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|December 26, 1997||
Rename Vasco as Sambhaji Nagar, demand agitators
Sandesh Prabhudesai in Panaji
While 1997 was the year Vasco da Gama's "discovery" of India 500 years ago was celebrates, 1998 might be when his memory may be obliterated.
As a beginning, Goan freedom fighters and others, including the Sangh Parivar, is bent upon changing the name of Goa's port town, named after the explorer to Sambhaji Nagar, after the son of Maratha chieftain Shivaji who had fought the Portuguese.
Those for the new name had given till December 19 -- Goa Liberation Day -- for the change to take effect; later they extended the deadline to January 26. Their attempt to get a resolution passed in the Assembly failed after the ruling Congress party vehemently opposed it.
"How can we change the name simply because a handful of freedom fighters demand it," asked Revenue Minister Wilfred Mesquita, who belongs to the Congress.
"Not only Goan freedom fighters, but even our national convention held in Shimla in September had passed a resolution demanding the change of the name," says Vishwanath Lawande, a veteran freedom fighter who is leading the agitators.
The Goa government had also tried to change the name when the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party was ruling, but the central government had rejected the proposal.
"But the state has now all the powers to change the names," asserts Shashikala Kakodkar, the former chief minister of the then union territory. Meanwhile, the freedom fighters also met President K R Narayanan during his Goa visit last week, to intervene on their behalf.
Subhash Velingkar, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader heading the Samiti, says the movement would begin on January 27 if positive action is not taken. Meanwhile, he is planning to pressurise the Vasco Municipal Council to pass a resolution changing the name. He also plans dharnas and demonstrations in Panaji.
"The actions would begin with defacing all the boards in the port town bearing Vasco da Gama's name," discloses Lawande expressing his fury about the stand taken by the Congress government.
"Changing the name would be a Goan tribute to the country in its golden jubilee year of Independence. We won't give up till we succeed. But it is ironical that we have to fight for nationalist values even after 50 years of Independence," said Chandrakant Kenkre, president of the Freedom Fighters' Association.
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