India to push for UK to hand over Koh-i-Noor diamond as part of 'colonial reckoning' that 'dwarfs' Elgin Marble demands

13 May 2023, 09:38 | Updated: 28 November 2023, 10:32

The Koh-i-Noor diamond could be returned to India
The Koh-i-Noor diamond could be returned to India. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

India is set to pressure the UK to hand over thousands of treasures it claims were looted during the centuries of colonial occupation.

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The diplomatic effort to reclaim the artefacts centres on the Koh-i-Noor diamond, one of the largest cut diamonds in the world. The Koh-i- has been in the British royal family's crown jewels since 1849.

India's "reckoning with the past" would be the largest repatriation attempt the UK has faced yet, the Telegraph reported - dwarfing claims made by the Greek government for the Elgin Marbles, held in the British Museum.

Read more: India to help Greece and fellow 'victims of colonial appropriation' to push UK to give back Elgin Marbles and other treasures

The push comes from the top of the Indian government and is one of the priorities for Narendra Modi, the country's Prime Minister.

The efforts to get the treasures returned could even affect trade talks between the UK and India.

The Koh-i-Noor diamond in the Queen Mother's crown
The Koh-i-Noor diamond in the Queen Mother's crown. Picture: Alamy

Govind Mohan, secretary for the Indian ministry of culture, said that returning the treasures would be a big part of the country's political agenda.

He said: “It is of huge importance to the government.

"The thrust of this effort to repatriate India’s artefacts comes from the personal commitment of prime minister Narendra Modi, who has made it a major priority."

Mr Modi said in a speech this year:  “We have a wonderful history of about 2,000 and 5,000 years. This cut-off (colonial rule) has done a lot of damage to us.

"After independence we should have come out of this mentality but unfortunately it had gripped the nation like anything. They consider our historical pride to be a slave. I believe that unless we feel proud of our heritage and culture, we will not feel the urge to preserve it.

Returning the diamond and other treasures is a top priority for Narendra Modi
Returning the diamond and other treasures is a top priority for Narendra Modi. Picture: Getty

Indian officials believe that returning these treasures could help forge a stronger national identity.

Lily Pandeya, joint secretary of the Ministry of Culture, said: "Antiquities have both physical and intangible value, they are part of the continuity of cultural heritage, of community and national identity.

Read more: Queen Consort 'ridiculous' for cutting Koh-i-Noor out of King's Coronation, caller says

Read more: 'They are coming home': Greek official claims Elgin Marbles will return to Athens by end of year

"By robbing these artefacts, you are robbing this value, and breaking the continuity of knowledge and community."

Oxford's Ashmolean Museum has already been approached about returning a bronze idol taken from a temple in southern India. The British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum will also face claims for Indian artefacts, as well as charities like the National Trust.

Caller thinks 'ship has sailed' when it comes to Koh-i-noor diamond

Some museums in the UK are bound by law not to give away any of their artefacts. Charities do not face the same restrictions.

India is not the only country that claims the Koh-i-Noor. The governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran have also said the diamond belongs to their respective countries.

Meanwhile the UK claims that the diamond was obtained legally in an 1846 treaty.

The diamond is in the Queen Mother's crown, which Queen Camilla did not wear at King Charles' coronation to avoid upsetting India.