The column a couple of weeks ago asserting that the centenary of the declaration of the Portuguese Republic was also a Goan event, received a few responses that convinced me of the need to follow that argument with an explanation of some sort. These responses were shocked by the connection made between Dalit and Bahujan consciousness in
Goa and the declaration of the . The Portuguese Republic , they were at pains to explain, was not an angelic affair committed to equality throughout the Portuguese empire. It had dictatorial tendencies, was entirely concerned with issues in the metropole (that is continental Portuguese Republic ) and in fact laid the foundations for the persecutions of the Estado Novo under Salazar. Portugal
To be fair to these responses, I must admit that they were rightly triggered by my use of the word ‘celebration’ in the context of the Declaration of the
Having acknowledged the error in choice of words, I believe that I have gone some distance toward assuaging the outrage of my interlocutors. However, I would now like to address the question that they put to me, whether one can be justified in laying claim to an event that did not have the liberation of the Goan Bahujan in mind. Surely, one critic suggested, this Bahujan activist was mistaken?
The original column that sparked off this response, indicated rather clearly the two edged, cynical use of ideas of liberty and equality that marked the inauguration of the European republics. The bourgeois classes that spearheaded these revolutions made a cynical use of these ideas, largely to ensure a larger support base as they attacked the feudal regime. However, having done so, they were now hostage to the idea that was then implemented by the masses in the slow progress of democracy. Suhas Palshikar, in his essay in the must-read book titled ‘Humiliation: Claims and Context’, edited by Gopal Guru sums it up rather aptly. ‘Democracy’ he says, ‘even only a very formal democracy - cannot be stopped from infusing some amount of democratization’. The moment the bourgeoisie introduced the rather novel idea of ‘power to the people’ they were inviting a group, hitherto outside of the frame of power politics, into its very heart. Once invoked and legitimized in the course of the French Revolution, the roll of democracy was unstoppable, as formerly disenfranchised masses seized the opportunity to rid themselves of inequality.
To understand the complex and cynical politics of Republicanism, have a look at the history of
Palshikar extends this logic to nationalist struggles in colonial settings as well. He points out, no doubt referring to the nationalist history of British-India, that ‘similarly, the moment the nationalists in colonial societies departed from exclusively conspiratorial and secret methods and waged ‘people’s struggles’, they were running the risk of their nations being claimed by ordinary people’. Large portions of the Indian elite were not comfortable with the idea of the unwashed masses gaining a say in the governance of the country. This discomfort continues today in such assertions as made by the ‘Friends of the BJP’ when they stress that we as educated know better than the rest of the ‘illiterate’ population.
Clearly then, once the democratic idea is invoked, it fundamentally changes the rules of the game. People who formerly could not even imagine themselves as equal, now begin to hear the powerful voice of the law tell them that they are equal. This powerful voice may be cynical, not meaning what it says, but having uttered these magical words, is now powerless against the influence of its own logic.
A legal history of the
In the companion piece to this column, I would like to argue, why it is not nostalgia of the Portuguese that motivates the commemoration of the declaration of the
(A version of this column was first published in the Gomantak Times 3 March 2010)