Kohinoor not stolen but gifted: Centre

The Centre today told the Supreme Court the British had neither "forcibly taken" nor "stolen" the Kohinoor diamond but had received it as a "gift", and that India had no plans to claim it back.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 19.04.16

New Delhi, April 18: The Centre today told the Supreme Court the British had neither "forcibly taken" nor "stolen" the Kohinoor diamond but had received it as a "gift", and that India had no plans to claim it back.

But the court declined to dismiss an NGO's public interest plea seeking the recovery of the stone, now part of the British crown jewels. It asked the government for a fresh reply within six weeks incorporating the foreign ministry's views.

"The Kohinoor... was given by the successors of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (of Punjab) to the East India Company in 1849 as compensation for helping them in the Sikh wars," solicitor-general Ranjit Kumar told the bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice U.U. Lalit.

He added: "The British did not steal the famed Kohinoor diamond but was gifted (it)."

When the court asked if the Centre was willing to demand the Kohinoor back, Kumar replied: "If we claim our treasures from other countries, every other nation will start claiming their items from us. There will be nothing left in our museums."

But an unimpressed Justice Thakur said: "We have not colonised any other country and taken out their artefacts. What are you worried about?"

The bench said it would not dismiss the petition, moved by the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front through advocate Nafiz Ahmed Siddiqui, as it would hurt any future Indian claim to the diamond.

"If we dismiss this petition, it will be read against the government. Tomorrow everybody will say the Indian Supreme Court has held the gem cannot be brought back. It will come in your way to make a legitimate claim. Keep this in mind," Justice Thakur said.

Kumar said he was expressing the culture ministry's stand while the foreign ministry's response was awaited. The court then gave the government six weeks to clear its stand.

India had twice sought the Kohinoor's return, in 1948 and 1953, and several MPs had made the same demand in a letter in the year 2000. But Britain refused each time.

During an India trip in July 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron explained why: "If you say 'yes' to one, then you would suddenly find the British museum empty.... I'm afraid it's going to stay where it's put."

Culture minister Mahesh Sharma today ruled out any action by his ministry to bring the stone back from Britain. A PTI report quoted him saying that if a call needed to be taken, "it would be taken by the Indian government or the external affairs ministry at the right time".

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran too have cited the Kohinoor's chequered history to stake claim to it.

The Kohinoor's origins are shrouded in mystery. According to one legend, it was mined in Andhra Pradesh and passed into the possession of the Delhi sultan, Alauddin Khilji, in the early 14th century. Its known history begins with Persian invader Nadir Shah carrying it away in 1739.

The stone eventually fell into the hands of Ahmed Shah Durrani, ruler of Afghanistan. One of his embattled sons, Shah Shuja Durrani, gave it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh during an India visit in 1813 in exchange for his hospitality and help.

After the East India Company won the second Anglo-Sikh War, it signed a treaty with Ranjit's successors in Lahore in 1849, laying down that the diamond would be handed over to Queen Victoria.

The current petition also seeks the return of the "ring and other treasures of Tipu Sultan, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Rani of Jhansi, Nawab Mir Ahmad Ali Banda and other rulers of India".

During the arguments today, Justice Thakur reminded Kumar of how industrialist Vijay Mallya had brought the sword of Tipu Sultan back to the country after buying it at a London auction in 2004.

"The man who bought the sword has left the country," Kumar replied in a lighter vein, alluding to Mallya's departure from India after being accused of defaulting on bank loans.

Justice Thakur then jokingly asked whether Mallya had taken the sword with him.