The Kohinoor

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Kuldip Na­yar Email: kuldip­na­yar09@ gmail. com

Aparty which ex­pects every one to wear na­tion­al­ism on sleeves made the most anti­na­tional state­ment. The Bhar­tiya Janata Party ( BJP said that the Kohinoor di­a­mond was “of­fered” by Dalip Singh, Ma­haraja Ran­jit Singh’s son, to Lord Dal­housie and it be­longs to Bri­tain. The an­gry com­ments fol­low­ing the state­ment made the party re­alise its mis­take and it changed its stand abruptly. It said that the Kohinoor be­longed to In­dia and would be brought back through talks with the Bri­tish.

The ques­tion is about the facts, not how Lon­don would feel. True, there are two fac­tions within the BJP, one for bring­ing back the di­a­mond and the other be­liev­ing that the Kohinoor was the Bri­tish pos­ses­sion. The party should know the facts and not say what one of its fac­tions feels. Lord Dal­housie, the Viceroy, was keen to please his mas­ters, the East In­dia Com­pany and Queen Vic­to­ria. He also wanted to fur­ther his ca­reer. Dalip Singh, a mi­nor, was un­der his charge be­cause he was the Viceroy af­ter the Bri­tish had de­feated the Sikhs to an­nex Pun­jab.

Lord Dal­housie not only took Dalip Singh to Bri­tain af­ter con­vert­ing him but also ap­pro­pri­ated the Kohinoor as the pos­ses­sion of the Bri­tish. He was so care­ful about the pro­tec­tion of the di­a­mond that he did not take the usual Suez Canal route to Lon­don but went around South Africa, nearly twice the dis­tance. The Kohinoor was, no doubt, worth thou­sands of crores but it gave iden­tity to In­dia and with it in pos­ses­sion the authority. Ahmed Shah Ab­dali, one of our rulers, forcibly ex­changed the tur­ban with Nadir Shah when he came to know that the lat­ter had tucked the Kohinoor un­der his tur­ban.

Obliv­i­ous of all these facts, the BJP first washed off its hand with the Kohinoor. But when it faced spon­ta­neous an­gry com­ments, it went back on its orig­i­nal stand. Even if the Kohinoor was “of­fered” to the Bri­tish— the BJP’s first stand— the party must re­al­ize that the “of­fer” by the coun­try which was Bri­tain’s colony, meant noth­ing. It was not an of­fer of an elected gov­ern­ment. The slave na­tions have no choice of their own. I am, how­ever, re­minded of the dis­cus­sion which I had ini­ti­ated in the Ra­jya Sabha when I was its mem­ber in the late 90s. Af­ter hav­ing vainly raised the is­sue with the Bri­tish, when I was In­dia’s High Com­mis­sioner, I thought par­lia­ment would see the wrong done to the coun­try.

The de­bate had hardly taken off when the then For­eign Min­is­ter, Jaswant Singh, re­quested me not to pur­sue the mat­ter. I was aghast when he said that the de­bate on the Kohinoor could af­fect re­la­tions ad­versely be­tween In­dia and Great Bri­tain. Till to­day, I have not been able to get an­swer to my ques­tion: How? Even ac­cord­ing to a UNESCO res­o­lu­tion, all the ar­ti­facts ob­tained by the rulers dur­ing their gov­er­nance should be re­turned to the orig­i­nal own­ers. New Delhi, for rea­sons best known to it, has not raised mat­ter cit­ing UNESCO res­o­lu­tion. A coun­try, which had colonies, has rea­sons to be re­luc­tant. Why should In­dia which has been a colony it­self have any hes­i­ta­tion?

In fact, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment had even ques­tioned the own­er­ship of Kohinoor. It said that af­ter the birth of Pak­istan, the own­er­ship of Kohinoor vested not only on In­dia but that of the two coun­tries: In­dia and Pak­istan. At Lon­don, one For­eign of­fice high up had de­fended its de­ci­sion not to re­turn on the ground that the Kohinoor be­longed to Pak­istan. I told him that let them re­turn it to Is­lam­abad. It would at least come back to the sub­con­ti­nent and then we shall take up the mat­ter with them.

It is clear that the Bri­tish have no in­ten­tion of re­turn­ing the di­a­mond or, for that mat­ter, tons of ma­te­rial which is stored in the base­ment of Vic­to­ria and Al­bert mu­se­ums at Lon­don. Though there was no re­sponse from Eng­land, France com­plied with the UNESCO res­o­lu­tion and gave up the relics which it had in their pos­ses­sion dur­ing their rule. When the Nehru Cor­ner was opened at Lon­don, I asked the cu­ra­tor how much of ma­te­rial from the base­ment they had put on dis­play. Her re­ply was: 5 per­cent.

Even then the en­tire ex­pense was borne by In­dia. I re­quested her for the dis­play of other pos­ses­sions at the In­dian gov­ern­ment’s ex­pense. She curtly said no. She also re­jected my pro­posal that we dis­play the ma­te­rial in the base­ment in our coun­try at our own ex­pense and then re­turn them to the mu­seum. The ma­te­rial at the base­ment of In­dia in­cludes manuscripts, books, maps, posters and such other ma­te­rial. Peo­ple of In­dia may never see that ma­te­rial since the gov­ern­ment is re­luc­tant to take up the sub­ject.

The Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment must have pre­vailed upon Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi not to men­tion the Kohinoor dur­ing his of­fi­cial visit to the United Kingdom some time back. Oth­er­wise, it is not un­der­stand­able why he did not re­fer to the sub­ject even once di­rectly or in­di­rectly.

The Modi gov­ern­ment should re­open the ques­tion of relics with Lon­don. This may em­bar­rass the pre­vi­ous Con­gress gov­ern­ment for not hav­ing acted dur­ing its rule. But the coun­try’s in­ter­est de­mands that what is part of its his­tory should be in In­dia, when the events took place. The Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment should ap­pre­ci­ate the feel­ings of In­di­ans.

The UK had done well not to dis­play the Kohinoor in the yearly ex­hi­bi­tion of di­a­monds. Prob­a­bly it had dawned on the Cameron gov­ern­ment that every time the Kohinoor is put to pub­lic gaze there is a de­mand from In­dia that it should be re­turned to it. And it once again con­firmed the fact that the di­a­mond ac­tu­ally be­longed to In­dia and that Lord Dal­housie had fraud­u­lently taken it to Lon­don.

My im­pres­sion is that when it comes to their em­pire, the Bri­tish can­not be ob­jec­tive. There is pride, no hu­mil­ity, self- right­eous­ness and no in­tro­spec­tion. The Bri­tish are proud, nos­tal­gic but an­noy­ingly pa­tron­iz­ing about their con­nec­tion. The new gen­er­a­tion should have been dif­fer­ent and given a new mes­sage in­stead of plug­ging the same old line. — The writer is a vet­eran In­dian jour­nal­ist, syn­di­cated colum­nist, hu­man rights ac­tivist and au­thor.

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