India's former Portuguese colony appears nonplussed by Commonwealth meeting

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

No one seemed to recognize the irony of Commonwealth leaders going to Goa to discuss non-interference in the affairs of other nations. Even Barbados Prime Minister J.M.G. Adams, though chastizing Indira Gandhi for ''invading'' or was it ''creating'' Bangladesh in 1971, failed to mention the Indian army's sweep into this idyllic Portuguese enclave inside India, ''liberated'' in 1961. (Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru attacked in a sea assault, dislodging the somnolent Portugese garrison, and packed them up and sent them home.)

Yet 22 years later this palm-fringed, tropical union territory evokes little that is Indian. It remains unique, despite a traumatizing weekend retreat by the Commonwealth chiefs of government.

Sixty percent of Goa's 1.1 million inhabitants are Roman Catholics. Hundreds of churches, chapels, and road-side shrines are resplendent in Goa's tropical, white-washed countryside. Men lounge about in taverns, lazily passing the time. Women in brilliant blouses, and long, flowing skirts, break open coconuts with machetes and hawk jewelry and fresh pineapples on the beach.

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One rarely hears Hindi spoken. Sausages with pepper, lobster, and paella are far more common than curry and rice. And though people are poor in Goa, there is little discernible poverty.

Yet, it was a weekend retreat that cost $20 million, in a nation with a per capita income of $300 a year. New roads were built; the airport expanded; Panaji , the capital, was finally given street lights. And 3,000 trees were felled in the operation - many providing fruit and nuts - as an army of bulldozers worked mercilessly around the clock. The lieutenant governor's residence, where one official luncheon was held, was refurbished for $70,000.

Panaji is the old Portuguese name for this town of 43,165, though its usually disregarded Indian name is Panjim. It is now connected with direct telephone dialing to 60 countries of the world.

''Why are we putting on all this show?'' asked a poor widow. ''Everyone knows how poor we are.''

''Nonsense,'' reported an official of CHOGM - the acronym for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting. ''Do you know how many Goans there are abroad? They would love to call home, and we leave Goa the infrastructure. . . . There are three Goan associations in Kuwait alone.''

Yet, as many Goans explained, Kuwait is not one of those countries to which Goans can now dial direct.

Dabolim airport, whose runway was increased from 7,000 to 10,000 feet, is now equipped with the most sophisticated systems and is capable of receiving any aircraft in the world.

During the peak season, however, there are only two flights a day. Most of Goa's tourists, said a small shopkeeper plaintively, arrive by road or sea.

''Their economy is the backpack. They can't afford to fly,'' said one resident.

Young American flower-children, looking more a part of the '60s than the '80s , lounge around the taverns or on the beach, often wearing ''longis,'' a sarong-like wrap. Many are naked, others dressed in beads. They have set up colonies in and around Baga and Anjuna beach. They were told to stay out of sight of the visiting dignitaries by a bevy of New Delhi bureaucrats, who arrived to ''coordinate,'' ''organize,'' and generally confuse.

Dressed in smart bush jackets, and saris of many hues, the bureaucrats bustled about the press center, the conference centers, and other unofficial sites - never able to answer a question. Their only known accomplishment was telling the ''hippies'' to stay out of sight.

Goa, a union territory administered mainly by New Delhi, has somewhat limited prerogatives, as compared to an Indian state. And, even though not a terribly poor region by Indian standards - average income is slightly above the national average, and literacy at 57 percent is high - its economy is fragile, based on tourism, fishing, agriculture, plus remittances from abroad.

Nervous union officials confided to journalists that, though ''a bit'' of the CHOGM infrastructure would serve the territory once the chiefs of state left, they were patently bewildered by press reports that the development plan for Goa was expected to bear 25 percent of the $20 million weekend expense.

The Church of St. Francis of Assisi was repainted, its murals restored and refined. Trees were planted, some as late as Saturday morning, before the dignitaries arrived.

Yet there was still a naked hole in the middle of the square, where the statue of Portugal's famous poet, author, and soldier, Luis de Camoes, had been hastily pulled down, and moved to the archaeological museum. The Indian authorities wanted no anti-colonial demonstrations. The bewildered Goans asked, ''By whom?''

In another part of Goa, Martin's Corner is a tiny, family restaurant hugging the Arabian Sea. It is rustic, old-worldish, set on the beach. Neither Martin, nor any other Goan fisherman, has been permitted to fish for days.

Indeed, no ''foreign ship of any description'' has been permitted off Goa for eight nautical miles. The waters are patrolled by the Indian Navy, in nearly carrier force. Frogmen have been swimming in shifts for the last 72 hours. They have also organized CHOGM's ''water sports.'' But only Canada's indefatigable Pierre Trudeau swam, wind-surfed, and water-skied.

''How much was paid in naval salaries,'' a disgruntled Goan asked, ''to enable Mr. Trudeau to go water skiing? We've lost a week's wages for our fishing fleet.''

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