Ground Zero: Modi government distorts history of Punjab, Koh-i-Noor not gifted



Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, April 18: The NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which Shiromani Akali Dal is a partner continues to have different perception of history and the latest causality is the history of Punjab as the world famous Koh-i-Noor diamond was not gifted to the British rulers by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was confiscated after the annexation of Punjab in  1849 after “Jang Hind Punjab Da” (War between Hind and Panjab).

At the time when Pakistan too is staking claim to this most precious diamond as the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was  Lahore and most of the present day Pakistan was part of his empire, the centre today submitted in the Supreme Court that this priceless  diamond was not stolen by the Britishers  but gifted to them by Mahara Ranjit Singh at the time of signing of the treaty.  This treaty was different and between two sovereigns. The Solicitor General of India told the court that Koh-i-Noor was neither stolen nor forcibly taken away. This is historical distortion. This is the stand that has been taken by Union Ministry of Culture in response to the public interest litigation. Petitioner  Nafis Ahmad Siddiqi has sought return of the diamond to India saying it was not gifted.

At the time of annexation of Punjab by the East India Company government, the government representing the Crown, Koh-i-Noor was part of the treasury of what is known as the Sikh empire. Pakistani Punjabis own Maharaja Ranjit Singh as the only Punjabi who  set up his empire. Of late, a movement has started in Pakistani Punjab to own up common heritage and that include Shaheed Bhagat Singh and freedom fighters from the Ghadar party.

The diamond was presented to Queen Victoria by the teenaged Maharaja Duleep Singh on July 3, 1850. Maharaja Duleep Singh never returned to India and died in France. This fabulous diamond was brought to England under the Treaty of Lahore dated March 29, 1849 between the Britishers and Lahore Durbar. Maharani Zindan was taking care of Maharaja Duleep Singh at that time. He was the youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

This diamond as such was not ‘gifted’ as the government at the centre has submitted  in the Supreme Court but was part of the war trophy as entire treasury of Lahore Durbar was confiscated by the victors.

It may be mentioned that the young Maharaja, then 13, was taken to England after the war. The jewel was sent to England in the care of John Lawrence, and C.C. Mansel for presentation to Queen Victoria, sailing from Bombay in HMS Medea under strict security arrangements.

Lord Dalhousie is quoted to have stated :  “Koh-i-Noor should be surrendered directly from the hand of the conquered prince into the hands of the sovereign who was his conqueror, than it should be presented to her as a gift”. The references are part of the history books. But then Koh-i-Noor is part of Punjab heritage that was not part of Hindustan at that time. It may be mentioned that in the Anglo-Sikh wars, the native Indians were part of the British forces then known as the Bengal Army. This is the reason that in  1857, Punjab sided with the Britishers to crush the sepoy mutiny.

It is now for the Punjab government to take up this issue with the Modi government and rectify the historical distortion as otherwise, it would become part of record that might  later be quoted by the historians.

The Panjab Past and Present, Vol IV, edited by Ganda Singh and  published by the Punjabi University, Patiala, carries details about Koh-i-Noor and the circumstances under which it was appropriated by Lord Dalhousie in 1849. It is in the form of a long letter written by John Sullivan to Sir John Hobhouse, MP dated July 1850. This is from page 109 to 155. The letter mentions the three terms laid down by Lord Dalhousie:

-His Highness shall resign for himself and his heirs all rights, title and claim, to the sovereignty of Punjab, or to any sovereign power whatever.

-All the property of the state, of whatever description, shall be confiscated to the Honourable east India Company, in part payments of the debt due by the state of Lahore to the British Government, and of the expenses of the war.

-The gem called Koh-i-Noor which was taken from Shah Soojah-ol-mulk by Maharaja Runjeet Singh, shall be surrendered by the Maharaja of Lahore to the Queen of England.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal should not allow at least the history of the only Sikh empire to be distorted.


Jagtar Singh


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