A new name is likely to be added to the list of Indian-origin people who hold or have held top political positions in various countries: Antonio Costa, of Goa origin, who on Sunday won the primary elections as the prime ministerial candidate of the opposition Socialist Party in Portugal.
Costa has been a popular mayor of Lisbon since 2007, and is known as the ‘Gandhi of Lisbon’ due to his spartan lifestyle. He has transformed deprived parts of the capital and enjoys much goodwill due to his ideas and affable eagerness to hear out anyone who stops him on the streets. He is now in his third term as mayor.
Costa defeated his oldest rival, Antonio Jose Seguro, in the primaries, and will now succeed the latter as the secretary-general of PS (Partido Socialista), which makes him the party’s prime ministerial candidate.
Portugal, which is one of European countries facing severe economic hardships and austerity measures since 2009, is scheduled to hold its next general elections in October 2015. Costa has caught the public imagination with his ideas for economic change and his slogan, ‘Mobilizar Portugal’ (Mobilize Portugal).
Born in Lisbon in 1961, Antonio Luis dos Santos da Costa is the son of prominent novelist Orlando da Costa, who wrote essays on Rabindranath Tagore. His father was born in Mozambique, but spent most of his youth in Goa, then under Portuguese rule.
Antonio Costa’s grand-father, Luis Afonso Maria da Costa, who was born and brought up in Goa, was a descendant of prominent Hindu families who converted to Christianity during the centuries of Portuguese rule in Goa.
Costa became member of the Portuguese parliament in 1991, and held several offices, including secretary of state (1995-1997), minister for parliamentary affairs (1997-1999), and justice minister (1999-2002). He was a member of the European parliament from June 2004 to March 2005.
Known to many as ‘Babush’ (the Konkani word for boy), Antonio Costa comes across as an easy-going person, someone who doesn’t take himself seriously, believing in the Portuguese-Goan concept of ‘susegad’.
As Lisbon mayor, Costa moved his office to the Mouraria neighbourhood, which was earlier known for drug trafficking and prostitution. Today, it is a busy construction hub. His new position on the national stage has the support of former president Jorge Sampio.
Portugal was the first western country to colonise parts of India in the early sixteenth century, and the last to leave, on 19 December 1961.