September 29, 2010

Indian TV show asks David Cameron about returning the Koh-i-Noor diamond

Posted at 5:02 pm in Similar cases

British Prime Minister David Cameron has been questioned about the Koh-i-Noor diamond during an interview on an Indian television show. I wold not say that this is an ambush as such – any high ranking British official visiting India ought to have had this item on the list of possible things that they would be asked about.

What is more disappointing is that the Prime Minister justified his answer by falling back on the many times discredited argument that returning it would set a precedent for emptying the museums & galleries of Britain. This argument has been proven in the past not to hold true though. Restitution issues are normally dealt with on a case by case basis – each is looked at on it its own merits. On this basis, the assumption that the return of one item would lead to the return of others implies that these cases have equal justification for return in the first place. So the implication of the statement that one return would lead to others is that all items in the museums are acquired in situations of dubious legality.

A second counter point is the fact that (as shown with the return of native American artefacts in the US) that many groups do not want return – in many cases, people are happy with artefacts where they are & accept that they were acquired legitimately. In other cases, they merely want their ownership of the artefact acknowledged, or rights of access to it.

Daily Mail

David Cameron ambushed on Indian TV over 105-carat Koh-i-noor diamond as country demands its return
By Jason Groves
Last updated at 6:00 PM on 29th July 2010

David Cameron has rejected a plea to return the fabled Koh-i-noor diamond – now the most famous of the Crown Jewels – to India.

There has been a growing clamour on the sub-continent for the repatriation of the gem, and in an interview on India’s NDTV channel the Prime Minister was asked directly if he would give it back.

After an awkward hesitation, Mr Cameron said ‘that is a question I have never been asked before’ and then insisted it could not be returned.

The challenge came as the Prime Minister faced controversy after accusing Pakistan of ‘exporting terror’ and offered to share nuclear secrets and sell military jets to India.

Mr Cameron is now on the final day of his whirlwind Indian trip, which has seen one of the largest UK delegations travel to the country since the sun set on the Raj in 1947.

The Koh-i-noor, whose name means ‘mountain of light’ in Persian, was originally discovered in India at least 700 years ago, and possibly 5,000 years ago, according to some Hindu scholars.

The 105-carat diamond was seized by the East India Company after the capture of Punjab in 1849 and later presented as a gift to Queen Victoria.

At that time it was owned by the Sikh Maharajah of Lahore (now in Pakistan), but had earlier been a prize possession of the Mughal emperors.

Mr Cameron said returning the legendary diamond to India would set a dangerous precedent for other priceless cultural items held in British museums.

Greece, for example, has mounted a long-running campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles, looted from the Parthenon some 200 years ago and brought back to London by the Earl of Elgin.

The Prime Minister said: ‘What tends to happen with these questions is that if you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum will be emptied.

‘I know there is also a great argument about the original provenance of the Koh-i-noor diamond. I’m afraid this will disappoint viewers, but it’s going to have to stay put.’

Earlier this month Labour MP Keith Vaz called for the diamond to be returned to India as a symbol of the Coalition Government’s stated desire to build a special relationship with the former colony.

Mr Vaz said: ‘This will certainly convey a new age of Indo-British relations. The Prime Minister will certainly win the hearts of all Indians if he is prepared to discuss the display of the Koh-i-noor in India itself, and possibly even its permanent return.’

There has also been a huge campaign in India on the social networking site Twitter for the stone’s return.

Since Indian independence, there have been several requests for the return of the gem to what all Indians consider its home in India.

The latest was the demand made by the Archaeological Survey of India last month. It is also planning to join a campaign with the support of other countries to regain lost artefacts and treasures.

The British Government has rejected all previous requests for the return of the diamond, saying it was ‘legitimately acquired’.

The Koh-i-noor diamond, once the largest in the world, was fought over for centuries and is surrounded by numerous legends.

Last year, Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, called for the Koh-i- noor to be handed back, saying: ‘Returning it would be atonement for the colonial past.’

Maurice Davies, head of policy and communication at the Museums Association, said: ‘It is certainly not a good idea to have a knee-jerk reaction to something like this.

‘As a grown-up civilised nation, Britain should think about it seriously and respectfully, especially attributing to how they came by the diamond in the first place.’

Labour’s Tom Watson, who sits on the Commons Culture Committee, said: ‘If you’re looking for the symbol of a new relationship with our great friends in India, what greater gesture could there be than returning the diamond?’


# Once the largest diamond in the world, the Koh-i-noor is said to carry a curse lethal to any man who owns it. A Sanskrit text from the time of its first known appearance around 1306 says: ‘Only God or a woman can wear it with impunity.’
# Historical evidence suggests it was mined in Andhra Pradesh, on the south-eastern coast of India around 700 years ago.
# According to myth, all the male rulers who have owned it have died or lost their thrones – including Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor of India who built the Taj Mahal. After having the stone embedded in his throne he was jailed by his son until his death in 1666.
# The gem was seized by the British after the Sikh kingdom of the Punjab was conquered in 1849.
# The defeated 12-year-old ruler, Maharajah Duleep Singh, pictured, was forced to present the diamond to Queen Victoria.
# It was displayed at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, but proved a disappointment due to its awkward shape.
# As a result, the gem was cut from 186 down to 105 carats on the orders of Prince Albert and became part of the Crown Jewels.
# It was part of the crown worn by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, at the George VI’s coronation.

Daily Telegraph

David Cameron has refused requests to return the fabulous Koh i Noor diamond to India.
By Rosa Prince, Political Correspondent India
Published: 7:00AM BST 29 Jul 2010

During an interview with Indian television station NDTV, he was told that the programme had been besieged with requests from viewers for him to agree to return the priceless jewel.

But the Prime Minister said: “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty.

“I think I’m afraid to say, to disappoint all your viewers, it’s going to have to say put.”

Mr Cameron pointed out that the exact provenance of the diamond was unclear.

Before the start of the Prime Minister’s three-day trade visit to India, Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, who has Indian origins, had also suggested that the time had come to return the diamond as a sign of atonement for Britain’s colonial past.

The Koh i Noor, once the largest known diamond in the world, was seized from India in 1849 and presented to Queen Victoria.

It became one of the Crown Jewels, and was last worn by the Queen Mother during her coronation, as a mark of her becoming Empress of India.

The Sun

Cam: We’ll keep our jewels thanks
Political Editor in Delhi – Published: 29 Jul 2010

LOYAL David Cameron has defied India by refusing to give back the famous jewel in the Queen Mum’s crown.

During a TV interview in Delhi last night, he was bombarded with viewers’ requests to return the fabulous Koh i Noor.

Once the largest known diamond in the world, it was seized from the former colony in 1849 and presented to Queen Victoria.

But the PM held firm to say: “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty.

“I think I’m afraid to say, to disappoint all your viewers, it’s going to have to say put.”

Mr Cameron also insisted that the stone’s exact origins was unclear.

Labour MP Keith Vaz has said that the time had come to return the diamond.

But that would have horrified royalists as it was the centre gem in the crown first worn by the Queen Mother during her coronation.

It also sat on her coffin as she lay in state after her death in 2002.

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