Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Taking the Republic Seriously: Why the Centenary of the Portuguese Republic is a Goan event

The year 2010 is a year of great significance for in this year we commemorate a number of hugely momentous political events. We mark the fifth centennial anniversary of the conquest of the city of Goa by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1510, the centenary of the declaration of the Portuguese Republic in 1910, and six decades since the enforcement of the Constitution of India. Subsequently, this year shall give way to another, when we in Goa will mark our integration into the Indian Union in 1961.

Let us leave aside the event of 1510 for the moment. We shall have much to discuss about this event in the months to come; and I dare say that the nationalists will have even more! Let us concern ourselves however with these two Republics, both of which are appropriately ours as Goans; the Portuguese and the Indian.

There are moments in time, when one is confronted with events of such profundity, that one can understand them only as moments of rebirth. The old self passes away, and in light of the revelation before us, is reborn, rather like a Phoenix from the ashes of the old. One such personal moment of rebirth, was the realization that the Portuguese Republic of 1910 was my own. This was a fundamental moment of rupture. Happily for me, the initiation into this truth occurred at the hands of not some nostalgic ‘Portuguese Left Over’ (PLO) – as they are so unkindly called – but via an activist of the Goan Bahujan Samaj. Standing up at an event this man proclaimed to all the Goan world, that he was first liberated when recognized as equal in 1910, under the effects of the Portuguese Republic that recognized all Goans as citizens. His reference was to his formal liberation from the caste oppression that, he will argue, continues to dog the lives of numerous ‘lower’ caste Goan Hindus, as well as to the formal recognition of equality that was given effect to via the hard work and perseverance of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the Father of our Constitution.

For too many of us however, Republic Day is just one more day for nationalist ‘India Shining’ chest thumping, the offensive displays of the might of the Indian armed forces, and the cloying sweetness of ‘cultural diversity’ parades. I was the horrified witness to a entirely serious discussion on Facebook, where a number of young Indians maintained a steady discussion on how awful it was that we had a frumpy looking woman taking the military salute at this years Republic Day parade in Delhi. Why couldn’t we have a more stylish, smarter woman as President? Why can’t she just do something for her hair!!!

Can Republic Day mean more to us? Our Bahujan Samaj activist gives us an insight into taking the Republic seriously. The declaration of republics in various parts of Europe meant the abandoning of social and legal orders that were based on feudal privileges and hierarchies. It presented the idea of a political order where all were to be equal. To be sure we realized in the course of time that these republics replaced one inequality with another. The idea of equality which was to apply to all men, was taken literally, in that women were excluded for a long time from political representation. All men however did not apply to men of colour and to colonial contexts. And yet, the mere idea of these rights were important because it allowed us to imagine different ways of relating to other human beings and assured us we did not have to always be cowed down. The promise of equality and rights was the gift of the Republican ideal. In many parts of the world, not just in Europe, the idea of the Republic is taken very seriously. It is something to continuously fight for, to ensure that these values of equality are in fact realized on a daily basis.

In India too, the constitution of the Republic is significant for the fact that it announced to a country filled with hierarchies of different sorts that these were to now be a thing of the past. The Indian Constitution announced formal equality to people who until that moment lacked it. This Constitution was not won easily. The Indian Constitution was defended vigorously by Dr. Ambedkar and others from ideas that could possibly reaffirm the old hierarchies. This is a project that is not as yet complete, for not only are the egalitarian ideals of the Constitution not realized in effect, but there are constant attempts to undermine these ideals. The military drills, ‘India Shining’ and the standard celebrations of Republic Day are in fact parts of this process of distracting us from the more profound significance of the constitution of the Republic.

The Goan Hindu, more specifically the elite Goan Hindu, is perhaps best placed to be able to appreciate the significance of the declaration of the Republic. With the Declaration of the Portuguese Republic, all Goans were now full citizens of the Republic. There was to be no more of the second class treatment of old. The Goan Hindu was able to now burst forth legitimately into the public arena, and burst out they did. While the Goan Hindu elite were always a significant force behind the Estado da India, the Republic allowed them to now take a more significant part in this process of governance. In allowing for the land reform legislations, and liberating subaltern Goans from the material conditions that sustained oppressive social regimes, the Constitution of the Indian Republic continued for the Goan, the promise of the republican ideals that were cut short by the interlude of the Estado Novo.

