Wheel turns full circle: Portugal now has prime minister, two cabinet members of Indian origin

The arc of history sometimes bends in unexpected ways as seen in the Portuguese leadership 60 years after the liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule.  Portugal is now led by people of Indian descent with family ties to the former colony - Prime Minister António Luís Santos da Costa, Finance Minister Joao Leao and Planning Minister Nelson de Sousa.

Arul Louis Dec 19, 2021
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(From left) 1.Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Luis Santos da Costa is of Indian descent from a Goan family. (Photo: UN) 2. Nelson de Sousa, Portugal's Planning Minister is of Indian descent from a Goan family. (Photo: Portuguese Govt) 3. Joao Leao, Portugal's Finance Minister is of Indian descent from a Goan family. (Photo: Portuguese Govt) 4. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with his wife Catarina Marques de Almeida Vaz Pinto, who was born in Goa. (Photo: UN)

The arc of history sometimes bends in unexpected ways as seen in the Portuguese leadership 60 years after the liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule.  Portugal is now led by people of Indian descent with family ties to the former colony - Prime Minister António Luís Santos da Costa, Finance Minister Joao Leao and Planning Minister Nelson de Sousa.

Soon after Goa was liberated by the Indian armed forces, Portugal's then dictator António de Oliveira Salazar vowed that Goa would always be a part of Portugal and announced that “the functioning of the organs of government of the Province of India” would continue from Lisbon.

That wheel has now turned full circle. 

“I am very proud of visiting my father's land as prime minister, and especially the first prime minister of Indian origin in the European Union. This visit has a strong emotional side in the personal motivation," Costa said during a visit to India in 2017.

Costa's grandfather Luis Afonso Maria da Costa was from Margao, where his relatives still live and his 200-year-old ancestral home is located, according to the Portuguese American Journal.

Luis Costa emigrated to what was then another Portuguese colony, Mozambique, where the prime minister's father Orlando da Costa was born in the capital Maputo.

The elder Costa was a writer and his son released an English translation of his book, Sem Flores Nem Coroas (Without Flowers or Wreaths) while visiting India.

The journal reported that Costa's nickname is Babush, Konkani for “Little Boy.”

Running counter to the conservative trend in Europe, Costa who was the general secretary of the Socialist Party became prime minister in 2015 after getting enough parliamentary votes with the backing of leftist parties, including the Communists and the Greens.

He was reelected in 2019.

Costa started out as a member of the Lisbon City Council and on the road to prime ministership served as the minister for parliamentary affairs and for internal administration. He has also been a vice president of the European Parliament.

 

Finance Minister Leao is the grandson of Leao Fernandes, a professor at a lyceum in Panjim originally from Sarzara, according to O Heraldo. Leao's father Claudio Fernandes moved to Portugal and worked for the government, according to the publication.

Leao has a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where his thesis advisor was Abhijit Banerjee, the Nobel laureate in Economics.

Following his grandfather's footsteps, he started off as an academic and became the secretary of state for the budget in 2015 and rose to finance minister last year. A specialist in finance and economy, de Sousa was born in India, according to his official biography.

He became the secretary of state for trade and services in 1999 and for development and cohesion in 2015 and was appointed planning minister in 2019. He also did stints as the general director of the Industrial Association and as Lisbon's municipal director of finance.

Salazar railed in 1962 against the United Nations Security Council where a Western-sponsored resolution demanding that India withdraw from Goa was vetoed by the Soviet Union. He said it was “better to consider it (the UN) defunct on the spot” and predicted that Portugal would be among the first countries to leave the world organisation.

But history marches on to its own beat: the UN's Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is from Portugal. And he is married to Catarina Marques de Almeida Vaz Pinto, who was born in Goa.

“Her father was a doctor and the family moved back to Lisbon after it became part of India…But we have been back to visit, to see where she was born, where she was baptised,” Guterres has recalled.(SAM)

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