The Indian government appeared to concede Monday that the spectacular “Mountain of Light” diamond made its way to Britain fair and square — as a gift.As part of a public interest filing seeking the gem’s return, India’s solicitor general, Ranjit Kumar, told the country’s supreme court that the coveted jewel was not stolen or forcibly taken away, as many in India have long argued.
The stone called Koh-i-Noor, or Mountain of Light, was believed to have been mined in what is the present day Indian state of Andhra Pradesh centuries ago. The diamond is now part of the glittering purple-velvet Queen Mother’s Crown in the Tower of London. Visitors partial to India have been known to hiss at it when they walk by.It passed through the hands of various sultans, warlords and Mughal emperors before ending up the possession of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, a Sikh warrior of Punjab. He had wanted it to go to a Hindu temple upon his death, but the British secured it in the Treaty of Lahore and his heir presented it to Queen Victoria in 1850, historians say.
“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,” Kumar argued before the court Monday. The court had earlier asked for the government to file an affidavit giving their opinion on the matter.Various politicians and interest groups from India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan have tried to lay claim on the diamond over the years, but the British have said they will not return it. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he does not believe in “returnism,” and if they started down that road, well, then the British Museum would be empty.
“It’s a moral issue,” Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s revered freedom leader, told the television channel NewsX on Monday. “This was our heritage which was stolen, which was taken away forcefully. Every country, every culture has aspirations to regain what they have lost in history. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t have these kinds of emotions.”
According to a history of the diamond on an official website, it is said to be unlucky for the men to wear Koh-i-Noor because of its “long and bloody history.” The gem was once the largest diamond in the world and is twice the size of the Hope Diamond, also believed to be cursed, which sits in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
The solicitor general’s surprising statement came after a week-long visit to India by William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The British royal couple toured slums in Mumbai, played cricket and posed in front of the Taj Mahal — on a marble bench that had been specially cooled for their comfort.
One night in New Delhi, the Times of India noted, the couple spent “a more discreet evening tete a tete with a handful of erstwhile Indian maharajas in the drawing room of the British High Commissioner’s residence.” No word whether the Koh-i-Noor or other alleged ill-begotten booty was part of the discussion.