A recent report in The Daily Telegraph has claimed that India is planning to launch a campaign to repatriate items in British museums and held by the royal family, including the Kohinoor diamond later this year. This will be one of the largest repatriation claims faced by the United Kingdom, even bigger than Greece’s demand for the Elgin Marbles.
The report also mentioned that this is one of the top priorities of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government and is likely to spill over into diplomatic and trade talks between the two nations.
The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) is said to be leading the efforts to reclaim the objects taken out of India since the independence and officials are believed to be coordinating with diplomats in London to make a formal request to institutions holding the artifacts taken as “spoils of war” or collected by enthusiasts during the colonial rule.
The report said, “The long work of repatriation will begin with what is considered the easiest targets, small museums and private collectors, who may be more willing to voluntarily hand over Indian artefacts, and then efforts will turn to larger institutions and Royal collections.”
Meanwhile, the Union culture secretary Govind Mohan reportedly said that returning the antiquities from the UK would form a key part of India’s policy-making. “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,” he was quoted as saying.
The report said that Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has already been approached for a bronze idol taken from a South Indian temple. Sathnam Sanghera, a leading writer on British Empire, said that it is inevitable that the Indian artifacts taken during colonial rule will be returned.
Sanghera was quoted by The Guardian as saying, “Our museums and the royal family are in possession of billions of pounds worth of Indian loot. It was a systematic part of colonial rule. The royal family was given the king’s share of that loot. When we annexed parts of India and Burma (now Myanmar), there were representatives of our museums there to take things, soldiers took loot and sold it.”
“These countries are future superpowers or superpowers already, they are not going to shut up about it,” he further said.
It may be noted that the Kohinoor, also called Koh-i-Noor meaning “mountain of light” in Persian, was in the spotlight during the last week’s coronation with Queen Camilla averting a diplomatic row by choosing alternative diamonds for her consort’s crown.
The 105-carat diamond was held by Indian rulers before it went into the hands of the East India Company from Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s treasury and then was presented to Queen Victoria after the annexation of Punjab.
A senior ASI official in New Delhi said that concerted efforts are being made to repatriate the artifacts from out of the country. ASI spokesperson Vasant Swarnkar said, “Since Independence, 251 artefacts have been brought back to India, and 238 of these have been repatriated since 2014. Besides, about 100 artefacts are in the process of being repatriated, from countries including the UK, and the US.”