In 1947, when India attained Independence, the British left the subcontinent but the French and the Portuguese stayed on in their possessions in parts of India in the south and west. While France gave up
Pondicherry (now Puducherry) in 1954, the Portuguese hung on to Goa and some other nearby smaller territories occupied by them — Daman, Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. In July 1954, a group of 1,000-odd activists from Mumbai (then Bombay) marched into Dadra and seized it, followed soon after by Nagar Haveli, which offered no resistance. But their attempt to similarly occupy Daman, which had a garrison of 1,500 Portuguese soldiers, did not succeed. A few months later, a group of satyagrahis led by N.G. Goray of the Socialist Party forcibly entered Goa but were attacked by the Portuguese police and incarcerated at the Fort Aguada prison, where they were kept for 20 months before being freed. The number of people arrested in 1954-55 was more than 2,000, most of them belonging to Bombay.
In 1956, then US secretary of state John Foster Dulles issued a statement saying that “Goa is an integral part of Portugal”, but clarified that he was in favour of a “peaceful solution” of the whole controversy. His statement infuriated Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who told a delegation on the eve of its visit to the United States: “Dulles’ statement about Goa has angered everybody here. Indo-American relations are much more affected by this kind of thing than by the aid they may give.” By the end of 1956, the Indian government had reached an impasse on Goa. Nehru was, however, determined that “India, though very angry, should act with responsibility and wisdom”. But what such action should be was not clear, and the whole policy had obviously to be reconsidered after the elections that were due in the beginning of 1957. But till 1959, there was hardly any advance on this front, except the Prime Minister asserting time and again that Goa was a part of India and bound to come to India, but he did not spell out how this would be made possible. Though he counselled patience and pointed out the “unwisdom of any resort to force”, Nehru never ruled out the possibility of circumstances arising which might compel armed intervention. A few days later, he moved even closer to the possible use of force by stating that “the Portuguese were pushing the Government of India into thinking afresh and adopting other than peaceful methods to solve the problem”.
As the 1960s dawned, while new US President John F. Kennedy believed that India had a legitimate case in Goa and the American government was totally opposed to colonialism, he was against the use of force by the Indian government. Sensing this, Nehru tactfully avoided discussing Goa with Kennedy on his visit to United States in November 1961. He even sidestepped the issue with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and declined to promise him that India wouldn’t in any circumstances resort to the use of force. US ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith, who was in regular touch with Nehru after the latter’s return from Washington, got the impression that the Prime Minister appeared to have changed his mind and was preparing for military intervention. He warned Kennedy, who wrote to Nehru expressing his general concern at the use of force in Goa. The letter reached the Prime Minister’s office on December 16. Later in the day, the US government came up with a fresh proposal, conveyed through Ambassador Galbraith, that India should postpone any action for six months to enable the government of the United States, and perhaps other countries, to help solve this problem.
But it was too late. Nehru had made up his mind, and on December 17 Indian troops moved into Goa and, within 26 hours, made it a part of India, after 400 years of colonialism. As expected, there was widespread condemnation in the United States and Britain, but Nehru was unmoved. He wrote to Kennedy on December 29: “An aspect of this question which has troubled me greatly is the vast difference between the reaction in India, in Africa and generally in Asia on the one side, and the contrary reaction, chiefly in the United States and the United Kingdom. Why is it that something that thrills our people should be condemned in the strongest possible language in the United States and some other places... politics has a different face looked at from different points of view.”
The point was not lost on the young and charismatic American President who was wise enough to realise what Nehru had succeeded in doing with the willing cooperation and goodwill of the people of Goa, almost bloodlessly.
Notwithstanding the widespread rejoicing in the country over the action, there was criticism in a few quarters, the most prominent being from Swantatra Party leader C. Rajagopalachari and finance minister Morarji Desai. In less than three months from then, however, Morarji Desai would be defending Krishna Menon, the defence minister who presided over the Goa action, while Rajaji would be on the other side batting for Acharya Kripalani in the prestigious North Bombay seat in the 1962 Lok Sabha election. That Menon won by over one lakh votes was primarily due to Nehru’s hectic canvassing for him and the action in Goa for which he, as defence minister, had shared the credit with his PM.