February 22, 2013
David Cameron’s comments on the Koh-i-noor diamond have provoked huge amounts of controversy amongst Indians everywhere, with thousands of posts on twitter speaking out against his attitude. The vocal attitude of the restitution supporters is to be encouraged – and perhaps other countries could learn from some of their techniques and apply them to their own campaigns. I was particularly intrigued by this comedy routine discussing the diamond – and its continued retention by Britain.
The British Prime Minister made apologies, for some of the worst acts committed in India during the time of the British Empire – something that may have required much thinking & soul searching (& possibly even a few conversations with lawyers about any potential increase in liability / culpability). At the same time though, this was only a statement, something that required no physical or financial commitment. On the case of the Koh-i-nor however, making any sort of commitment would mean that he had to actually do something rather than just talking about it.
The saying that actiona speak louder than words is well known – but the very different approach to these two issues by David Cameron suggests that our Prime Minister would far prefer to be a man of (cheap) words, than one of (expensive actions). Words are meaningless unless they are followed up by some physical commitment.
In part, the British PM is no doubt worried that the return of such a high profile artefact as the Koh-i-noor, a diamond famous around the world, that forms part of the crown jewels. He is worried that restitution could be a vote loser, whereas, the clamour of voices for return is still not loud enough for its continued retention to be seen as cause for concern. Where people think that there is a just case for return (of any artefacts), they must continue to make their feelings known – letting the current owners know that the issue is not going to go away if it is ignored – that some sort of compromise or negotiated agreement needs to be met. Almost always, there is potential for an agreement that can benefit both sides – but it often involves thinking outside the box, to consider what each side has that may benefit the other & most of all, to put aside worries about any temporary loss of face that may be caused by doing the right thing.
Throughout all of this, we must remember that the Koh-i-noor (like many other restitution cases) is a complex issue. Different parties take different positions on the circumstances of the original acquisition – was it a spoil of war, or a legitimate exchange? If someone’s hand is forced in making a deal, does the deal still hold the same legitimacy? Furthermore, India is not the only country claiming ownership of the gem – so even if it returned, they might then have to deal with other restitution claims from Iran, Pakistan & Afghanistan (these are the potential claimants that I know of – there may well be others).
Modern India is a very different place, from the one that gave up the diamond to Britain in 1849 – in much the same way as contemporary Greece bears little resemblance to 1800, when it formed an outpost of the Ottoman empire. If Britain wants to deal with (& benefit from the wealth of) these modern countries, perhaps it needs to do something to put right some of the actions that reduced their culture in the past – rather than just returning again wanting to take more (albeit in a very different way).
Where does this all leave the Elgin Marbles? Well, Cameron has previously made his (ill informed) views on this subject clear in the past, so the fact that he has not had a sudden change of heart should not be seen as a big surprise. What is ridiculous however, is his lumping of completely different cases together under the one umbrella – the suggestion that all cases should be dealt with by a single statement, rather than even starting to consider the varying individual merits & circumstances of each one.
Cameron upsets many with the use of the term Elgin Marbles – a phrase that has for a long time been deprecated by the British Museum & that (while known to the public), is no longer taken as being the correct name for these sculptures. Use of such terms in public statements, suggests that he has only a passing acquaintance with the actual facts of these cases, meaning that his cursory brushing away of any suggestions of restitution is all the more galling.
I spoke before of his use of the word returnism – a term that does not seem to have many other mentions elsewhere – perhaps I should not complain too loudly about this though – particularly as the title of this blog is equally guilty of nealogizing… I actually quite like the term – if I hadn’t named this site Elginism, perhaps returnism would have been a good alternative name.
David Cameron, Modern India, Returnism, the Koh-i-Noor & the Parthenon Sculptures,
February 21, 2013 07:20
Britain doesn’t plan on returning Koh-i-Noor diamond to India, says Cameron
The enormous Koh-i-Noor diamond may have originated in India, but it won’t be returned to its original owners, reiterated British prime minister David Cameron on the third day of an official visit to India this week.
The 105-karat Koh-i-Noor diamond once graced the crown of Queen Elizabeth I and remains an integral part of the British collection of crown jewels, displayed at the Tower of London.
“I don’t think that’s the right approach,” said Cameron to reporters of the call to return the gem, noting that the same controversy surrounded the Greek Elgin Marbles, currently in the custody of the British Museum, wrote Reuters.
“The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do, which is to link up with other institutions around the world to make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world,” said Cameron to Reuters.
“I certainly don’t believe in ‘returnism’, as it were. I don’t think that’s sensible.”
Cameron rejected a similar request back in 2010, writes the BBC, during an earlier official visit to India.
Marvelous as it is, the Koh-i-Noor was a treasured (if mistrusted) possesion of India’s Mughal rulers, who viewed it with both admiration and fear, ascribing to it a curse that affected only male owners of the jewel.
The Koh-i-Noor was taken from India during the colonial era in 1849, largely due to the influence of Lord Dalhousie — who viewed the stone not as a gift but as a spoil of war, after the Treaty of Lahore helped to formalize Britain’s occupation of the Punjab.
Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto called for the restoration of the diamond in 1976, a request that Britain denied.
- MP Keith Vaz asks British Government to return the Koh-i-Noor diamond : September 28, 2010
- David Cameron’s simplistic and inadequate concept of returnism : February 28, 2013
- Could Koh-i-noor diamond be leased back to India? : February 22, 2013
- The Koh-i-noor and promoting Britain’s trade ties with India : February 26, 2013
- British Prime Minister’s statements on the Koh-i-Noor diamond : September 29, 2010
- The Koh-i-noor diamond, the Parthenon Marbles & the Benin Bronzes – three disputed artefact cases : February 24, 2013
- Greece responds to David Cameron’s comments on the Parthenon Marbles : February 22, 2013
- The Indian government is not asking for the return of the Koh-i-Noor diamond : October 19, 2010