Commemorating the year of the Declaration of the Portuguese Republic is crucially important because it marks our long and continuing journey towards equality. Erasing such an early leg of our history would serve only to obscure the length of our struggle and more easily distract us toward nationalist celebrations. Indeed perhaps this is why our Bahujan Samaj activist declared his debt to the declaration of the Portuguese Republic. In recognizing this longer history he refused the many lies that are peddled to us under the garb of nationalism. In recognizing the contribution of the Portuguese Republic he tells the story like it is. The enemy is not some possibly-foreign colonial. On the contrary, the enemy lies within. Not necessarily a person, or a group, it is a tendency to underplay the importance of this egalitarian goal and push us in other (nationalist) directions. These directions while stressing boundaries and differences detract us from the republican ideal; that is equality for all.

For this reason, therefore; Viva a República! Viva Portugal, Viva India; Viva Goa!

(A version of this post was first published in the Gomantak Times, 10 Feb 2010)


Anonymous said...

Bom texto Jason! Gostei e achei coerente, bem construído. Muito importante para mim a ênfase que dás aos valores republicanos, à igualdade. Parece-me que há de facto muitos fantasmas ainda sobre o colonialismo, como se esse passado só integrasse injustiças e exploração. Mas neste texto argumentas muito bem que os perigos muitas vezes estão no interior, e certamente haverá pessoas interessadas em arruinar a igualdade e instaurar desigualdades que se querem do passado, à conta da convicção num nacionalismo tradicionalista com base no hinduísmo.
Pouco interessa se quem está no poder tem a mesma cor e aspecto que nós, quando essa mesma pessoa nos oprime. Sim, viva a igualdade e a República!

Frederick Noronha said...

Jason, I think the jury is still out in Portugal itself on the
benefits and role of the First Portuguese Republic. Was the 1910-1926 phase really progressive and democratic? Was it a continuation of the earlier elitist and liberal regimes? Or was it revolutionary and dictatorial at the same time?

While there were obvious impact in the colonies (including Goa), how
much of this was incidental and how much of it due to the very nature of this regime, which saw a total of eight Presidents, one Provisional Government, 38 Prime Ministers and 1 Constitutional Junta?

Incidentally, it will remain one of the ironies of colonial politics
(and the responses to the metropole) that a conservative President elected in August 1919 has his name accepted and continued as the name of a prominent school in Ponda, Goa.

What was the nature of the Portuguese Republican Party (PRP) -- republican or, in actuality, a dictatorship? What about politicians like Sid?nio Pais, and the politics of Sidonismo or Dezembrismo? Not excluding "traditional values" and Patria? Why the need to clamp down on working-class movements and leftist republicans?

It would be interesting to see which side diverse sections of Goans decide to dwell on, as the season for anniversaries approaches -- 2010 (500 years of Vasco and a century of the Portuguese First Republic) or
2011 (50 years of the end of Portuguese rule, and the many loaded terms used to describe this... ranging from "invasion" to "Liberation" and "India's use of force"... the last being part of the name of Rubinoff's book).

I would not jump in to celebrate 1910, though undeniably, these are
events which affected us sharply, 5000 kms away, one way or another!

PS: Useful background material:

PPS: Is there any truth in this statement about Sid?nio Pais: "He
escaped a first assassination attempt, but was shot on December 14, 1918 by Jos? J?lio da Costa (great-grandfather of the present Mayor of Lisbon Antonio Costa[citation needed]), at Rossio railway station, in Lisbon, when he was preparing to board a train to Porto, to hold discussions with the monarchist leaders of the Northern MilitaryJuntas." (From the second-last link above.)

Anonymous said...

