Goa: Home Ministry's recent proclamation restarts debate on Portuguese dual citizenship

Panaji: The federal home ministry’s recent proclamation that Goa lawmaker Caetano Rosario Silva alias Caitu is an Indian national has opened the proverbial Pandora’s box and given a glimpse of hope to thousands of Goans who had registered their births in Portugal.

According to estimates, about 27,000 Goans have registered Portugal as their place of birth since Portugal offered the option to Goans in 1974 of registering those born before Goa’s liberation from 451 year colonial Portuguese on 19 December, 1961 as Portuguese. Portugal treated Goa, Daman and Diu as its overseas territory, unlike the British who considered rest of India as its colony.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Reuters

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh. Reuters

This enabled anyone born in pre-liberation Goa to register themselves as Portuguese along with their next two generations born in India. Caitu, who won South Goa’s Benaulim seat in the 2012 state legislative assembly election as a Goa Vikas Party candidate, was born in Portuguese Goa in 1959. He had registered his birth in Portugal and has been involved in a career-spoiling legal battle to prove his Indian nationality, claiming it was done without his knowledge by agents. The Goa bench of Bombay High Court had asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to clarify the mystery surrounding Caitu’s nationality. He contested the recently held Goa assembly elections from Benaulim as an independent, supported by the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Caitu was dragged to the court by Valanka Alemao, daughter of former Goa Chief Minister Churchill Alemao. Valanka, a Congress party nominee, was defeated by Caitu by some 2,000 votes in 2012. This time round, her father Churchill Alemao, decided to challenge Caitu as a nominee of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

MHA virtually made a U-turn over the issue as it overturned its earlier pronouncement of 20 November, 2013, in which it had termed Caitu as a Portuguese citizen, prompting Churchill Alemao to comment that it was done under pressure of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Valanka had filed the petition soon after her defeat seeking disqualification of Caitu on the grounds that he being a foreign national was not entitled to function as elected representative in India.

Thousands of Goans, including politicians, policemen, bureaucrats and lawyers opted to register Portugal as their country of birth. This enabled their children and grandchildren to take the Portuguese passport and work anywhere in Europe. “They were unable to find jobs here. They are helping India earn foreign exchange as they work in Europe and send money to their parents here back home,” said Mario Ferreira, a Goan himself and a Congress party activist.

The MHA decision to accept that Caitu continues to be an Indian national is bound to give a new ray of hope to several others like him. Portugal allows dual citizenship. But India does not. Demand for allowing Goa-specific dual citizenship is gaining ground since there are between 27,000 and 30,000 Goans who registered themselves as Portugal born for their progeny without leaving the Indian soil, accepting Portuguese passport or citizenship.

Besides Caitu, Ticlo Glenn JVA Souza, BJP lawmaker from Aldona constituency, was also facing threat of disqualification over their alleged registration of Portugal born Indians.

Many Goans have registered their births in Portugal and their children have obtained citizenship or accepted a ‘Bilhete de Identidade de Cidadao Nacional’, which is supposed to be as good as getting a Portuguese citizenship. Many Goans use the ‘Bilhete de Identidade’ to travel across Europe and work, as it makes the Schengen visa redundant. Many have sought employment in Europe on the basis of the Bilhete.

Since the nationality questions about Caitu and Glenn cropped up, the BJP government in Goa took a stand that the Bilhete alone is not a proof of Portuguese nationality and that such individuals continue to be Indian citizens. Parrikar, while he served as Goa chief minister between 2012 and 2014, was lobbying with the home ministry, while the Congress party was in power at the centre, for a one-time solution to this dual nationality issue of Goans. India had accorded citizenship to all residents of Goa, Daman and Diu after their liberation under the Citizenship Act 1955. However, those who in writing had declared then that they wanted to retain their Portuguese nationality were not declared as Indian citizens.

Caitu has said he is contemplating filing a suit for claiming damages from Valanka Alemao for mental harassment, malicious prosecution and wastage of time that prevented him from executing his role as MLA and working for his constituency all these last five years.

Incidentally, among those who have opted for Portuguese passport include Goa’s famous musician Remo Fernandes, recipient of Padma Shri award in 2007. Fernandes, who lived in his ancestral village Siolim in North Goa, moved to Europe a couple of years back and is said to be looking forward to India granting dual citizenship so that he can continue spreading his brand of music in India and Europe unhindered.

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Updated Date: Feb 24, 2017 10:38:31 IST

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