Indian-origin leaders shine in Portugal


The arc of history sometimes bends in unexpected ways as seen in the Portuguese leadership 60 years after the liberation of Goa…writes Arul Louis

Soon after the liberation, Portugal’s dictator Antonio 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.

In a twist to that claim, Portugal is now led by people of Indian descent with family ties to the former colony: Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Finance Minister Joao Leao and Planning Minister Nelson de Sousa.

Indian-origin leaders shine in Portugal

“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, Antonio 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 re-elected in 2019.

Antonio 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.

Joao Leao’s father Claudio Fernandes moved to Portugal and worked for the government, according to the publication.

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

Indian-origin leaders shine in Portugal

Following his grandfather’s footsteps, he started off as an academic and became the secretary of state for 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.

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Salazar railed in 1962 against the UN 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 IndiaeBut we have been back to visit, to see where she was born, where she was baptised,” Guterres has recalled.