Thursday, January 3, 2008

Economic History and the future of Goa

While there have been many attempts to write a social and cultural history of Goa- histories that either stress or refuse the difference with British-India (the territory that often passes off under the name of India), there has not as yet been any serious attempt to write an economic history of the territory of Goa. This history, if it is to capture the nuances of Goa, would have to stress difference, rather than stressing the economic condition of colonization and the sad tired stories of bleeding the territory dry. Of course, this difference is not to paint the colonizers as the good guys, since they may come out looking just as bad. Difference would have to be stressed in this history to draw attention to the differential manner in which Goa financially integrated into the Indian nation-state.

The primary difference that marks the economic history of Goa is its late entry into industrial capitalism, very much like its colonizer Portugal. Goa entered industrial capitalism only in the 1950s with the opening of the mines, a particularly degrading industry that can be held responsible both for the ecological wasting away of its society, as well as its deliberate intellectual retardation. What were the mechanisms of making it big before this? One either was a member of the small aristocracia de coco,aristocracies dependent on returns from agricultural surplus, primarily coconuts; or one traded in opium or slaves and built the capital for other ventures; or one migrated, got on to the ships, worked one’s fingers off, sent money back and erected the homes that mimicked the grand style of the ‘aristocrats’. It appears that of these various types, it was really those involved in the illicit opium and slave trade of the days who were able to make the fortunes that would allow them to seize the opportunity to swing into industrial capitalism when the opportunity first presented itself.

It is not as if British-India did pass through a similar trajectory. It did also have similar groups, and yet its early entry into industrial capitalism, the nature of its comprador class and the sheer necessity to survive created a class that was built to a large extent also on the selling-off of land to obtain freely tradeable capital. This process of the privatization of land saw the impoverishment that one associates with British-India, a process that was by and large absent in Goa, allowing the Goan poor (and there were lots of them) to live off the common resources and fend off starvation at the very least. What we witness today, in the large-scale sale of land in Goa, is partially the attempt of those Goans who did not make the boat in the 1950s to create enough capital to get into the capitalist game, and survive in the contemporary world, clearly titled in favour of private resources and tradeable income. The tragedy is that for most of them, it is way too late, industrial capitalism has given way to globalized capitalism, which the British-Indians have managed, via their colonial history, to be a part of. It is not just the peasant, clerk and professional that this history impinges on, but also the local entrepreneur and small capitalist, a fact that was recently made obvious to me when a member of the GCCI complained that the DSIDC would prefer to cater to the larger capitalist from British-India than the small Goan fry.

In the highly charged debate that is rightly concerned with what is going to happen to our state, all too often the implications of our economic history is not taken into account. Goans remained by and large therefore tied to this heritage of a late entry into industrial capitalism. As such the problem Goa faces is not necessarily the migrant labour but the British-Indian capitalist who makes pawns of the migrants, the Goan peasants and working class. They do this of course, not consciously, since they are really playing out – to put it vulgarly- their class-determined historical role. The local State, though, can still be captured by these victims of history, and the State of Goa compelled to play a role that recognizes the peculiar vulnerability of residents of the State, and put in place an economic system geared towards them rather than the depradations of the British-Indian and global capitalist, both of who continue to play the role of a colonizer as they play the local market for labour and land. To not recognize this historical difference will be to doom the majority of the residents of Goa into the poverty that has and will continue to mark India, with a slim majority joining the ranks of the global capitalist.
(Published in the Gomantak Times 4th Jan 2008)


fredericknoronha said...

Jason's note on the economic history was interesting. While Jason raises interesting questions, I think we might be ignoring a whole lot of other issues, if we focus only on industrial capitalism, and the more emotive issues like opium and slaves. (About opium, please note that even in the 19th century, opium was legally available in some parts of the world, although there were beginning attempts to regulate, legislate and prohibit its use, sale and production, due to the negative effects the substance had on individuals and society in general, as noted by the Wikipedia.)

As far as I see it, there are a number of issues from Goa's economic history that still remain a puzzle. For instance (1) How did the Portuguese form of mercantile capitalism influence the history, politics, economics of colonial and contemporary Goa? (2) Why did the Portuguese choose to keep land relations (e.g. communal ownership of land, mainly under the control of the dominant ethnic groups) intact, as against the British success in doing away with the same? (3) In what way did Portuguese policies of granting citizenship to Goans significantly earlier influence Goan out-migration, which still today remains a crucial if unacknowledged part of the local jigsaw -- the economy, the politics, the land ownership and jostling over it, the communal politics, etc? (4) How was the creation and modus vivendi (as Robert S Newman would term it) with the local elites in Portuguese Goa different from that of British India? (5) What role did colonialism play in the relationships among different religious and caste groups in Goa? (6) What was the role of Portuguese colonial conquests (and treaties) in defining today's Goan culture, economic 'differentness' and reality?

Needless to say, Goan history has been largely written as if it was merely a story of a succession of rulers. It was D D Kossambi (whose anniversary year we are currently in), who gave a differing interpretation about the reality of the Goan comunidades. Likewise, in the 1970s, a young Dr Teotonio R de Souza (the SJ :-)) also gave a voice to the unheard of history, by deglamourising the "Golden Goa" myth of the past. I also like the writing of Dr Newman, mentioned above, and in particular his first paper that really made me think deeply about the Goan reality (Goa: The Transformation of An Indian Region, Pacific Affairs, 1983). Looking forward to hearing more on this debate... FN

pmf said...

Interesting notes.

I always face to see how D.D. Kosambi made any original or valuable contribution to the history of Goan Communidads: in fact, he's only repeating myths created or at least empowered by the Portuguese. Compare Portuguese and Catholic Goan writing on the Goan Communidads in the 19th C. with Kosambi and spot the differences.