It has been 44 years since the Goan city of Vasco da Gama was renamed ‘Sambhaji (Vasco da Gama)’ — after Chhatrapati Shivaji’s eldest son — by the state government. But for many residents of the historic city, this is the first time they’re hearing about it.
In October this year, when Custodio D’Souza received for the first time a digitally printed ration card under the National Food Security scheme, he was surprised. “Instead of Vasco da Gama, the city was called Sambhaji (Vasco da Gama),” he said, adding that he thought it was a clerical error. “But a month later, 1,463 NFC ration card recipients raised a similar alarm, which sparked suspicion that the city was renamed without it being brought to their notice.
“In 1971, an attempt was made by Goa’s first CM Dayanand Bandodkar to call the city Sambhaji. But there were protests from locals and representations were sent to the government. We thought the government had relented and let the city retain its legacy,” said Kaithan Fernandes, 55.
When locals approached the Goa food and civil supplies department, they were told that the information on the NFC card was published by National Informatics Centre in Delhi on the basis of information provided by the Goa government. “Earlier (till 2011), state authorities manually entered the address in forms, so they may have been writing Vasco da Gama to ward off controversy. But the NIC will only publish information that is on record, which may have revealed the official name of the city. Almost all government agencies know the city is called Sambhaji (Vasco da Gama) since 1971,” a government official said, requesting anonymity.
The Sunday Express accessed the government notification dated February 15, 1971, which was published in the Goa Gazette, and found that the document does refer to the city as Sambhaji (Vasco da Gama) on page 414. It has been signed by J C Almeida, Secretary (Revenue).
“The name has an emotional attachment for people. What would one gain by taking it away from them?” Gabriel Cutino, a priest at the local St Andrews Church, said. “Neither the state government nor its agencies took us into confidence before changing our city’s name. Subsequent governments remained mum. If we don’t protest now, we will have to change our details in all documents, such as voter card, Aadhaar card, etc,” Custodio said. He said if the government does not pay heed to their demand within 15 days, they will launch a protest.
Goa CM Laxmikant Parsekar said, “Sambhaji (Bhosale) is a national leader. There should not be any hue and cry over it. (But) the government has not taken any firm decision. If anyone feels that the name is to be removed, that can be cancelled…” Director of the food and civil supplies department Vikas Gaunekar said that as soon as the state government gives them a direction, they will amend the information.