“Aamka Naka Shrikhand Puri, Aamchi Xitt- Kodich Bori “ (We do not want Maharashtrian shrikhand puri. We are content with our rice curry), was the slogan that reverberated through Goa in 1967.

There was going to be a trial by fire, a referendum that held the fate of Goa’s independence in its hands. The Opinion Poll as it was known, was an important moment in Goa’s history – a political battle fought to determine the shape that Goa’s cultural identity would take. It called forward citizens to vote, to determine whether Goa would merge with Maharashtra or remain an independent state. The rest as we know is history.

The image shows the ballot paper that was used for the vote during Goa's opinion poll
The ballot paper for the referendum.
Via The Indian Express

Was Goa going to be merged with Maharashtra?

Goa, as anyone knows, is a melting pot of many cultures that have helped shape its unique identity. It has magnificent churches, elegant temples and quaint mosques, not to forget the fascinating Indo-Portuguese architecture interspersed all over. It’s like a tapestry that symbolises its communal harmony.

What identity would it take after it had been liberated from the Portuguese? Should it thrive as an independent state, be a part of Portugal or as was proposed by some, be a part of Maharashtra?

The image shows a plaque that demarcates the Opinion Poll Square in Margao upon completion of 50 years
The Opinion Poll Square in Margao to demarcate completion of 50 years

As we travel back in time to 1967, a Goa that had just been liberated from the Portuguese in 1961 and still adjusting to the changes, we reach to where it all started. Ideas with regard to Goa’s merger were making their way around. Goans were being asked to determine Goa’s cultural identity and their identities along with it. The atmosphere was tense.

Dayanand Bandodkar of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party staunchly supported it. He had just been elected as Chief Minister. It seemed that his voice and that of those who backed the merger was louder. Would Goa end up dissolving into something bigger? Eventually, some stood up against it. The United Goans Party seconded by Goa Congress with Jack Sequeira as their leader was at the forefront. They pitched in their 2 cents on why it wasn’t a good idea to merge Goa with Maharashtra.

picture of dayanand bandodkar and jack sequeira two of the most important leaders in goa who determined goa's status as an independent state
Dayanand Bandodkar and Jack Sequeira via The Indian Express

“Goa would have been reduced to a small taluka and disappeared in a giant state such as Maharashtra,” says Prajal Sakhardande, an author and a professor of history. “It’s a watershed; a turning point in Goa’s chequered History. The Result of the Opinion Poll saved our home. It saved our identity as Goans and our very existence in the world.”

 Many minds thought along the same lines. Goa had to retain its sui generis identity. To solve this tiff once and for all, Jack Sequeira proposed a referendum, a call to action to the masses. This idea was readily accepted by many leaders and backed by Indira Gandhi as well. The newly elected Prime Minister wanted to let Goans decide their identity.  It was a decision that was influenced by Nehru’s promise in 1962 to maintain Goa’s individuality.

the image shows one of the most important leader in goa during Goa's opinion poll jack sequeira adressing a crowd
Jack Sequeira adressing a crowd via Insider

Yet as the idea gained momentum, it faced its own fair share of backlash. Dr Alvaro Loyola de Furtado one of the founders of United Goans felt that it was precarious to let Goa’s future be decided so directly. This ended up with him quitting Sequeira’s party and challenging the Opinion Poll’s constitutional validity in the Supreme Court. Needless to say, Sequeira’s battle was long and hard, stretching over almost 2 years after a resolution was passed for the merger in 1965. He spoke up, raised his voice, stormed out of assemblies and didn’t stop until the battles were won. The leader of Goa Congress – Purshottam Kakodkar – fought alongside him getting the Centre to grant India’s only referendum ever. Without him, it wouldn’t have been possible. They had to start with making a Constitutional Amendment to allow referendums!

crowd of people on goa's opinion poll day

“Opinion Poll leaders such as Purshottam Kakodkar, Dr Jack de Sequeira, Shabu Desai, Victoria Fernandes, Shankar Bhandari, Ulhas Buyao, Chandrakant Keni and many others should be given their dues. They should make their way into history textbooks and Kakodkar should be honoured with a statue,” says Dr Sakhardande.

a rally vehicle full of people on goa's opinion poll day

After a rigorous battle, the day of the Opinion Poll dawned on a fine January morning in 1967. The referendum snuck in a few months before the general elections, with its entry validated by a special provision made in the Constitution of India. It’s fascinating to know that the Indian Constitution didn’t have provisions for referendums and Goa’s situation was big enough to demand one.

On 16th January 1967, 81.7% of Goa turned up to have its say with a vote. Of this, 54.2% voted to keep Goa separate, against 43.5% for the merger. Goa would remain independent. Goa remained a Union Territory along with Daman and Diu that were supposed to be merged with Gujarat until 1987. 20 years later it was split from the latter two and Goa became India’s 25th state on 30th May.

16th January 2020 was the 53rd anniversary of ‘Goans’ Identity Day’ or “Goencho Osmitai Dis”, one that goes unacknowledged by many. Many historians believe that it should be demarcated as a national holiday since that was the day that Goa called shotgun on its statehood. Even though it officially became a state only in 1987, the fight was already fought and won in 1967.

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