On This Day: India seizes Portuguese colony of Goa after invasion

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: India seizes Portuguese colony of Goa after invasion

DECEMBER 19, 1961: India seized Goa from Portugal on this day in 1961 – finally ending the era of European colonies on the subcontinent following a massive invasion.

Around 45,000 soldiers, 42 planes, an aircraft carrier and 15 other ships quickly overwhelmed the 4,000 men and four boats defending a territory the size of Kent.

Daman and Diu, an even smaller coastal enclave 430 miles north of Goa, was also seized – ending 456 years of Portuguese rule in India.

They were immediately integrated with the Republic of India, most of which had been granted independence from Britain in 1947.

A British Pathé newsreel shows a platoon of troops marching through Goa, which is now India’s richest state thanks to its booming tourism industry.

It also filmed piles of guns abandoned by the Portuguese troops following the 36-hour war that left 30 of their men dead and killed 22 Indian soldiers.

Elsewhere, the newsreel shows some of the former colonist soldiers at a holding camp where they are informed by an officer that they were under Indian orders.

Meanwhile, at the former governor’s mansion in Panjim, the capital city now known as Panaji, Indian commander Major General K.P. Candeth gave a press conference.

He claimed they were liberating Goa as well as Daman and Diu – and protecting them from a popular uprising - after Portugal refused to talk about their future.

Portugal had already been forced to surrender its other Estado da India – or State of India - territory Dadra and Nagar Haveli after armed nationalists seized it in 1954.

But right-wing dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who had been in power for 29 years, insisted that Goa as well as Daman and Diu were as Portuguese as Lisbon.

He said the districts were not a colony – and instead were part of Metropolitan Portugal - and so a transfer of sovereignty was non-negotiable.

Portugal did not recognise the annexation of any of these territories until the fall of the Estado Novo regime in 1975 – five years after Salazar’s death at age 81.

In the same year, Portugal also granted independence to the African countries of Mozambique and Angola following bloody civil wars there.

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It did not give up its last foreign possession until 1999 when its Macau enclave was returned to China along with its neighbour, Hong Kong, from Britain.

Portugal was the first modern European nation to begin an overseas empire after its sailors captured the north African coast outpost of Ceuta in 1415.

Among its many famous explorers was Vasco da Gama, the first man to sail directly from Europe to India in 1498 after passing the Cape of Good Hope around Africa.

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It set up its first of three west-coast outposts in Goa in 1505 – a century years before Britain’s East India Company began setting up factory towns on the subcontinent.

In 1677, France also set up enclaves –with Pondichery its biggest and most important – which were integrated into the Republic of India.

But it was the British who really carved up the subcontinent, which had previously been a collection of kingdoms.
And since Britain ruled the majority of the territory, she became the focus of native opposition.

The first major uprising was Indian Rebellion of 1857 – after which control was passed from the East India Company monopoly to the British Crown.

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In 1920, freedom leader Mohandas Gandhi launched a campaign of non-violent resistance, which thoroughly undermined – and overstretched - British rule.

Following World War II – with Britain unable to afford an empire any longer – independence talks began.

The main stumbling block was the Muslim demand for an independent nation, which was opposed by the Hindu majority.

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They eventually agreed to a partition that cost up to a million lives in violence following Pakistan and India’s independence in August 1947.

The Portuguese colonies were mainly composed of Hindus – albeit with a large Catholic minority – so its people favoured integration with India.