Jawaharlal Nehru - “It is not true that we covet Goa. That small bit of territory does not make any difference to this great country India. We do not desire to impose ourselves on the people of Goa against their wishes. It is definitely their responsibility to choose for themselves. We have assured Goans that it is for them to establish their own future and I further assure them on matters such as Religion, Languages and Customs”. - 21st August 1955.
Only later did I realize how great the strain was. Menon was already hatching plans to seize the 1394-square-mile Portuguese enclave of Goa, on the west coast of India. I have authentic information that Menon and Lieutenant General B. M. Kaul, the chief of the general staff, planned to send a party of Indian border police into Goa, some of whom would allow themselves to be captured by the Portuguese.
The rest were to fall back and give the alarm. Under the pretext of rescuing the captured border guards, a small Indian force would move in and engage the Portuguese. The main body of Indian troops would then quickly overrun Goa, which is about the size of Rhode Island. In late November 1961 Nehru got wind of the scheme and summoned Menon and the senior military chiefs. He rebuked them for plotting direct action against Goa without his permission. Menon persisted. With the help of hand-picked lieutenants like G. K. Handoo, a top security officer, he stepped up subversion against the Portuguese in Goa. The Indian border police under Handoo's direction recruited, trained, and equipped saboteurs, who were slipped across the border into Goa. Fabricated stories about Portuguese "border provocations" were fed to the Indian press.
On December 7, 1961, Menon lent the weight of his official position to the concoctions. He told the Lok Sabha: "Reports Have been pouring in for the last two weeks of intensified firing activity, oppression and terrorism in Goa and of heavy reinforcements of Portuguese armed forces.... There was a report of 2,500 troops having been deployed along the Goa border... also a report of a fleet of two Portuguese frigates standing guard.... 3,000 more troops from African and other places have also arrived.... It was also reported that dawn-to-dusk curfew had been imposed and that anyone coming after the curfew hours would be shot at sight.... Another report said that in Daman over 1,000 Portuguese soldiers had landed.... The Portuguese armed forces are thus poised near the border at various points to overawe and intimidate both the residents of Goa and those living in the border villages on the Indian side. Hit-and-run raids across the border already seem to have started. A raid in a village near Savantvadi was reported two days ago."
There was indeed a military build-up under way, but it was on the Indian, not the Portuguese, side. Rail traffic throughout northern and western India had been disrupted to move the elite 50th Paratroop Brigade and the 17th Infantry Division to jumping-off positions near the Goa border. Elements of the First Armored Division were also deployed. In full view of the Goan coast, India had assembled a task force compose of the newly acquired aircraft carrier Vikrant, two cruisers, a destroyer flotilla, at least two antisubmarine frigates, two antiaircraft frigates, and supporting craft. Canberra jet bombers and Gnat and Vampire fighters had been concentrated at Belgaum to support the ground and naval units.
Contrary to what Menon had said, no Portuguese reinforcements ever reached the 3,500-man garrison in Goa and the two smaller enclaves in India. Against India's heavy Centurion tanks, the Portuguese could muster only a handful of 1942- vintage armored reconnaissance cars. They had no air force whatever. Their only warship was the seventeen-year-old sloop Afonso de Albuquerque, which went into action against the entire Indian armada. I know these facts firsthand because I spent ten days covering every part of Goa before the Indians invaded, and I was there during the take-over. My own observation leads me to credit the estimate by foreign military attaches that India enjoyed at least a ten-to-one numerical superiority over the hopelessly ill-equipped and outmanned Portuguese defenders. The invasion of Goa actually began more than twenty-four hours before India announced early on December 18, 1961, that its troops had been ordered to move in. On Sunday morning, December 17, several other Western correspondents and I ran into bearded Indian troops dug in at least a quarter of a mile inside Goan territory. They had taken over the Sinquervale frontier post, abandoned three days before by the Portuguese, who feared that its exposed position would give the Indians an opportunity to provoke a shooting incident.
