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India stakes claim over Koh-i-Noor

December 29, 2006 21:12 IST

Maintaining that it has a legitimate claim over the Koh-i-Noor, India has sought the return of the precious jewel from Britain, gifted to Queen Victoria by nine-year-old Duleep Singh, the last Sikh ruler of Punjab.

While the issue figured several times in Indian Parliament with veteran journalist Kuldip Nayyar spearheading the demand for return of the jewel, a spokesman for the Indian High Commission in London said on Friday: "The Indian government has a legitimate claim. We hope to resolve the issue as soon as possible."

According to secret government papers written 30 years ago and released on Friday at the National Archives in Kew, west London, Britain had firmly rebutted a claim made by Pakistan for the jewel in 1976.

The demand for the restoration of the diamond came from the then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in a letter to his British counterpart, James Callaghan.

Dated August 13, 1976, the letter read: 'I am writing to you shortly before our annual Independence Day. This occasion never fails to bring to mind Pakistan's historic grievances about the disposition of territories and assets to which we were entitled upon the termination of British rule.'

'It's [the jewel's] return to Pakistan would be a convincing demonstration of the spirit that moved Britain voluntarily to shed its imperial encumbrances and lead the process of de-colonisation.'

But a memo from one senior civil servant made it clear that Britain considered the possession to be nine-tenths of the law.

It read: 'The stark facts are these: i) We have the Koh-i-Noor diamond, whether or not our possession of it is legally justified, ii) We have made it clear that we are keeping the diamond, adducing the best arguments to support our contention.'

According to a report in the Independent newspaper, the final response was expressed in more diplomatic language and made use of the fact that, such is the allure and mystique of the diamond, at least a dozen emperors, maharajahs, sultans and governments had been prepared to indulge in rare savagery and deceit to obtain it.

Advisors to James Callaghan pointed out that the 1849 Treaty of Lahore, drawn up by Lord Dalhousie to formalise British rule in Punjab, contained a clause formally surrendering the Koh-i-Noor to the Queen of England.

They also suggested that its passage over the centuries through owners from the Delhi sultanate to the Persian Shah meant there would be competing claims for ownership from Iran, Pakistan and India.

In reply to Bhutto, Callaghan had said: 'I need not remind you of the various hands through which the stone has passed over the past two centuries, nor that explicit provision for its transfer to the British Crown was made in the peace treaty with the Maharajah of Lahore, concluding the war of 1849.

'I could not advise Her Majesty the Queen that it should be surrendered.'

The Koh-i-Noor was mined in India at around 1100 AD and originated from Golconda in the southern region of Andhra Pradesh. It is in the shape and size of a small hen's egg.

H S Rao in London
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