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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 21 May 2024
UK dilemma on crown of Queen consort

United Kingdom: Kohinoor diplomatic ‘grenade’ ticks

The diamond was ‘gifted’ to Queen Victoria in 1849 by Maharajah Duleep Singh after the British annexation of the Punjab

Amit Roy London Published 14.10.22, 02:00 AM
The Kohinoor diamond at the funeral  of the Queen Mother in 2002

The Kohinoor diamond at the funeral of the Queen Mother in 2002 File Photo

The British media has whipped up a controversy over whether the Kohinoor diamond — long claimed by India — will be used when Camilla is crowned Queen Consort at Westminster Abbey on May 6 next year alongside her husband who will be anointed as King Charles III.

The Kohinoor, “gifted” to Queen Victoria in 1849 by Maharajah Duleep Singh after the British annexation of the Punjab, was used by Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary. It was worn by the Queen Mother in 1937 and displayed on a cushion at her funeral in 2002. It remains one of the highlights of the crown jewels displayed in the Tower of London where it is seen by millions of tourists.

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The Daily Mail suggested: “Plans for new Queen Consort to wear 105-carat Kohinoor diamond may be shelved because of ‘political sensitivities’.”

The Mail quoted Robert Tombs, professor emeritus of French history and fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, who contended that the history of the Kohinoor was complex and expressed unhappiness that Charles may reconsider his original decision to use the diamond in Camilla’s coronation.

Tombs blamed “the agitation of a motley crew of woke obsessives” and thundered: “Let me be clear: we must resist this pernicious nonsense. The Palace’s likely decision to remove the diamond from the Coronation is, in my opinion, deeply worrying.

Because, once we concede that one artefact is a symbol of national guilt, we’ll soon be rushing down a slippery slope.”

A new organisation, headed by Lord Vaizey, a former Tory culture minister, is looking at whether the Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon, should be returned to Greece. It is currently housed in the British Museum.

The Daily Telegraph, London, quoted an unnamed BJP spokesperson who told the newspaper: “The coronation of Camilla and the use of the crown jewel Kohinoor brings back painful memories of the colonial past. Most Indians have very little memory of the oppressive past. Five to six generations of Indians suffered under multiple foreign rules for over five centuries.

“Recent occasions, like Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the coronation of the new Queen Camilla and the use of the Kohinoor do transport a few Indians back to the days of the British Empire in India.”

There is little chance that the Kohinoor will be returned to India but Tombs launched a pre-emptive strike by insisting that “giving away this priceless jewel to Delhi would do no practical good to the billion or more inhabitants of India. It would, however, mark a hammering humiliation for Britain — and it would endanger innumerable other national treasures.”

Tombs added: “Hand over the Kohinoor, and we would have no logical defence against campaigns to give the Elgin Marbles to Athens, the Benin Bronzes to West Africa, the Rosetta Stone to Egypt, and much more.”

But the first question is whether it will be used at all for the coronation.

That would amount to “a massive diplomatic grenade”, according to William Dalrymple, who co-authored Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond with BBC journalist Anita Anand.

“It is not a small sensitive issue in the eyes of India,” he reasoned.

He added: “Colonialism is over, Britain wants to make friends with India, it is a major new rising power. In a sense the British have brought this on themselves because they turned the stone into a symbol of their empire by putting it on display in the Great Exhibition of 1851.”

He said the Kohinoor “has come to take the whole weight of colonisation on its shoulder. It has become this very, very sensitive object and is a major issue now between the two countries.”

A source told the Daily Mail that the original plan was for the Queen Consort to be crowned with the late Queen Mother’s crown with the Kohinoor in place. “That was certainly the agreement a few years ago when the whole idea of the Duchess of Cornwall becoming Queen Consort was first mooted. But times have changed and His Majesty the King is acutely sensitive to these issues, as are his advisers. There are serious political sensitivities and significant nervousness around them, particularly regarding India.”

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