The Indians needed no pretext. The other correspondents and I alighted from our taxi to walk several hundred yards to what we expected would be a Portuguese frontier post. There was an ominous silence until we heard a voice shouting to us in Hindi to stop. A turbaned Sikh trained his machine gun on us. We explained that we were British and American newsmen and asked to see the officer in charge. We were then taken into custody and held at the post for an hour, until an Indian Army captain in paratroop uniform arrived on the scene. He questioned us about the condition of the roads in Goa, then told us to return to Pangim, Goa's capital, in the taxi we had brought. As we left, he said matter-of-factly: "It's all right your coming here in daylight. But tonight or, rather, at night we couldn't guarantee your safety." That night the push was on.
Soon after the invasion began, Menon called a news conference in New Delhi. He was in a jaunty mood. India, he explained, had been "forced" to send troops into Goa to protect the civil population against the breakdown of law and order and the collapse of the "colonial regime." I know from my own observation that there was no breakdown of law and order and no collapse of the regime in Pangim or any of the many other places I saw in Goa. I had twice visited the central prison in Pangim, and found it occupied by only eleven bored inmates, seven of them political prisoners. There had not been a single case of arson, looting, or terrorism in Pangim in the ten days before the Indians invaded. There was no curfew there or anywhere else in Goa. Where isolated acts of terrorism or sabotage had taken place, it was established that most of them were committed by infiltrators trained and equipped by Handoo's Indian border police. Menon had talked about the people of Goa being "shot down, repressed, and massacred." He had said that the Goans must achieve their own liberation. But the striking thing about Goa on the eve of the Indian take-over was its tranquility. There was no popular resistance movement worthy of the name. Portugal was not particularly popular, but neither was India except among a section of Goan Hindus (mostly lawyers, teachers, and other middle-class professionals), who hoped their status would improve under Indian rule. They are already showing signs of disappointment.
Many of Goa's 228,000 Christians (out of a total population of 640,000) might have preferred to maintain some link with Portugal as insurance against being swamped by the fast-growing Hindu majority. My own feeling is that a majority of politically conscious Goans would have elected for autonomy or actual independence if they had been given the choice. Ten days before Indian troops had moved onto Goan soil, Menon told the lower house of Parliament, "The position of the government is that there is no question of our going and liberating Goa. The question is that we shall not leave our places undefended...." He termed Indian troop movements "precautionary," and said flatly, "There is no question of suddenly hitting or attacking; Government... is not thinking of any operations."
A few years before, Menon had publicly affirmed, "I say categorically that India will not take one step that involves the use of force to alter a situation, even if the legal right is on her side." Nehru had been even more specific. Speaking of Goa in Parliament on September 17, 1955, he said, "We rule out non-peaceful methods completely." Even a police action, he said, would lay Indians open to the charge of being "deceitful hypocrites." He insisted that reliance on peaceful methods to bring Goa into India "is not only a sound policy, but the only possible policy."
Such is India's record on Goa. It has earned Menon the epithet of the "Goa constrictor." I have never been able to understand why the resort to force to seize Goa surprised so many people in America and Britain. Nehru champions many Gandhian ideals, but pure nonviolence is not one of them. He has used violence before in Kashmir and against the princely state of Hyderabad in 1948. He is still using it against the Naga rebels fighting for their independence in extreme eastern India. During the first fifteen years of independence, Indian police have fired on Indian crowds at least as frequently as the British used force during the last fifteen years of their rule. For his part, Menon has never even paid lip service to Gandhianism. He calls it "good merchandise" but boasts that he does not need it. For me, the most significant thing about the Goa operation is the light it sheds on Menon's power at that time to manipulate Nehru and the rest of the Indian government for his own ends. To what extent Nehru believed Menon's fraudulent version of events leading up to the take-over is difficult to say at this stage. The Prime Minister was under heavy pressure from the Army and public opinion on the eve of the 1962 elections to demonstrate that he could deal firmly with foreign intruders. No action being possible (in Nehru's judgment) against the Chinese, he may have felt compelled to move on Goa. I have never accepted the notion that Goa was primarily designed to enhance Menon's electoral prospects in North Bombay. Menon was convinced he could win without Goa because he had Nehru and the Congress machine working for him.
