After the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747 and the collapse of his empire, the Koh-i-noor stone came into the hands of one of his generals, Ahmad Shah Durrani, who later became the Emir of Afghanistan. One of Ahmed’s descendants, Shuja Shah Durrani, wore a bracelet containing the Koh-i-Noor on the occasion of Mountstuart Elphinstone’s visit to Peshawar in 1808.
A year later, Shuja formed an alliance with the United Kingdom to help defend against a possible invasion of Afghanistan by Russia. He was quickly overthrown by his predecessor, Mahmud Shah, but managed to flee with the diamond. He went to Lahore, where the founder of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in return for his hospitality, insisted upon the gem being given to him, and he took possession of it in 1813.
Its new owner, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, willed the diamond to the Hindu temple of Jagannath in Puri, in modern-day Odisha, India. However, after his death in 1839, the East India Company did not execute his will. On 29 March 1849, following the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Kingdom of Punjab was formally annexed to British India, and the Last Treaty of Lahore was signed, officially ceding the Koh-i-Noor to Queen Victoria and the Maharaja’s other assets to the company. The gem called the Koh-i-Noor, which was taken from Shah Sooja-ool-moolk by Maharajah Ranjit Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England.
The Governor-General in charge of the ratification of this treaty was the Marquess of Dalhousie. The manner of his aiding in the transfer of the diamond was criticized even by some of his contemporaries in Britain. Although, some thought it should have been presented as a gift to Queen Victoria by the East India Company, it is clear that Dalhousie strongly believed the stone was a spoil of war, and treated it accordingly, ensuring that it was presented to her by Maharaja Duleep Singh, the youngest son of Ranjit Singh.
The government of India, believing the gem was rightfully theirs, first demanded the return of the Koh-i-Noor as soon as independence was granted in 1947. A second request followed in 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Each time, the British government refuted the claims, saying that ownership was non-negotiable.
In 1976, Pakistan asserted its ownership of the diamond, saying its return would be, “a convincing demonstration of the spirit that moved Britain voluntarily to shed its imperial encumbrances and lead the process of decolonisation”. In a letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, James Callaghan, wrote, “I need not remind you of the various hands through which the stone has passed over the past two centuries, nor that explicit provision for its transfer to the British crown was made in the peace treaty with the Maharaja of Lahore in 1849. I could not advise Her Majesty that it should be surrendered.”
In 2000, several members of the Indian Parliament signed a letter calling for the diamond to be given back to India, claiming it was taken illegally. British officials said that a variety of claims meant it was impossible to establish the gem’s original owner. Later that year, the Taliban’s foreign affairs spokesman, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, said the Koh-i-Noor was the legitimate property of Afghanistan, and demanded for it to be handed over to the regime as soon as possible. “The history of the diamond shows it was taken from us (Afghanistan) to India, and from there to Britain. We have a much better claim than the Indians”, he said.
In July 2010, while visiting India, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, said about returning the diamond, “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I am afraid to say, it is going to have to stay put”. On a subsequent visit in February 2013, he said, “They’re not having that back. In 2016 the Supreme Court of India heard a case brought by the All India Human Rights & Social Justice Front seeking the return of the diamond. Giving evidence to the court, the Solicitor General of India, Ranjit Kumar, gave the official position of the Indian government as “It was given voluntarily by Ranjit Singh to the British as compensation for help in the Sikh wars. The Koh-i-Noor is not a stolen object. Under the provisions of the Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) takes up the issue of retrieval of only such antiquities as have been illegally exported out of the country. So by stalling all the debates, we Indian have to believe that India will never get its Koh-i-Noor diamond back.
(Inputs from various agencies)
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