Only Amicable Route Open to India
A day after informing the Supreme Court that the much fabled Kohinoor diamond was ‘gifted’ to the East India Company, the Centre turned around the next day to claim instead its deep “resolve to make all possible efforts to bring back the Kohinoor Diamond”.
Rounds of meetings have already begun between the ministry of external affairs, culture ministry and the law ministry to prepare an ‘action plan’ for the retrieval of the fabled stone. The only route found so far is the ‘amicable’ one and with good reason.
There are legal provisions in effect that prevent anything other than an amicable route to bring back the diamond. One being India’s Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 that has provisions for prevention of smuggling of and fraudulent dealings in antiquities and also provides for the compulsory acquisition of antiquities and art treasures for preservation. The Act however does not cover the likes of the Kohinoor as the stone’s acquisition predates India’s independence. Similarly, UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 does not apply here as India signed it in 1972. Some aspects related to the acquisition by theBritisharebeinglegallyexamined—themost importantonebeingthatsinceMaharajaDuleep Singh was a minor at the time the Kohinoor was taken away/gifted to the British, the validity of this transaction comes under question.
On the political side, the Modi government has already found a scapegoat in the country’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru, pointing out officially that he had taken a position that allowed the diamond to be retained by the Britain in the interest of good diplomatic relations.
“We are quite clear that we will make every effort possible to get the Kohinoor back but we are equally clear that this has to be done in an amicable manner. The PMO, the MEA, have also stepped in to look at the issue closely and work on ways to do so. It is a sensitive diplomatic issue and will be dealt with accordingly. Meetings on the matter began right after the court hearing and we will present a strong view reiterating our resolve to get the Kohinoor back in our response to the court in six weeks’ time”, highly placed officials from the culture ministry told ET. The ministry is also quite unhappy with the role of the Archaeological Survey of India which supplied the Solicitor General the controversial briefing that suggested that the Kohinoor was given away as a gift.
The culture ministry claims it was not kept in the loop by the ASI- an autonomous organization under the ministry. The Centre actually stepped in only when the issue boiled over on social media attracting considerable criticism of the Modi government.
It is learnt that the PMO intervened the very next day, coordinated rounds of meetings with all stakeholders and ensured that a more nuanced statement was issued that very evening assuringoftheModigovernment’scommitment to bringing back the diamond but amicably so— factoring in the real difficulties of doing so.
ASI officials declined to comment on the matter saying it was now a diplomatic issue.
“The Kohinoor was talked of but not really seriously pondered over. While I have spent years at ASI, I do not recall any such effort by the various governments to get it back. It was alwayskeptinmindthatthediamondandantiquity cannot be retrieved as per the Antiquities law. There is only one way to retrieve it if at all and that is through bilateral relations if the Royal family of England agrees to it and if the sentiment also finds favour with the people of UK”, Dr BR Mani, well known archaeologist who served as Additional Director General of ASI until his retirement last year, told ET.