The CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) was hosted by India in the year 1983. Most part of the official conference was held in Delhi. However, a Retreat for all the attending world leaders was scheduled in Goa. The tiny state back then was a destination on the hippie trail and not a full fledged tourist destination that it is today. The world’s focus was once again on Goa just like it had been during the annexation of Goa by the Indian army in 1961.
Goa benefited handsomely from the event. It received good coverage from visiting media reporters. It was no surprise then that chartered tourists soon began flocking here. The potential for tourism received a major boost as the Commonwealth Delegates visited various sites in Goa. Benefits of the event outlived the initial hype and set the ball rolling for tourism boom in Goa.
Lunch at the Governor’s residence (One of the best residences in India) showcased the rich Indo – Portuguese heritage of Goa. The now tattering Zuari bridge was the result of this event. Goa at that time had only a fraction of infrastructure that it has today. The event pulled 39 world leaders from across the globe to Goa.
Construction of CHOGM Road
The Taj hotel, (now Vivanta),Sinquerim, was chosen to house all the visiting leaders. By road it would take a long time to travel. A new road cut through Saligao to Calangute. Being built specifically for the event, it was named CHOGM Road.
After its construction, this road has proved a boon to scores of tourists and residents alike. It has reduced travel time to the coastal belt of Baga, Calangute, Candolim, Sinquerim and Fort Aguada, considerably. It is for this very reason that many commercial establishments are able to operate in the area as well.
The British PM’s visit to the British Cemetery
During the CHOGM Retreat, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to visit the cemetery of the British soldiers in Dona Paula (Goa) to pay her tributes. The soldiers had died here during their brief posting (1799 to 1813) in order to help the Portuguese fend off, French and Dutch attacks. The cemetery was white washed over night to make it ready for the British PM’s visit.
Was the CHOGM well received by the people in Goa?
‘A leaflet distributed at the time is kept with the collection, and indicates the purpose of the undertaking: ‘The street play group performing before you, is the Sangharsh Natya Manch (SNM) Goa; which is consisting of student activists from various colleges in Goa. … Around 75 performances have been staged by SNM in towns, villages, market squares and street corners, as part of the campaign against the CHOG-M and the Retreat in Goa, depicting the massive expenses of some Rs.430 millions on the latter which is unjustified and a luxury the poor people of our country can ill afford. As you will see, the play depicts the farce of Indian Independence of 1947 which only brought ‘political’ independence, whilst economic dependance and stranglehold continued through forums like the IMF, Commonwealth, IDA etc. … The play which traces the history of the Commonwealth (then British Commonwealth) since 1931, and questions the continuance of this forum which is only a legacy of the former British empire. … A decked-up cheerful Goa is before your eyes today. The real Goa, the real India is a hungry India.’ – Said a leaflet that was distributed during the event (now preserved at the Cambridge University Library).
The leaders stayed at the picturesque resort. It showcased Goa’s beauty to the world, a land that was relatively unexplored by the foreign tourists.
The world leaders in attendance.
Prime Minister of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe and first lady Sally Mugabe at the Dabolim airport.
The photograph (clicked at the resort) shows (first row from left) Prime Minister of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, (behind British PM) Prime Minister of Barbados Tom Adams, (besides Tom Adams) Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Lester Bird.
Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (wearing black) outside the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
The CHOGM currently addresses a lot of issues like climate change, global sustainability, rising sea levels of small island nations, decriminalization of homosexuality and increasing cooperation among members to deal with “poisonous ideologies” and violent extremism.
The CHOGM retreat brought many benefits to Goa. Infrastructure built for the event still stands today. Compared to 1983, Goa is in a much better position to host a event of such scale. Further on, the state should not be intimidated by BRICS summit for any reason. It had hosted an event for 39 world leaders 33 years ago while BRICS summit has only 5 world leaders coming to Goa.