India accused of flip-flop on Koh-I-Noor diamond

The Indian government said it would “make all possible efforts to bring back” the diamond “in an amicable manner”.

The Koh-i-Noor diamond. AFP
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New Delhi // India’s government was accused on Wednesday of reversing its stance on the Koh-I-Noor diamond, after vowing to reclaim the priceless gem just days after the solicitor general said it was gifted to Britain.

The 108-carat Koh-I-Noor gem, which came into British hands during the colonial era, is the subject of a historic ownership dispute.

It has been claimed by at least four countries including India.

But India’s solicitor general Ranjit Kumar surprised many on Monday when he said the stone was not stolen, and instead had been given it to the British by the 19th-century Sikh king Ranjit Singh.

It is now set in the crown that was worn by Queen Elizabeth’s mother until her death in 2002, and is on public display in the Tower of London.

The government said Mr Kumar had merely been explaining the history of the diamond to the supreme court as well as previous administrations’ views on the gem being a gift.

Late Tuesday, the government said it would “make all possible efforts to bring back” the diamond “in an amicable manner”.

“The Government of India remains hopeful for an amicable outcome whereby India gets back a valued piece of art with strong roots in our nation’s history,” it said.

Mr Kumar had been responding in court to a petition from a non-governmental organisation seeking the diamond’s return.

The main opposition Congress party, which also wants the gem returned, accused the government of a flip-flop after Mr Kumar’s comments sparked anger from various political groups.

“On #KohinoorDiamond, #ModiSarkar has not just done a flip-flop. It has done a full flop,” Congress party spokesman Sanjay Jha said on Twitter, referring to prime minister Narendra Modi’s government.

A leader of the Hindu nationalist RSS, the ideological fountainhead of Mr Modi’s ruling party, this week declared the diamond “India’s property”.

The stone was presented to Queen Victoria in 1850 after the Anglo-Sikh wars in which Britain gained control of the Sikh empire of the Punjab, which is now split between Pakistan and India.

Singh in turn had taken it from an Afghan king who had sought sanctuary in India.

The diamond had been an heirloom of the Afghan monarchy and before then was in Persian royal hands, but its true origins remain a mystery.

Its name translates as “Mountain of Light” and it is traditionally worn by a queen — it is said to bring bad luck to any man who wears it.

In 1976, Britain refused a request to cede the diamond, citing the terms of the Anglo-Sikh peace treaty.

* Agence France-Presse