Koh-i-Noor: India says it should not claim priceless diamond from UK

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A replica of the Koh-i-Noor has been displayed in India, which has long claimed the diamond

The Indian government has told the Supreme Court that it should not try to reclaim the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond from Britain.

The gemstone came into British hands in the mid-19th Century, and forms part of the Crown Jewels on display at the Tower of London.

Ownership of the famous gem is an emotional issue for many Indians, who believe it was stolen by the British.

But the solicitor-general said it was "neither stolen nor forcibly taken".

Ranjit Kumar said the 105-carat diamond had been "gifted" to the East India company by the former rulers of Punjab in 1849.

The case is being heard by the Supreme Court after an Indian NGO filed a petition asking the court to direct the Indian government to bring back the diamond.

The court is still considering the issue, and said it did not want to dismiss the petition as it could "stand in the way" of future attempts to bring back items that once belonged to India.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Drawings of the Koh-i-Noor diamond dating back to circa 1860

Mr Kumar, representing the Indian government, said he would consult with the foreign minister on the issue and frame a response within six weeks, the Times of India newspaper reported.

Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, said a few years ago that it should be returned as "atonement for the colonial past".

However, successive British prime ministers have refused to do so. Most recently, David Cameron said that returning it would set an "unworkable precedent".

"If you say yes to one, you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty," he told Indian media during a trip to the country in 2010.

The diamond was last worn by the late Queen Mother and was displayed on her crown when her coffin lay in state after her death in 2002.

Diamond's long and bloody history

Image source, PA

The Koh-i-Noor, meaning "Mountain of Light" in Persian, is the most famous diamond in the Crown Jewels. It has been the subject of conquest and intrigue for centuries, passing through the hands of Mughal princes, Iranian warriors, Afghan rulers and Punjabi Maharajas.

Attempting to sum up its worth, the 18th Century Afghan queen Wufa Begum said: "If a strong man were to throw four stones, one north, one south, one east, one west, and a fifth stone up into the air, and if the space between them were to be filled with gold, all would not equal the value of the Koh-i-Noor."

The stone was originally found in India's Golconda mines and measured 186 carats when it was eventually handed to the British in 1849 under the terms of a punitive treaty following the Anglo-Sikh war. It was signed by the 10-year-old Sikh ruler after his mother was thrown in jail.

However, the diamond's traditional rose cut did not impress visitors to the Great Exhibition in 1851 and so it was re-cut as an oval brilliant, gaining sparkle but losing about 40% of its weight in the process. The 105.6 carat stone - the size of a hen's egg - is currently set in the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

It is said to be unlucky for men to wear the Koh-i-Noor diamond owing to its long and bloody history. Some Indian and Pakistani visitors to the Tower of London hiss as they pass it - they want it returned to the Indian subcontinent, though to which country remains unclear.

Related Topics

More on this story