INDIA’S quest to reclaim the Kohinoor diamond from Britain is firmly back on the agenda after senior Indian ministers met in New Delhi last week.
India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and culture minister Mahesh Sharma had a meeting last Friday (22) which led to reports that New Delhi will be making a fresh request to Britain for the return of the 108-carat diamond next month.
One of the world’s largest diamonds, the spectacular gem, currently set in a royal crown on display in the Tower of London, has long been the subject of ownership disputes. A number of countries, including Pakistan, have made claims towards the diamond.
The latest developments come after India’s solicitor general Ranjit Kumar told the supreme court in April that the diamond had been given to Britain and not stolen, only for the Indian government to say it will make “all possible efforts” to get back the famed diamond, part of the British Crown Jewels.
Sources said the recent meeting in New Delhi, where possibilities of getting the diamond back were discussed, had made a “major breakthrough” but did not provide details.
One of the options discussed was said to be a new treaty between India and the UK which would limit any future artefacts claims by India for the Kohinoor.
This move could ally fears of requests going forward, but it would also set an unwelcome precedent for Britain.
Former prime minister David Cameron, on a visit to India in 2010, said if Britain returned the diamond, “you suddenly find the British Museum empty.”
Asian politicians and business leaders reacted to the latest development with mixed feelings and opinions.
Leicester East MP Keith Vaz, who is also the chairman of the home affairs select committee, welcomed the news and said the matter should be settled for once and for all. He told Eastern Eye: “I am glad that the campaign to return the Kohinoor diamond has been renewed. The diamond belongs in India and I hope very much that prime minister Narendra Modi will once again ask the British government for the stone to be returned.“We have had some conflicting views in recent years. It is time to put this matter beyond all doubt,” he said.
Dr Rami Ranger, chairman of Sun Mark, was keen to highlight any repercussions on future trade and business relationships in light of recent developments in India (about the Kohinoor) and the UK.
He said: “The issue of the return of the Kohinoor diamond to India must be handled with diplomacy and care. It is a foregone conclusion that India and Britain will increasingly come closer in the wake of Brexit and as a result, we should avoid any kind of confrontation, but look at the bigger picture. “Besides, only part of the original Kohinoor is set in Her Majesty’s crown which symbolises the history and heritage of two great nations. “I suspect it will be very difficult for Britain to remove the stone from the Crown as it forms part of the Crown Jewels collection.”
“I am unaware of the location of the other stones which were part of the original Kohinoor,” Dr Ranger added.
Lord Meghnad Desai told Eastern Eye he did “not understand the fuss about the Kohinoor” and said there were more pressing issues to address than sparkling gems. “It [Kohinoor] changed hands many times in the last 800 years. In each case, it went from a losing king to the one who had defeated him.
“The Mughals got it from the Afghans who got it from Hindu kings. Then the Persians looted Delhi and took the Kohinoor. Then Ranjit Singh got it back from them (or maybe the Afghans, I forget). “When the British won the last Sikh war, they pocketed it as spoils of war. That is as legitimate a reason for possession as Ranjit Singh had. “One should also add that the capital of Ranjit Singh’s kingdom was in Lahore, where there is a museum in his honour. Pakistan could argue they are the successor nation to Ranjit Singh. “It is also a peculiar claim, but then so is India’s. I believe it is a total waste of time. The government of India should worry about toilets, not diamonds,” he said.
The UK Sikh Federation has written a letter to new British prime minister Theresa May and foreign secretary Boris Johnson expressing their “strong opposition” to the idea of returning the jewel to India.
Bhai Amrik Singh, Chair of the Federation said:
“The Indian State is wasting its time as it has no legal claim to the Kohinoor diamond.” “Narendra Modi knows India did not even exist when the Sikh Kingdom was annexed by the British in March 1849 or when Maharaja Duleep Singh was cheated into handing over the diamond to Queen Victoria. The Indian State is not a party to the Anglo-Sikh Treaties that have existed for over 200 years.”
“Modi is simply going through the motions and once again playing the nationalistic card, but it could easily backfire as he must know that before India and Pakistan came into existence in 1947 the British offered the Sikhs a separate Sikh homeland and a ten year agreement of military assistance and support for the Sikh administration.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it was the long-standing position of the British government that the diamond should remain in the UK and Britain does not believe there are any legal grounds for restitution of the diamond.