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Portugal's Soares, who upheld India’s sovereignty in Goa, dies

world Updated: Jan 08, 2017 20:25 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Portugal's Soares

A towering figure: Big pictures of the historic socialist leader and former Portuguese President Mario Soares are displayed on a facade of the Portuguese Socialist party headquarters in Lisbon on Sunday, a day after his death. (AFP)

Mario Soares, former president and prime minister who signed the 1974 India-Portugal treaty recognising India’s sovereignty over Goa, Daman, Diu, Nadra and Nagar Haveli as part of the country's decolonisation process, passed away here on Saturday aged 92.

One of the most influential politicians in Portuguese history, Soares was the external affairs minister when the treaty was signed with former minister for external affairs Yashwantrao Chavan in New Delhi, soon after the 'Carnation Revolution’ of April 1974 that returned democracy to Portugal.

Soares faced some criticism at the time for allegedly 'handing over' Goa to India without seeking the views of Goans about their political future. Until the treaty was signed, Portugal continued its claim to Goa at the UN, refusing to recognise its liberation by India in 1961.

The Chavan-Soares treaty marked the resumption of diplomatic relations between India and Portugal, frozen after India liberated the former Portuguese colonies in December 1961. Soares was a fierce critic of dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who tried to hold on to Goa, and was overthrown in the 1974 revolution.

Soares was hospitalised in December, but never recovered, slipping into a coma. Doctors confirmed his death on Saturday. Portugal has declared a three-day mourning period from Monday.

Soares founded Portugal’s Socialist party (‘Partido Socialista’) in 1973 in Germany, conducting subversive activities while opposing Salazar’s regime. He was arrested 12 times and forced out of Portugal.

One of two main parties in the country (the other is the Social Democratic Party, or ‘Partido Social Democrata’), the Socialist party held power several times since 1974.

As the external affairs minister in the government after overthrowing Salazar, Soares oversaw the decolonisation process of several Portuguese colonies. A colourful and charismatic leader, Soares became prime minister of Portugal three times and president for a decade.

The Socialist party’s leader, Goa-origin Antonio Costa, is the prime minister and currently on a visit to India.

“Today, Portugal lost its father of liberty and democracy, the person and face the Portuguese identify most with the regime that was born on 25 April, 1974,” the Socialist party said in a statement.

As prime minister, Soares attended attend the funeral of Indira Gandhi in 1984, and as Portugal’s President, was the chief guest of India’s Republic Day in 1992.

Portugal was the first Western country to colonise parts of India (Goa, from 1510) and the last to leave (in 1961).