Gosh man! Get your head out of your a!* for a moment and stop wallowing in this strain of nostalgia - that you so love doing. These supposed seminal changes to Goan society were almost accidental, borne out of the incidental and piecemeal implementation of the values of the First republic.They were not measures aimed at reforming feudal Goan society. Please save yourself any further embarrassment by not trying to tie Dalit awakening in Goa to the supposed virtues of the First republic. This idiotic assertion may doom your academic carrier. Also, try not letting your nostalgia gloss over the facts that the Portuguese Republican Party (PRP) more or less functioned like a dictatorship. It also laid the ground work for the brutal dictatorship of the Estado Novo (Salazar) to follow. In the future, I am sure you will try and dig out some obscure and incidental consequences of empowerment that resulted in Goa as a result of the Estado Novo. Do sing a paean to them. Awaiting in anticipation for that day with a glass held high, Cheers!

Jason Keith Fernandes said...

Dear Anonymous 2,

Thank you for the concern for my academic career. I am fully aware that the Portuguese Republic cared not a fig for the native, that supposedly seminal awakenings were almost incidental, accidental. I am fully aware that the Portuguese Republic was more colonial and racist than the regime that preceded it. Perhaps in hindsight, the Vivas were a bit over the top! :-P

Rather than salvagin the Portuguese Republic, what I am trying to do is move out of the nationalist frames, of both Portugal and Goa-India. How does one do this? One does this perhaps by attacking the neat boxes of nationalist history and construct longer histories of struggle.

Like I said before, I only used the reflection of a Bahujan activist. Rather after eons, I realised that this was one way in which his comment could be used.

Perhaps I was mistaken, perhaps you are too caught up in other things to realise what I am trying to do. I do wish however you would have had the courtesy to identify yourself.

Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

I wish anonymous no2 had divulged his identity for that would allow us a better understanding of his viewpoint. Now all we know about Anonymous no. 2 is that he has an anal fixation. It's easy to cast Portugal as a hideous villain of the cast, it is far more difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff and assess the impact of Portuguese colonisation on Goa. Far from threatening Jason's academic career, I think Jason is in good company. Recent Padmi Shree recipient Maria Aurora Couta does a much more neutral assessment of Portuguese colonisation, devoid of the jingoism one often hears elsewhere.

I agree with Jason completely, in that changes in Europe changed the mindset in Goa. How could it not? Even if unintended, the Goan elite and intelligentsia of the time were educated in Portugal and they didn't bring home just bolas e doce from Portugal.

Selma Carvalho

Luis said...

When I read Jason's text I could help but think that he was launching a provocation. It was a daring idea, one that I wasn't altogether comfortable with, but which was worthy of being expressed. What I did not expect was to the read the comments by Anonymous that Jason would now turn to singing the praises of the fascist dictatorship some decades later. How does Anonymous make such a leap in logic?

What is more, the whole tone of Anonymous' post -- catty, bitchy, rude -- makes me think that his or her motives for writing were ultimately personal rather than academic.

An Anonymous Portuguese said...

Dear Jason,

I read Fred and the anonymous comments to your text. They are both misinformed however. Portugal's First Republic was under fire since day one. From the Monarchists, from Monarchic Spain,from other sectors of the Right, and the Catholic Church (no small enemy, this one). It is no wonder there was little stability. And that the Republic fell. Some of the Republic's more prominent leaders, Machado dos Santos and others were assassinated in 1921. There were many coups, military incursion from Spain. Sidónio was NOT a republican leader. He was a proto-fascist dictator admired immensely by Salazar and his lot. The Republican party and Afonso Costa were not dictatorial - much, much less that any of the Indian contemporary parties by the way. The achievements of the first Republic in the fields of education, from primary schooling to the university, in the field of rural development and industrialization, are remarkable. In many, many ways, the Estado Novo did nothing but continued policies initiated by the republicans. And the republicans formed the backbone of the resistance to Salazar during the 1930s and 1940s with countless failed military coups.

take care. keep fighting. boa sorte. viva goa.

An Anonymous Portuguese

(sent in private communication to Jason)

S said...

no, "anonymous" is a different person but he does have a point doesn't he? why don't you try and do a bit of research on a subject before writing about it. do you think you're so smart you can actually fool everybody and make up for your enormous lack of factual knowledge with your pretentious writing? and spare us your communalist nostalgia for white colonialism.