A priceless diamond that is part of the Queen Mother’s Crown was given to Britain and not stolen, India’s government has told the Supreme Court, which is currently hearing a suit seeking its return.
The 108-carat Koh-i-Noor gem, which came into British hands during the colonial era, is the subject of a historic ownership dispute and has been claimed by at least four countries including India.
But India’s Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said the 19th-century Sikh king Ranjit Singh had given the stone to the British. It is now set in the crown that was worn by Queen Elizabeth’s mother until her death in 2002, and is on public display in the Tower of London.
“It was given voluntarily by Ranjit Singh to the British as compensation for help in the Sikh Wars. The Koh-i-Noor is not a stolen object,” he told the Supreme Court.
The court was hearing a suit filed by the All India Human Rights & Social Justice Front, a non-governmental organisation, seeking the diamond’s return.
It asked the solicitor general to file an affidavit giving the government’s stance on the issue.
However, the Indian government said on Tuesday 19th April that the Solicitor General’s view did not represent its own and that it was yet to give its opinion to the court, which is hearing a case demanding the diamond be returned.
“The Government of India further reiterates its resolve to make all possible efforts to bring back the Koh-i-noor Diamond in an amicable manner,” the ministry of culture said.
The ministry said the stone was a “valued piece of art with strong roots in our nation’s history” and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was determined to get it back.
The stone was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850 after the Anglo-Sikh wars in which Britain gained control of the Sikh empire of the Punjab, which is now split between Pakistan and India. Ranjit Singh in turn had taken it from an Afghan king who had sought sanctuary in India.
The diamond had been an heirloom of the Afghan monarchy and before then was in Persian royal hands, but its true origins remain a mystery.
Its name translates as “Mountain of Light” and it is traditionally worn by a queen – it is said to bring bad luck to any man who wears it.
In 1976 Britain refused a request to cede the diamond, citing the terms of the Anglo-Sikh peace treaty.
“I could not advise Her Majesty the Queen that it should be surrendered,” said Jim Callaghan, prime minister at the time.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has also said he would oppose returning the diamond.
“If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty, with a mind to the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles and the rest,” he told an Indian interviewer a few years ago.
“It is going to have to stay put.”
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