NEW DELHI — The Indian government has begun a campaign for the return of a historic 105.6-carat diamond that was either a gift to Queen Victoria from the maharajah of Punjab in 1849 or stolen by the British, depending on some widely divergent perspectives.
After some indecision, the Indian Culture Ministry said on Tuesday evening that it would make “all possible efforts” to arrange the return of the diamond, the Koh-i-Noor, now residing in the Tower of London, where it is a centerpiece of the British royal family’s crown jewels.
For many Indians, the Koh-i-Noor — or Mountain of Light — is a symbol of colonial subjugation and three centuries of exploitation that began with the East India Company in the early 17th century, culminated in the absorption of India as a colony after a major uprising in 1857 and ended with the independence, and partition, of India in 1947.
Whether it was a gift or not, Britain says the diamond came into its possession after the defeat of Punjab in the Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s and was moved to Britain in 1850. As recently as 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron said the diamond would “stay put.”
But critics in India say the British version of the story has been sanitized.
The diamond originated in the Golconda mines, in what is now the state of Andhra Pradesh. It passed through the hands of Mughal, Persian and Afghan rulers before landing with Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the ruler of the Sikh kingdom in Punjab, who died in 1839.
His death led to a struggle and, in 1843, the installation of his 5-year-old son. In the power vacuum, the East India Company rapidly extended its control over the once-powerful kingdom, annexing it in 1849, after its victory in the Second Anglo-Sikh War, said Anita Anand, a journalist and a co-author of a forthcoming book on the diamond. The jewel was then surrendered, she said, as part of an agreement ending the war and signed by the boy king.