In a dispute reminiscent of the ongoing saga of the Elgin Marbles, a group of Indian celebrities and businessmen have announced fresh legal action is to be taken over the legendary Koh-i-noor diamond.
The group, which calls itself the ‘Mountain of Light’ after the translation of the diamond’s Persian name has instructed lawyers from Birmingham-based Rubric Lois King. Legal proceedings are to be brought in the High Court demanding that the UK government repatriate the stone to India.
The Koh-i-noor is an eye-watering 105.6 carat diamond valued at £100 million and is one of the largest diamonds known to have been discovered in the world. Following the British annexation of Punjab it changed hands under the Treaty of Lahore and was presented to Queen Victoria in 1851.
It would later form the centrepiece of the crown of the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, which she wore at the coronation of George VI in 1937 and again at Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation. The stone sat atop the Queen Mother’s coffin while she lay in state in 2002 and is now housed at Windsor Castle.
It is no surprise that the jewel came to exclusively adorn the Queens of England including Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary. Legend has it that the Koh-i-noor can only ever be worn by women or God and that it will give the bearer extreme power. Any man who wears it will meet an unfortunate end.
The ‘Mountain of Light’ case is to be based on the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009, which confers power on UK national institutions to return art and cultural objects on the grounds that they were stolen during the Nazi era. The claim will be brought against the UK government for the theft of the diamond under the common law doctrine of ‘trespass to goods’. There are also plans to take the case all the way to the International Court of Justice.
One member of ‘Mountain of Light’, Bollywood star Bhumicka Singh, explained the motivation behind the legal action:
“The Koh-i-noor is not just a 105-carat stone, but part of our history and culture and should undoubtedly be returned.”
David Cameron has previously stated that returning the diamond was out of the question because of the precedent it would set:
“If you say yes to one, you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty… It is going to have to stay put.”
His objections have been echoed by those who question the merit of India’s ownership claim. Although thought to have been unearthed at the Kollur Mine in southern India, the diamond has a complicated provenance. Its previous owners may have included several rulers in what are present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, giving rise to the possibility of multiple claims.
Historian Andrew Roberts told The Mail on Sunday that he is also staunchly opposed to the Koh-i-noor’s repatriation:
“Those involved in this ludicrous case should recognise that the British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernisation, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratisation of the sub-continent.”
Just as Britain has repeatedly rejected Greece’s calls for the repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, India’s attempts to have the Koh-i-noor returned have so far fallen on deaf ears. With the legal action timed to coincide with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK, it might well be wondered whether this latest attempt will bear fruit. We already know there will be strictly no discussion of the diamond when the Queen hosts lunch for PM Modi at Buckingham Palace during his visit.