After decades of hesitation, India and Portugal have finally displayed sagacity in boosting bilateral ties by committing themselves to take concrete measures to build bonds of cooperation in various sectors like scientific and technological areas, and economic, educational and cultural fields. That was how a series of MoUs were signed by two governments during the visit of Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Souza to this country. Besides having fruitful tals with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind, Souza met Goa government functionaries last week-end. While major policy matters were thrashed out during his stay in New Delhi there was something special for Goa, something which was inevitable because Portugal had ruled over this part of the country for long years.
In fact, the tone for thorough and vibrant restoration of bilateral ties was set during the first visit of Mario Soares, Foreign Minister of the Provisional Government that was formed after the death of Dictator Oliveiro de Salazar, when the two nations signed the cultural agreement. And, during his visit to Goa then he had told local opinion makers that they would have to sort out their political issues, if any, with the Government of India and that his country would not be interested in this matter any longer. It was Just a few years earlier that Goa had shed colonial fatigues and was marching ahead in the free atmosphere democracy. Mario had visited Goa subsequently when he became the President of Portugal.
One peculiar aspect of Goan ethos is that it has preserved what was good during the colonial regime and that’s how visitors to the land find it to be quite unique and pleasant. The Portuguese President articulated this sentiment by saying that Goa possessed a unique micro- climate and that was the reason why he was feeling totally at home while in Goa. Goans must understand that Portugal has gone through traumatic changes since the collapse of the long dictatorship. Lately, that country by being a member of the European Union is all set to march ahead though it had lost all the colonies and is endowed with limited natural resources. What is great about the Portuguese people is their love to live happily. As Souza pointed out that nation is not particularly taking pleasure in glorifying their past because it was pointless to regale in a nostalgic vision. Yet, it there has been something good in the past, then it could be incorporated for future development. For example, the Portuguese colonial administration had set high standards of health and sanitation in Goa and the memory lingers on.
Very significant is the fact that the very first MoU signed by the Goa Public Works Department and Aguas de Portugal is about improvement of the public water distribution system and set in place quality facility in respect of waste water management. Goa’s younger generation may be unaware of the fact that the State’s first public water supply project at Opa was established by the Portuguese regime. The project then covered Ponda and Panaji cities besides the intervening villages. Goa’s first canal network for meant for irrigation i.e. Paroda canals in Quepem taluka was built by the Portuguese regime by erecting a weir across the flow of Kushawati river which has a perennial water source. It is true that drinking water and irrigation facilities were expanded leaps and bounds since the Liberation.
There was an interesting development when the colonial regime wanted to construct the Opa project. The Portuguese authorities took a bold step to invite India’s irrigation wizard Sir Mokshagundam Vishweshwarayya to advise it on the matter. Vishweshwarayya, who is credited with constructing the giant dam across river Cauvery, personally came down to Goa, stayed here for a few days as government guest and completed the job assigned to him. The sidelight of the story is that the water management wizard did consume one peg of Black & While whiskey during his stay in Goa and this event became a part of the records of the “Fazenda”, government treasury until at least recently. In a similar fashion, King Raya invited a Portuguese priest from Goa to advise his kingdom on water supply to the newly constructed capital at Hampi. He was supposed to be an engineer by profession but had decided to become a priest. At his workplace, this priest started preaching the Gospel. Soon, there were complaints that he was trying to
convert the local people to Christianity. And, he paid the price of his life for that.
What is important is that the Indo-Portuguese ties are poised for a major breakthrough now that both the countries have upgraded their technological capabilities. Until some years ago, it was believed that Portugal had hardly anything to offer to the world in the field of developmental works. In fact, Lisbon did offer to give a power plant to Goa some years ago when a local delegation visited Portugal then. But, the idea had to be abandoned because the power plant was found to be an old facility and the plans were to dismantle it and send it to Goa. Such things could not work and the plan was abandoned. Thus, the main exchange between Goa and Portugal was restricted to Goans seeking Portuguese passports and birth registration in Lisbon for scouting jobs across Europe. The Portuguese, on the other hand, was basically content over maintaining its cultural ties with Goans. But, there is one Goan commodity which the Portuguese used to relish in the past. The commodity was spices and they used to procure it from M
argao market. Consequently, spices for many Portuguese meant “Margao” and people would usually go to grocery shops to demand “Margao”.
Many other MoUs were signed by the Portuguese and Goan entities. The MoU about collaboration for shipbuilding between Goa Shipyard and Estaleiros Navais de Penishe is a significant one. Portuguese nation has had vast experience in ship building. They were fantastic navigators, too. That was how the daring navigator Vasco de Gama found a sea route to India via Cape of Good Hope and that was how his country could establish strong footholds in Goa, Daman, Diu, Kerala and Bengal besides Ceylon and neighbouring regions. Anyway, a good beginning, which the Portuguese President described as concrete steps, has been made. And, it is to be hoped that the bilateral ties between India and Portugal would be strengthened in the years to come for the benefit of the people of both the countries.