Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Belling the Cat: On Special Status and Citizenship Rights

It has been the second case this year. A couple of days ago, a number of newspapers reported the fact that the MLA Mickky Pacheco had accused the Superintendent of Police, Mr. Allen D’Sa of being a Portuguese national. The earlier instance of such a case, was that of Ms. Valanka Alemão accusing her rival in the legislative assembly elections, MLA Caetano Silva, of being a Portuguese national, and hence incapable of representing the constituency of Benaulim.

On the face of it, it appears that both these accusations are unfortunate since what they are in effect doing is to ruin the public secret that is allowing a number of average (the popularly phrased aam aadmi) Goans to find jobs overseas, especially in Europe, and better their life chances and those of their children. By creating a public controversy about the possibility that these two men hold citizenship status in another State, what these two cases will effectively do, is draw the energies of the Indian State bureaucracy toward rooting out those Goans who hold dual citizenship. On second glance however, perhaps Ms. Alemão and Mr. Pacheco are doing the Goan population a favour since they are in effect creating the circumstances under which the Goan citizenry will have to sit up and take charge of the situation that is in effect a sword of Damocles that hangs over the heads of those who have reclaimed their Portuguese citizenship. It has been all very well that until now the enforcement by the authorities has been less than rigorous.  However, as Prabhakar Timble recently pointed out in his article in the Navhind Times, in addition to these two cases, there were also at least four cases where persons were debarred from participating in panchayat elections for reasons of holding Portuguese citizenship. The threat it seems, comes not from a possibly dispassionate citizenry, but from jealous neighbours, rivals in political contests or other familial or economic contests. We should not forget that the current legal regime not only prevents a foreign national from holding political office, but also prevents a foreign national from holding agricultural property, a situation that could possibly be used in the bitter inheritance battles that are such a marked feature of any reasonably landed family. There are good reasons necessitating therefore, a united popular response to this situation.

Fortunately for those interested in presenting a challenge to the legal regime concerning nationality, asserting their traditional and inheritable right to claim Portuguese citizenship, there already exits a somewhat active group that should logically support the right of the Goan to bear dual citizenship. For some years now, not merely citizen groups, but legislators and Members of Parliament have been demanding, through constitutional amendment, the grant of Special Status to Goa. One of the many arguments that have been marshaled for the demand of Special Status has been that this Special Status, where only Goans may purchase and trade in Goan land, is necessary to protect Goan identity. More recently, our Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, also raised a similar issue of restricting the entry of migrants into the State to protect the same threatened Goan identity.

Upon raising this issue, Mr. Parrikar drew flak from a number of locations, and was charged with being anti-national, and secessionist. To charge a member of the RSS, with being anti-national and secessionist is laughable. But perhaps these charges were required to demonstrate the manner in which all too often the anti-national argument is irresponsibly flung despite the indubitable patriotism of the individual, and the justice of their demand. The argument that is being made is not a secessionist demand, on the contrary, it is one that needs to understand a particular history. This history was reportedly often called upon by the late Mathany Saldanha in his own arguments for Special Status for Goa. The argument of activists such as him were to point out that given that Goa was integrated into the Indian Union only in 1961, there were no Goan representative in the Constituent Assembly to secure Goan interests. As we know, right from the inception of Goa’s identity as a part of the Indian State, there have been movements that have sought to protect the identity of Goa. As such, they argue, it is now time for us to obtain Special Status, just like other smaller and threatened parts of the Indian State, to protect Goan identity in the face of inundation by larger forces.

The argument made by this segment of those demanding Special Status for Goa, can also be used to accommodate the right of Goans to hold dual nationality. If they point out that there were no representatives in the Constituent Assembly to represent Goan interests at the time of the framing of the Constitution, then it should also be underlined that the integration Goa into the Indian Union was a largely unilateral act by the Union of India, that did not respect the specificity of Goa. Indeed, as if to underline this fact, despite Nehru’s assurances, the protection of the specificity of Goa has had to be fought for in pitched battles every twenty years; 1967, 19 86-7, and since 2006.

As the article by Prabhakar Timble pointed out, the right to citizenship that Goans (and other persons from former Portuguese territories in India) enjoy is not some post-Liberation gift granted to them by the Government of Portugal, but the continuation of their legal rights from prior to the Indian action in 1961. As Timble also pointed out, if a number of Goans are utilizing this option today, it is not necessarily out of any jealous love for Portugal, but to better their socio-economic prospects. Indeed, many of those utilizing the option to regain their Portuguese citizenship continue to invest in Goa, both economically as well as emotionally. The issue of Indian insecurity in the face of citizens with dual citizenship therefore, should hardly arise, at least not in the Indo-Portuguese case (for remember we are speaking of more than just the Goans in this case).

As regular readers of this column will recollect, I have not been a supporter of the move for Special Status forGoa. This objection has been based on the fact that there has been no clear articulation of what this Special Status would mean, and what it would contain. The only consistent demand has been to restrict the ownership of land to Goans alone. This one clause will benefit, as this column has argued before, only those who currently own vast tracts of land. It will not benefit the average Goan. On the contrary it would possibly worsen their situation. However, it is clear that there are significant segments of the Goan population that are determined to gain Special Status for Goa. In such a case then, it would make sense, in keeping with the strain of arguments referred to above, that they also take up the cause of the right of Goans to retaining Indian citizenship, while reclaiming their Portuguese citizenship. To do so, would ensure that the interests of a large segment of blue collar Goans would not lose out on their domestic interests while pursuing overseas their dreams for their family’s welfare.

(A version of this post first appeared on the Gomantak Times 26 Sept 2012)

Errata:  A paragraph above reads "We should not forget that the current legal regime not only prevents a foreign national from holding political office, but also prevents a foreign national from holding agricultural property, a situation that could possibly be used in the bitter inheritance battles that are such a marked feature of any reasonably landed family."

This is a mistaken representation. The regulations prevent a purchase of agricultural property by Persons of Indian Origin. Further, there may not be a sound basis to suggest that agricultural property cannot be inherited.

This mistake is regretted.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good suggestion Jason, this about granting dual citizenship to Goans, or perhaps also to Portuguese who consider themselves Goans? I presume they will be subject to Indian laws?