Monday, May 20, 2013
“UM SACRIFÍCIO INÚTIL”- THE LAST ACT OF GLORY BY THE MAN WHO LOVED THE ORIENT by Bendo Juze
Radio 816 / Lisbon 14-Dec.1961: “You understand the bitterness with which I send you this message. It is horrible to think that this may mean total sacrifice, but I believe that sacrifice is the only way for us to keep up to the highest traditions and provide service to the future of the Nation. Do not expect the possibility of truce or of Portuguese prisoners, as there will be no surrender rendered because I feel that our soldiers and sailors can be either victorious or dead. These words could, by their seriousness, be directed only to a soldier of higher duties fully prepared to fulfill them. God will not allow you to be the last Governor of the State of India.”
With all diplomacy failing way back in the winter of 1961 to decide the fate on one of the first lands conquered by the Europeans in Asia, the Indian Government ordered a large scale invasion via land, air and sea which ended in the Portuguese leaving Goa and Goa becoming an Indian territory.
Though opinion was largely divided over the legacy of these actions, there was a man who despite being on the defeated side was largely admired by Goans. In 1958 Manuel António Vassalo e Silva was nominated the 128th Governor-General of Goa, Damao and Diu.. As many say Governor Silva soon became a friend of the Goan People. He had a vision for the development of Goa and the well being of Goans, a fact most do not deny.
But sadly Governdor Silva had to face one of the most humiliating moment in the history of Portugal. With the Indian Invasion looming Large the Portuguese dictator Antonio Olivera Salazar sent him the message at the beginning of this article. For a man who loved Goan’s and Goa how could he do this?. On another hand he had to be loyal to his Country too. Yes with the small army he had he did put on the fight. But it was Humanity which mattered for him.
The Europeans in Goa wanted to evacuate their families. On 9 December, the vessel “India” arrived at Goa's Mormugao port en route to Lisbon from Timor. Despite orders from the Portuguese government in Lisbon not to allow anyone to embark on this vessel, the Governor General of Goa, Manuel Vassalo e Silva, allowed 700 Portuguese civilians of European origin to board the ship and flee Goa. The ship had had capacity for only 380 passengers, and was filled to its limits, with evacuees occupying even the ship's toilets. On arranging this evacuation of women and children, Vassalo e Silva remarked to the press, "If necessary, we will die here." On the 14 December, the Portuguese administration in Goa received orders from the Ministry for Overseas Affairs in Lisbon to transfer the relics of St. Francis Xavier, patron saint of Goa, to Lisbon. Can any Goan Imagine a Goa today without our Goencho Saib? Orders were also received ordering the Portuguese forces in Goa to destroy any buildings of non-military Portuguese heritage in Goa.
Accordingly, barrels filled with petrol were transported to the Idalcao Palace in Pangim, which served as the administrative headquarters, but were removed on orders from Governor Vassalo e Silva who stated "I cannot destroy the evidence of our greatness in the Orient". Finally by the Evening of Dec 19 1961 with most of Goa overrun by the Invading Indian Army Manuel António Vassalo e Silva took stock of the numerical superiority of the Indian troops, as well as the food and ammunition supplies available to his forces and took the decision to surrender. The following message was relayed to the Portuguese forces in Goa.“Having considered the defence of the Peninsula of Mormugao… from aerial, naval and ground fire of the enemy and … having considered the difference between the forces and the resources… the situation does not allow myself to proceed with the fight without great sacrifice of the lives of the inhabitants of Vasco da Gama, I have decided with … my patriotism well present, to get in touch with the enemy … I order all my forces to cease-fire “. This ended 450 years of Portuguese rule in Goa. He later described his orders to destroy Goa as "um sacrifício inútil" (a useless sacrifice).
The sacrifice he did for the land he loved was not without a price. The brave governor decided to stay back with the Prisoners of war held by the Indian Army. In March 1962 he was one of the last to leave Goa and was greeted with a hostile reception when he returned to Portugal. He was subsequently court martialed for failing to follow orders, expelled from the military and was sent into exile. He returned to Portugal only in 1974, after the fall of the regime, and was given back his military status. He was later able to conduct a state visit to Goa, where he was given a warm reception. Truly by following his conscience and disobeying orders to destroy Goa he could be called the True savior of Goa when it was most needed.