Monday, Feb 26, 2024 | Last Update : 09:37 AM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  01 Dec 2023  Farrukh Dhondy | UK must return all its loot… from the Elgin Marbles to the Kohinoor!

Farrukh Dhondy | UK must return all its loot… from the Elgin Marbles to the Kohinoor!

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Dec 2, 2023, 12:09 am IST
Updated : Dec 2, 2023, 12:09 am IST

The Kohinoor was stolen from the young Dilip Singh by the East India Company’s Lord Dalhousie.

What happens to the Kohinoor once it’s returned will be a matter of contention. (AA File Image)
 What happens to the Kohinoor once it’s returned will be a matter of contention. (AA File Image)

“O Bachchoo why do you dance with such delight

The day is young and the sun and love are bright

You now rejoice in your beloved’s sight

And forget that the day gives way to night…”

From Ah The Wicked Kalidas Away, by Bachchoo

In the 1980s of the past century there were anti-police riots in Brixton in south London. The mostly black youth fought against the police on the streets and went on a rampage breaking the glass frontages of shops and raiding everything from designer clothes to footwear. An Irish comedian at the time appeared on national TV, saying: “Why do these people think they can loot and keep stuff that doesn’t belong to them?” (a pause) … “Have you ever been to the British Museum?”

This week the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsoptakis, made an official visit to the UK with a schedule to discuss European political issues, presumably immigration and trade with the EU, with British PM Hedgie Sunoch. Before his scheduled meeting with Hedgie, he was sought out by the media.

The very respected BBC interviewer, Laura Kuenssberg, booked Mitso on Sunday and during the interview he said that the so-called Elgin Marbles housed in the British Museum were not where they should be. He was rather poetic. He said having them in London was like cutting the Mona Lisa in half. What he meant, of course, is that thee 30 or so classical statues, some of them 3,000 years old, which don’t belong in the British Museum but in the Parthenon in Athens from where were taken (stolen?) by the 7th Lord Elgin.

After this broadcast went out, Hedgie Sunoch cancelled his face-to-face encounter with the Greek Prime Minister. The Hedgie-wallas of Downing Street told the media that Mitso had agreed not to mention the Elgin Marbles on his visit to the UK. The Greek embassy insisted that no such promise had been given.

Hedgie’s response demonstrates that this character is petty and petulant. For God’s sake|? Cancelling a meeting with the PM of an European Union country because he said something about the “Elgin Marbles” -- it staggers belief!

Calling these priceless historical sculptures the “Elgin Marbles” is like calling the Kohinoor the “Dalhousie Diamond”. Or should the American currency be called the “Bonnie-and-Clyde dollar”?

These classical statues were taken from the Parthenon in Athens by the 7th Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when the Turk Ottomans ruled Greece. He brought them to Britain and they were sold to the British State and housed in the museum in 1816. In 1835, when Greece regained its independence, the Greek government asked for these precious pieces of their historical past back. After all, housed in Athens at their original home, the “Marbles” would be viewed in context rather than be ogled at by visitors to the bleak halls of the British Museum.

The British government, right through these last nearly hundred years of asking, weren’t receptive or kind. They virtually and continuously told the Greeks to go some distance and have sex. They were not going to return the “Elgin Marbles”.

Hedgie’s government told Mitso that he could meet Oliver Dowden, the deputy PM of the UK, instead. This was of course adding insult to injury as poor Mr Dowden has absolutely no powers or authority in this petulant government. Mitso said no thanks, and will no doubt go back to the European Union and report on the hubris of Hedgie and the UK.

Which brings me, gentle reader, to the question of the return of the Kohinoor diamond, which my friend Shashi Tharoor has so frequently raised. I am confident that if Narendra Bhai visits Britain on a mission to discuss Bharat-UK trade, student visas, the sending of Cruella Braverman and some others to the Andaman Islands as an alternative to Rwanda -- for a few zillion pounds of course -- he could with impunity tell Laura Kuenssberg that the Kohinoor should be plucked from the British Crown and be returned to India. Hedgie won’t dare to cancel any meetings with India’s PM.

So will the Kohinoor return to India after Modiji’s next visit to Britain if he can afford the time? The fact is that India is geopolitically in a different league from Greece and Hedgie can’t afford to snub its PM. And since the repatriation of the diamond is as important as the return of the Partyhenon sculptures to the Parthenon, I am about to write to the BBC to suggest that even if Narendraji has no scheduled visit to Britain, the valiant Laura Kuenssberg should be sent out to New Delhi to interview Modiji specifically about the Kohinoor.

Of course, what happens to the Kohinoor once it’s returned will be a matter of contention.

The diamond passed through very many hands, including the Mughal emperors, the Shah of Persia, the rulers of Kashmir and finally the family of Ranjit Singh. It was stolen from the young Dilip Singh by the East India Company’s Lord Dalhousie.

My personal view, for whatever it is worth, is that since one can trace the origin of the Kohinoor to Swarg and its ownership by the Sun god Surya who bestowed it to the earth and humanity by casting it, some say in the holy Ganga, the Kohinoor should be returned to Uttar Pradesh and its chief minister be entrusted as its guardian.

Tags: farrukh dhondy column, kohinoor, dalhousie