Portugal's new consul general in Goa has given a new spin to the simmering row on the eligibility of indigenous Goans for Portuguese nationality, an issue that has forced the state government to approach the central government for help.
On a day when Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar attended a meeting at the home ministry in Delhi seeking a 'dual nationality-type' for thousands of Goans who have opted for Portuguese nationality under Portuguese laws for some of its former colonies, Rui Caravalho Baceira told IANS that the identity card was proof of Portuguese citizenship.
"If you obtained the Bilhete de Identidade de Cidadao Nacional, then you are a Portuguese national," Baceira said here.
Baceira's comment comes when the police are reluctantly probing a First Information Report (FIR) filed by an activist claiming several politicians, even legislators, police officers, bureaucrats, lawyers and thousands of Goans have over the years applied and availed themselves of the Portuguese identity card, also referred to as the Bilhete.
Police initially refused to file the complaint filed by Kashinath Shetye but later registered it on the directions of a trial court.
The FIR says people (several of whom are named) who have the identity card should surrender their Indian passports. It wants government officers and politicians in this category to resign.
The 'dual citizenship' issue has become a political hot potato with two ruling legislators, Glen Ticlo and Caitu Silva, being accused of having Portuguese passports and processing their Bilhetes after formally registering their birth in Portugal. Both have maintained that their documentation in Portugal was processed by agents without their knowledge.
If Baceira's logic is applied, both could stand to lose their legislatorship.
Caitu Silva is already facing a petition filed by his political rival in the Panaji bench of the Bombay High Court which claims he is a Portuguese national and, therefore, cannot be elected to political office in India.
The Bilhete is in fact a much misunderstood document. While the Portuguese government issues it as a national identity card, most Goans who register their birth in Portugal, as one of the first steps towards obtaining a Portuguese passport, assume that citizenship is obtained only once the passport has been issued.
A Portuguese passport and nationality automatically has opened doors of the European Union for several thousand Goans over the last three decades. Being a Portuguese citizen helps them bypass stricter European laws against employing 'foreigners' versus local talent.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government has been claiming that the Bilhete alone is not proof of Portuguese identity and the individual continues to be an Indian citizen. The government has also promised to offer a solution to the vexed issue, with Parrikar lobbying with the home ministry for a one-time solution to Goans who have availed of Portuguese nationality.
The issue gains relevance as thousands of Goans have opted for Portuguese nationality since 1974, when Portugal allowed Goans born before 1961 and their children up to the third generation to avail themselves of Portuguese citizenship. Goa was liberated after 451 years of Portuguese rule in 1961.
A few months after the liberation, the central government through a notification under the Citizenship Act 1955 automatically accorded Indian citizenship to every person who or either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents was born before Dec 20, 1961, in Goa, Daman and Diu, which were also Portuguese colonies.
The only exception to the 'Citizenship Order' were individuals who had declared in writing that they had chosen to retain their Portuguese nationality accorded to them earlier as former subjects of the colonial power.
According to media reports, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has directed the secretary of his ministry to find an amicable solution at the earliest to resolve the issue.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)