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Clamouring For The Kohinoor

27/04/2016 4:18 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Most of us thought that the renewed cries to bring back the Kohinoor diamond were fanned by the Royal visit, but it looks as if the looming Punjab elections could be the trigger. How, you ask, will the return of a diamond help the people of Punjab? Just as the return of Tipu Sultan's sword bolstered Kannada pride (even though the proud owner of unpaid loans fled to the UK), the return of Kohinoor is believed to restore the rightful legacy of Punjab.

According to the extra-long and dotted legend of the Kohinoor, the 158.6 gram (793 carat) gem was originally mined from the Kollur mines in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. It was initially owned by the Mughals, and Shah Jahan is said to have used it as a prism to view the Taj Mahal. After the fall of the Mughal Empire, the diamond went back to Persia, only to be procured by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the "Lion of Punjab". In the aftermath of Ranjit Singh's death, the Sikhs fought two wars with the East India Company army. Duleep Singh, the minor son of Ranjit Singh and the then Maharaja in Lahore, was defeated in the second Anglo-Sikh war. Punjab was thus annexed by the British and the Kohinoor presented to Queen Victoria. Blimey! Now, the Kohinoor rests ensconced in a crown in the Tower of London.

Whenever a British celebrity flits by, we fete them with our Bollywood royalty and fawn over their flying skirts, but the prickly demand resurfaces: Humein Chahiye Kohinoor.

As it happened, Indians filed a petition in the stiff upper court demanding their sparkle back. Friendly neighbour Pakistan joined the party. After all, why should India have all the fun? "Humein Bhi Chahiye Kohinoor."

No pressure, no diamonds. In response to the political pressure, the Indian government cited a law that does not allow it to bring back antiquities taken out of the country before Independence. They reiterated the stand of the previous governments that the Kohinoor was a gift. And presents, they say, are for "the pleasure of who gives them and not the merits of who receives them." Right? Wrong. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) said, it was not possible for a young Duleep Singh to have gifted the Kohinoor; he must have been "robbed". Humein Chahiye Kohinoor, they said.

After the morality foreplay by the media, the Culture Ministry said that they would try to bring back the pleasure, err, treasure, amicably. Meanwhile the Congress jumped in the revelry by saying, "Humein Chahiye Azadi. Err, Kohinoor." They forgot that playing politics with history is a dangerous game. Wonder why the gem of their crown didn't remind his friend David Miliband about the Kohinoor when both had spent a long night with cows. What is it that they say about covering your stump before you hump, eh?

Regardless of how we try to dress up history, the Brits are unlikely to provide us with the pleasure of owning the treasure.

But polemics aside, politicians should think twice before demanding the Kohinoor, given that it's supposed to bring bad luck to men. Given that the history of rulers who owned the diamond is mired with torture and treachery, the Brits played safe. Our colonizers ensured that the diamond went to the wife of the male royal heir. And no woman ever hated a man enough to give back his diamonds.

Whenever a British celebrity flits by, we fete them with our Bollywood royalty and fawn over their flying skirts, but the prickly demand resurfaces: Humein Chahiye Kohinoor. When asked about the Kohinoor, David Cameron provided us with a gem of a different kind: "If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I think I'm afraid to say... it's going to have to say put."

Regardless of how we try to dress up history and regardless of our emotions or summons, the Brits are unlikely to provide us with the pleasure of owning the treasure. And that's the extra-long and short of the Kohinoor. The diamond, of course. What else did you think?

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