Updated: April 21, 2016 1:09:00 am
The Solicitor General of India, appearing before the Chief Justice of India, stated that the Kohinoor could not be viewed as a stolen item, spirited away by avaricious colonial rulers. He said, “It changed hands several times, till Shah Shuja of Afghanistan gave it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1813. After his death, his successor Duleep Singh gave it to the British, as a compensation for the Anglo-Sikh War. The East India Company gave it to Queen Victoria in 1849, and since then it has been in the possession of the British royalty.”
The learned Solicitor General needs to read up on the 19th century history of the Sikhs and the British. The broad facts are thus. Ranjit Singh took the Kohinoor from Shah Shuja, who was living with him in Lahore as a refugee and at his mercy. The Shah hid it in his turban to save it, but Ranjit Singh, in brotherly love of Eastern Kings, quickly exchanged turbans! The egg-shaped uncut diamond was in the folds. Ranjit wore no jewellery, except this diamond, always on his left arm. Emily Eden, the Governor-General’s sister, sketched him so, when she came to Lahore, for his grandson’s wedding. So have many others.
On his deathbed, desperate for life and surrounded by pandits, Ranjit gifted vast quantities of gold, pearls and diamonds to religious places and to praying pandits. In his last stages, he could not speak, but tried hard to make his family and his Prime Minister, Dhyan Singh, send the Kohinoor to the great temple of Jagannath Puri, in Odisha, as an offering in the hope of life. The family and Dhyan Singh refused. They were already looking to the future. Ranjit Singh died in June 1839. Had the family and Dhyan Singh listened to Ranjit Singh’s pleas, today the Kohinoor would have been safe in the Jagannath Puri temple. Even the British, unlike earlier foreign rulers, did not rob temples. I went to Jagannath twice for the Rath Yatra. I was given the privilege of a darshan in the sanctum sanctorum. I was shown a great diamond shining on the forehead of Jagannath, given by the Maharaja of Patiala.
The Lahore Darbar fell into blood-letting. A number of Ranjit Singh’s sons, Dhyan Singh and his brothers, and other conspirators, were all murdered rapidly. The Sikh army, contemptuous of the Darbar and its betrayals, came under the control of regimental panchayats. Duleep Singh, aged eight years, and accepted as Ranjit’s son, was made sovereign. The British were already at Ludhiana and goaded the army into a fight. The Darbar, including the generals, were part of the treacherous game. Three bloody battles were fought on December 18, 1845 at Mudki, December 21 at Ferozeshah, and February 12, 1846, at Subhraon. These were the most bloody and bitter battles in Britain’s conquest of India. Half of Punjab was taken by the British and Henry Lawrence governed in Lahore for the Boy King. In 1849, Lord Dalhousie picked a flimsy excuse to grab the boy’s remaining kingdom.
Eight-year-old Duleep was taken into a guardianship with Lord and Lady Logan, his Christian keepers. Soon, he was separated from his mother and taken to Ramgarh in UP. Isolated from all Sikhs, this child was soon converted to Christianity and taken to London, where he became a colourful pet of Queen Victoria! Immediately after the so-called Second Sikh War, Lord Dalhousie, as he writes himself, rushed to Lahore, took the Kohinoor from Lawrence, tied it in a belt around his stomach, and quickly took it to Calcutta. From there it was rushed to London. Dalhousie records his relief when it reached there.
Lord Logan has recorded in his memoirs how it was decided to take Duleep one day to the palace. This little lost boy was coached by the Logans. The memoirs of both Logans need to be read. He was made to stand before a window, and when the Queen waddled in, he was nudged to ‘present’ it to Her Majesty. This was no Gift, and nowhere is it recorded in any book of Punjab history that it was given as compensation for the Anglo-Sikh War. This charade eased the delicate conscience of Victoria. Duleep, the boy, was in no position of authority. He had already been made to sign away his kingdom, in the presence of Lord Hardinge, immediately after the battle of Sabhraon. The fact is that as conquerors, the British took what they could from India, China and Africa. Ranjit Singh’s favourite modest throne chair is in the British Museum; so are numerous other precious relics from every kingdom in India.
This is, simply, the way it was — conquest was, after all, for loot, among other things. The learned Solicitor General has got it all mixed up. Today, the legal profession dominates India in many ways. We take what they say as the gospel truth. There are many law schools and national law academies across the land. I do not know their syllabus, but it should include some readings of India’s vast history.
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