It is not known if Queen Elizabeth is royally amused at the Kohinoor sideshow in New Delhi as Britain celebrates her 90th birthday, but there are Britons who find the Indian government’s changing stand on the antecedents of the jewel in her crown “puzzling”.
The story of the 105-carat Kohinoor diamond, with its long history, hits the right orientalist buttons and often figures in British news media. The Indian government’s initial submission in the Supreme Court that it was a “gift” to the British, and thus its return need not be sought, revived the story again.
Symbolic of the sense of bewilderment at the changing stand in New Delhi – after the government re-submitted to the court that it will continue to seek the diamond’s return – were comments from senior Labour MP Keith Vaz.
For one who hoped the November 2015 visit of Prime Minister Nadrendra Modi would be an occasion to seek the diamond’s return, Vaz said when reports of the court submission describing it as a “gift” reached London: “The Indian government has made its decision and we should respect and support it.
“This draws a line under this particular campaign. There may of course be other issues that need to be pursued. I am sure Her Majesty the Queen will be pleased as she celebrates her 90th birthday.”
But after reports from New Delhi of the U-turn on the issue, Vaz said: “Previous statements and reporting on the solicitor general of India’s comments to the Supreme Court are puzzling.”
“I welcome the clarification by the Indian government that it intends to make all efforts to bring back the Kohinoor diamond in an amicable manner. I hope that the Indian government will be in a position to convey its intentions to the Supreme Court soon.”
Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out returning the iconic gem during a visit to India in 2010, on the ground that if Britain were to “say yes to one (request to return an item) you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty”.
The Kohinoor is on display along with other crown jewels in the Tower of London, which is visited less by Britons and more by tourists.