The Ministry of Culture has said in an RTI reply that it does not have a policy to deal with “procurement of historic memorabilia and belongings of national figures smuggled out of India”, owing to an advice against such a policy by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in the Rajya Sabha in 1977. Nehru passed away in May 1964.
Vadodara resident Pankaj Darve, who filed the RTI, was told by the Archeological Survey of India, which falls under the Culture Ministry, that Nehru, in 1977, expressed the fear that any such move would “affect bilateral relations”.
The ASI reply, dated March 17, 2015, was received by Darve on March 28. The reply, signed by Sunanda Shrivastav, superintending archaeologist (antiquity), stated: “In reference to the Government of India bringing back the priceless items in foreign possession before India’s Independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, while giving his opinion on starred question 617 dated 14.12.1977 in the Rajya Sabha, about the return of the Kohinoor diamond, had said that there can be no decision on the bringing back of such property, as such attempts could affect the strengthening of bilateral relations between the countries.”
Darve wanted to know what steps the government was taking to bring back belongings and memorabilia of national figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Maharana Pratap, Prithviraj Chauhan, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Veer Savarkar, Guru Gobind Singh, Tipu Sultan, Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi and Bhagat Singh.
Apart from admitting that it has no policy, the ministry also said the government has “no information” about such belongings.
Darve had also asked the ministry if the government considers itself the “owner” of the belongings of national figures, and had requested the ministry to share records tracking the historical belongings, their current location and legal possessors.
“The ASI’s reply stating that Nehru made a statement to that effect in 1977 is shameful as he passed away in 1964 and a Union Ministry ought to have its facts right. Moreover, it is appalling that for over 60 years, India has failed to frame even one policy to procure invaluable treasures of national heroes on the pretext of bilateral relations. It shows India in a poor light,” Darve said.
“We only come to know about missing memorabilia when they go under the hammer illegally by international auction houses. This smuggling of historical memorabilia has already cost the country many significant items of Gandhiji, Tipu Sultan and Prithviraj Chauhan. But it appears the government never learnt its lesson,” he added.
Darve initially received a reply from the ministry’s International Cultural Relations (ICR) department earlier this month through its chief public information officer and under secretary Kamal Bakhru. The reply stated, “The information may be treated as nil.”
But his application was then transferred to the ASI department, and Darve was alerted about it. Meanwhile, Darve also received a letter from the Victoria Memorial museum in Kolkata, under the ministry’s directions, stating that it was in possession of one sword belonging to Tipu Sultan, formerly exhibited in the Royal United Service Museum in London.