Not actual Koh-i-noor but an approximation by Mayank Chhaya
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron does not believe in “returnism.” Returnism, incidentally, is his way of describing Britain returning iconic properties stolen during colonial times by the retiring colonial power.
At the top of the list of stolen colonial properties is the 105.6-carat Koh-i-noor diamond from India whose return the people of the country have demanded from time to time.
On the last day of his three-day visit, the question of the Koh-i-noor came up yet again. That the question was asked in Amritsar, Punjab has historic relevance. The Koh-i-noor was taken by the British East India Company in 1850 from Duleep Singh, the last maharajah of the Sikh empire. It became part of the British crown jewels when Queen Victoria became the empress of India in 1877.
"I don’t think that’s the right approach," Cameron has been quoted as saying by the Indian media while answering why the diamond should be returned to India. That’s not the right approach!? What does that mean? Suppose there was an individual who stole the Koh-in-noor and managed to remain free for 163 years. When confronted with the fact that the individual was in possession of a stolen property, he says, “"I don’t think that’s the right approach.” Would that absolve him?
Merely because a property was stolen by a state in the guise of wholly arbitrarily devised colonial powers is it right in taking such a flagrantly unreasonably position? "I certainly don’t believe in ‘returnism’, as it were. I don’t think that’s sensible,” Cameron said. Of course, he does not believe in “returnism” and thinks it is not sensible.
I cannot imagine the 46-year-old prime minister walking up to the 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth II and saying, “Your Majesty, In the fitness of things and fairness of history, it is my government’s considered opinion reached after a strenuous internal debate that Great Britain ought to return the Koh-in-noor to India.”
It is hard for me to speculate how the queen might react to such a request. She might throw a royal fit (meaning tightly purse her lips) or she may just burst out laughing at the sheer improbability of the request.
The Koh-in-noor, which in Persian/Urdu means ‘Mountain of Light’, was once the largest diamond in the world. It lends an inordinately large value to the British crown jewels estimated to be worth billions of dollars. It is not an Indian property in the strictest sense of the word because over the centuries, some say even millennia, it has changed hands many times among Persian and Indian rulers.It is true that its last known individual possessor was Maharajah Duleep Singh.
It seems highly unlikely that the British royal family will return the diamond in the foreseeable or not so foreseeable future. They just love it too much. So as an alternative here is what I suggest India press for from Britain.
Treat the Koh-in-noor as India’s collateral with Britain. Against that collateral let India enjoy the following benefits in perpetuity or until such time as the diamond is returned.
For every year that the Koh-i-noor stays in the British crown, Britain allow 100,000 Indians to migrate to the country, no questions asked. None. I mean even if these potential immigrants had gone out to for an evening stroll past the British high commission in Chankaya Puri in New Delhi and decided on a whim to settle down in Britain.
To make it more practical, let these 100,000 annual immigrants be selected by a national lottery in India. They do not even have to come to the British high commission or any other mission to apply for their permanent residency. Those papers should be overnighted to them and every expense should be borne by the British government.
These 100,000 annual migrants should have secure job guarantees from the British government for at least ten years. When they land at Heathrow let Britain arrange for their transport, lodging and boarding. Of course, Britain will also pay for their air fares and maternity leave.
Require that the English cricket team lose every other match, Test, One day or T20, against India for the next 50 years. And they just can’t throw the matches. They have to come up with inventive ways of making each one thrilling before inevitably losing.
Require Prince Charles to visit India every year by flying commercial. In India he should do mandatory social work for a period of four weeks annually until such time as he becomes the king. Once he becomes the king, he should host 100,000 destitute Indians (separate from 100,000 annual immigrants) to week-long festivities to compensate for the excesses of Queen Victoria.
I will think of some other ways to compensate for their refusal to return the Koh-i-noor. For now, this seems like a reasonable first step in a long bargain.