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The return of Koh-i-noor: Story of India’s pursuit of the jewel so far

The first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru made the first move with the British in 1956.

india Updated: Jul 24, 2016 07:47 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
Kohinoor diamond,Koh-i-noor,British jewel
The Koh-i-noor became part of the crown jewel as it was handed to queen Victoria in July 1850.(File photo)

The government has decided to make a fresh pitch to get the Koh-i-noor, which in Persian means mountain of light, back from its present home Britain.

This would be the latest among a series of efforts launched by governments in the past to get the precious stone head home.

The first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru made the first move with the British in 1956.

The past fifteen years had many back and forth on the issue, which for many have different connotations and contexts: avenging the past, getting back dues from the colonial masters and getting most perhaps most historical of diamonds to where it belongs to: India.

Many in India staunchly believe that the British tricked Sikh ruler Duleep Singh to part with the priceless stone. The Koh-i-noor, which became part of the crown jewel was handed to queen Victoria in July 1850.

In the last decade and half, the issue came up in many forms in parliament. MPs wrote letters individually and collectively, and many put up questions to know what the government was doing to ensure that the diamond is headed home.

The government response was tepid for long.

“Government is continuing to explore ways and means for obtaining a satisfactory resolution of the matter,” was the standard answer.

Read | The Kohinoor: Following the bloodiest diamond across history

The Archaeological Survey of India later said it is not covered under the Unesco Convention 1972 dealing with the restitution of cultural property.

But that didn’t stop the diamond coming up in the bilateral meetings, and press conferences around them.

In July 2010 the visiting UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that “if you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I think I am afraid to say, to disappoint all your viewers, it’s going to have to stay put.”

That was as clear as it could get. Meanwhile, the notable Keith Vaz, the Indian-origin British Member of Parliament, said that the time had come to return the diamond to India as atonement for its colonial past.

And the matter had reached Supreme Court in the form of a public interest litigation, urging for the return of “stolen” diamond. But the Centre told the court in April this year “It changed hands several times till Shah Sooja of Afghanistan gave it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1813. After Ranjit Singh’s death, his successor Duleep Singh gave the diamond to the British as compensation for the Anglo-Sikh war. The East India Company gifted it to Queen Victoria in 1849 and since then it has been in possession of the British royalty”, submitted solicitor general Ranjit Kumar.

But the SC didn’t dismiss the petition and time was sought to furnish more details.

Seeking return of such relics of the past, valuables would open a pandora’s box, which could also empty out many prestigious museums in the world.

Then, Koh-i-noor, is another story.

First Published: Jul 24, 2016 07:47 IST