Curse of the Kohinoor!

MahaSome sceptics believe that the curse of the Kohinoor struck the British crew that first brought it to England in 1850. The HMS Medea (seven ships of the Royal Navy were named after Medea of Greek mythology), was first stricken with cholera, then almost blown out of the water by hostile cannon and finally battered by a typhoon.

On 20 April 2016, in denial mode, the Indian government mustered the courage to make amends. It first took the stand in the Supreme Court that the diamond was neither stolen nor taken by force, but was gifted and as such India had lost right over the mountain of light. The assertion was in response to a lawsuit brought by a not-for-profit organisation — the All India Human Rights and Social Justice Front — beseeching the diamond’s return from Queen Mother’s crown.

No one can imagine that the diamond was a gift by young Duleep Singh to Queen of England. Ironically, the Centre told the apex court that heirs of Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave the Kohinoor to the British as “voluntary compensation” to cover the expenses of the Anglo-Sikh Wars. The fact is that Duleep Singh, the tragic King, was forced to hand over his kingdom and Kohinoor to the British in 1849. Though losing his lands and wealth wounded the Sikh maharajah deeply, the loss of the fabled diamond hurt him most of all. Often he used to refer to Queen Victoria as “Mrs Fagin” — a reference to the receiver of stolen goods in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

The tragic fact is that plunder of our people, our cultural heritage, precious metal and mineral wealth had continued unchecked during colonial rule for centuries. Another irony that cannot be missed in this case is that even the sword of Tipu Sultan came back to our country on the strength of the money of Vijay Mallya. Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar admitted before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India TS Thakur that the “gentleman” who had bought it had left the country.

The Centre was so reluctant to reclaim Kohinoor that the Solicitor General went on to say that if “we start claiming the treasures from the museums of other countries, they will claim their treasures from our museums.” To this, Chief Justice Thakur said: “This country has never colonised other nations.” Judicial intervention or late realisation has given countrymen some hope that Kohinoor that legitimately belonged to us will be back some day.

Finding the issue touching the emotions of people, political parties are jumping on the Kohinoor bandwagon. The first to do so is the Congress, saying that it was keen on getting Indian artifacts lying abroad to be brought back to the country. The oldest regional party of the country, the Shiromani Akali Dal, too has joined the contentious issue over Kohinoor. The Deputy Chief Minister of Punjab and President of the party Sukhbir Singh Badal has issued a public statement asking the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee to file a caveat in the Supreme Court to be heard with the Public Interest Litigation case demanding return of the Kohinoor. Badal would also meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to make a representation on behalf of the Sikh community to “highlight the wrong version given to the court earlier”. “The SGPC would represent the Sikh community in the PIL and demand that the diamond, which is presently a party of the crown jewels of the Queen of England, be returned to the religious body,” said Sukhbir in a statement. The statement said that Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the head of Khalsa Raj and absolute owner of Kohinoor when the British took the diamond away in a deceitful manner.

We now learn that the British royal family is truly interested in forging new relations with India built on respect. If that be so, then perhaps Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton should go through the riveting speech Indian MP and former diplomat Shashi Tharoor gave last summer at Oxford University, when he passionately argued why Britain should pay reparations to India. He said that at the beginning of the 18th century, India’s share of the world economy was 23 percent, as large as all of Europe put together. By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to less than 4 percent. The reason was simple: India was governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.

By the end of the 19th century, India was Britain’s biggest cash-cow, the world’s biggest purchaser of British exports and the source of highly paid employment for British civil servants — all at India’s own expense. We literally paid for our own oppression…As Britain ruthlessly exploited India, between 15 and 29 million Indians died tragically unnecessary deaths from starvation. The last large-scale famine to take place in India was under British rule; none has taken place after that, since free democracies don’t let their people starve to death. Some four million Bengalis died in the Great Bengal Famine of 1943 after Winston Churchill deliberately ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and European stockpiles. When officers of conscience pointed out in a telegram to the prime minister the scale of the tragedy caused by his decisions, Churchill’s only response was to ask peevishly “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?” Tharoor goes on to state that it does not even matter how much Britain pays to India: whatever the sum, he also asks the British to return the famed 105-carat Kohinoor diamond.

Hope Will and Kate are listening!