The recent cacophony regarding the Koh-I-Noor diamond and its ‘rightful owner’ has become an excellent reflection of the post-colonial bitterness between India and Britain. This diamond which currently sits on the crown of the late matriarch of the British Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth (often confused with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II) has been at the center of the very undiplomatic proceedings between our country and Britain.
A very vocal majority of Indians (most of who believe that it was stolen from their country) supported the decision to ‘bring back’ the diamond to India while the Britons maintained that it was ‘gifted’ to them. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, in a previous interview had added (quite amusingly) that if the Koh-I-Noor were returned to India, the British Government would be forced to return all the other artifacts of the British Museum that were either ‘gifts’ to the empire or were acquired via force from their erstwhile colonial dominions. It is even more interesting to see that the government flipped its stance over the issue after its support of the idea that the Kohinoor was actually ‘gifted’ did not garner support with the Indian masses.
As a dominion of the English Empire, India had very little to say about what would happen to the 105 carat diamond originally mined in Golconda. But, as a sovereign republic today, India has a characteristic voice to lay claim to a gem, which it believes is a reflection of the exploitation, plunder and the perverse rule of the British Raj. But the bitterness against the Raj has not ended even as India is nearing her seventieth year as a sovereign nation.
I was recently rebuked for showing excitement at the birth anniversary of the nonagenarian British monarch, who also happens to be the longest reigning monarch of that country. I was told that it was ‘un-Indian’ of me to be excited about the anniversary of a British monarch, whose predecessors had so gladly plundered India off her wealth. I was confused, and very much so. I began to wonder what a “true-Indian” would do. Tweet obscenities against the Queen of England? Or perhaps even burn her effigy in the streets for refusing to return the Kohinoor that her predecessors ‘stole’ from us? This episode reminded me of the real patriots of this country who dictate how a ‘true-Indian’ should behave.
I believe, firmly and unequivocally, that the colonial rule of the British in India has done more harm than good, but we cannot right those historical wrongs by shouting obscene slogans or by devising bizarre plans. Reconciliation and mediation are always better mediums to begin a discourse. Instead of shouting mindlessly and creating a cacophony, we can negotiate and talk. Our constitution guarantees the right to speech and we have to accept that right to be fundamental, not absolute, even worse- farcical.
Coming back to the unromantic episode of the Koh-I-Noor, there was a recent meme which captured the whole scene, rather humorously. It was about the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in a reception at the Buckingham Palace asked the Queen outright, “Where’s our diamond?” I was surprised that many comments took this seemingly harmless joke to be true and encouraged the government to indeed demand that the diamond be returned to India immediately. Thankfully, our Prime Minister knows better. It is impossible for a visiting Head of Government to ask another Head of State to ‘return’ a colonial acquisition that is not even personally hers to give away! She wears it when the government asks her to and it is then kept locked up in the Tower of London. A true constitutional Monarch!
It is time for Indians to move away from the seemingly senseless rant and to indulge in intellectual discourse. We have to take our fundamental right to the freedom of speech seriously, not lightly. At a time when we are debating about the real ‘freedom’ of speech, with many ready to point out its true meaning, we must grow up as a country and as a citizenry. Just because I follow Barack Obama on Twitter, I am not any less Indian. And for the Kohinoor, whether or not it is returned to us, will long remain a post-colonial vestige and a topic for amusing debate.