has been recorded. “I always felt that unless we have a language, we will not get statehood.”
Konkani and statehood happened in 1987, but the identity issues did not end. And so, on Opinion Poll Day this year, Mauzo was on the dais at Sanquelim, making his attempt at convincing the people of why the issue is important.
“Where Mhadei is concerned, we are losing the battle. We have not lost it, but we are losing it for political reasons. The politicians are out to please the Centre. They will speak one thing here (Goa) but keep mum when they go there (New Delhi).”
Returning to the statement Mauzo made on statehood, the things that he referred to are linked to the campaigns he was involved in, and he draws his conclusions from them.
“People have lip sympathy for Konkani. Unless we use Konkani in every field, we will also lose the battle for Konkani. We got statehood only because of the official language. Unless we retain our language and develop it, we will lose the language.”
Given that states in India were created on linguistic lines, his prognosis on this count cannot be swept aside. But there is also another reason, an economic one.
“The government has been drawing loans to such an extent that we are in debt at the moment of around Rs 25,000 crore, which can go up. There may be a time that the Centre may decide that this is not a viable state, and so split it and merge part with Maharashtra and part with Karnataka.”
This too is a valid argument and the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General tabled in the Assembly last week did raise the issue of rising debt in the state, pointing out that outstanding debt is higher than the 25 per cent limit of economic output.
As Mauzo foresees a grim future for Goa, where its very existence is threatened, he further substantiates his fears, linking them to the increasing migration.
“Today the demography is changing so rapidly, we will find in the ratio of 1:1, Goan and non-Goan.”
In saying this aloud, he is not the only voice. In 2013, the state government, in a representation to the then PM Manmohan Singh on special status for Goa had cautioned, stating, “The apprehension is that by 2021 the migrant population will outnumber the local Goans.”
As he now walks further on that road, Mauzo has no regrets about what he has done. He simply says, “Whether we succeed or not, is not important. What is important is that what we are doing is in the interest of Goa and Goans. I am happy that I always have Goa and Goans in my heart.”