The North Bombay campaign in the fall and winter of 1961-1962 was the most bitterly contested and lavishly financed election in Indian history. It aroused strong passions in India and abroad. Its outcome, although never really in doubt, was thought likely to affect the future of India and Asia for many years to come. North Bombay is what is known in India as a "prestige constituency." Its 762,775 eligible voters, living in an area of 254 square miles, include many Bombay cinema artists, writers, and professional people. But the majority is composed of illiterate slum dwellers, poor artisans, petty traders, and manual laborers. Tiny stall shops and thatch huts sprawl over the tidal marsh land of North Bombay. The constituency has been solidly Congress for many years. In 1957 Menon was elected from there without difficulty, although the local tide was running against the Congress party at the time.
When Menon sought renomination from North Bombay in 1961, he met surprising opposition. The District Congress Committee voted by a narrow margin to choose an old school party stalwart over Menon. Nehru was furious and demanded that Menon run from North Bombay. Local party leaders finally bowed to the Prime Minister, but twenty-six members of the Congress party youth organization resigned and declared in a statement, "We are convinced Menon is pro-Communist and the future of the country is not safe in his hands as India's defense minister and spokesman of our foreign policy.... We feel it is our bounden duty to see that he is defeated." Nehru later told 200,000 people in Bombay that the defectors could "go to hell." At the end of his speech, he turned to Menon, sitting behind him, to ask, "Is that all you wanted me to say?"
Menon was opposed by the perennial maverick of Indian politics, seventy-four-year-old Jiwatram Bhagwandas Kripalani, who carries the honorific title of Acharya (teacher) and once served as president of the Congress Party. He resigned from the Congress in 1951 in a dispute with Nehru, formed his own party, and finally became an independent. In North Bombay he was backed by an unlikely coalition of the Praja Socialist Party, the traditionalist Hindu Jan Sangh, and the Right Wing conservative Swatantra Party. As a long-time associate of Gandhi and friend of Nehru, Kripalani was loath to attack Congress or Nehru. He concentrated his fire on Menon, whom he called "the spearhead of the creeping march of Communism in the country and in the Congress." He insisted that it was dangerous to entrust the defense of the country against Communist China to such a man. This issue, however well chosen, evoked little response among the largely illiterate masses of North Bombay. Kripalani's own supporters were often at odds. His campaign was badly organized.
Menon, on the other hand, rode to victory on the well-oiled machines of Congress and the Communists, with a powerful assist from Nehru. Congress and Communist party workers carried on door-to-door campaigning for him in every ward of the constituency. The movie colony, attracted by Menon's radicalism and flattered by his attentions, was mobilized. A. M. Tariq, a Moslem member of Parliament and former tonga driver from Kashmir, was imported to rally North Bombay's 80,000 Moslems. Mrs. Violet Alva, a south Indian Christian, who was then deputy home minister, appealed to the 50,000 Christians (mostly Goans). Even Bombay's powerful bootleggers were told to muster their supporters. But by far the most effective support for Menon came from Nehru. Driving himself at an inhuman pace, Nehru toured India from Kashmir to Kerala defending Menon at every turn. He campaigned in North Bombay a month before the elections and offered to return in the last days, but the Congress party bosses assured him that Menon's victory was already safe. Nehru's theme was: "A vote against Menon is a vote against me." He even threatened to resign if the Defense Minister were defeated.
While Menon remained silent in the face of charges that he was a crypto-Communist, Nehru heatedly denied them, insisting, "Mr. Menon is a socialist like me. But he is a real socialist and not an armchair socialist."
Overexertion during the campaign contributed to the illness that incapacitated Nehru for several weeks in April.