A Corrupt India Covets the Sikh Koh-i-Noor: DEAN NELSON
The Roundtable Open Forum # 95
The petition from a family claiming to be the descendants of Duleep Singh, the last Sikh Emperor who was exiled to Britain after the Sikh Kingdom was annexed by the British, aims to force the Indian government to intensify its efforts to reclaim the Koh-i-Noor.
The jewel is currently mounted in the crown of the Queen Consort, last worn by the late Queen Mother.
The family is also seeking the return of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's golden throne and for both to be kept at the Golden Temple, the centre of the Sikh faith, in Amrtisar, Punjab.
Their case reopens a controversial chapter in British colonial history that still arouses strong passions in Punjab, where Sikhs regard the exile of Duleep Singh and the usurping of the Koh-i-Noor diamond so as to be gifted to Queen Victoria in 1850, as a national humiliation for the Sikh Nation.
The diamond had been acquired by Duleep's father, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, from the deposed Afghan ruler Shuja Shah Durrani as his price to support his return to power in Kabul.
The legal action seeks to establish the claim of Jaswinder Singh Sandhanwalia, a 50 year old company administrator based in Amsterdam, and his relatives, to be the rightful descendants and heirs of Maharaja Duleep Singh.
According to the family, their great-grandfather Thakur Singh Sandhawalia was Duleep Singh's blood cousin and his "adoptive son". Their claim is based on a letter discovered in the India Office archives by the author Christy Campbell, a former Sunday Telegraph journalist, during the research for his 2002 book, The Maharaja's Box.
The letter, dated January 7, 1889, was written to Duleep Singh by three members of the Sandhanwalia family to explain their plans to ignite a rebellion against British rule and for the Maharaja to return to India with 20,000 foreign fighters to lead the charge.
The Indians had become so demoralised by the defeat of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny that they would not rise up again without the aid of a foreign army, they said, and were therefore once again invoking the help of the Sikh Nation.
The claimants will rely on a paragraph in the letter in which the authors express their gratitude to the Maharaja for adopting them as his own heirs.
"It is impossible for us to express the real sense of indebtedness for the honour of making us son as Y.M (the Maharaja) has been graciously pleased to confer to make us. It is the highest of all honours in the world," they wrote.
Following his exile at 15, Duleep Singh had been raised by government appointed 'guardians' in Britain as an English and Scottish gentleman, lured into converting to Christianity while still a child, and to forget his Sikh origins.
He lived in Castle Menzies in Perthshire where his dandyish taste in clothes and love of shooting won him the nickname the 'Black Prince of Perthshire'. He became the lord of a shooting estate at Elvedon, Suffolk and later sought in vain to become a Tory MP.
But according to Campbell, he rebelled in 1887 and made contact with the Sandhanwalias.
"He rebelled against his Empress and entered into a bizarre conspiracy with a right-wing Moscow newspaper magnate, Irish nationalists and Sikh patriots (the Sandhanwalias) to reclaim his birthright. As well as the empire of his father, the great Ranjit Singh, which stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Himalayas, it included the Koh-I-Noor diamond. Duleep claimed he'd been tricked out of it by Queen Victoria. He referred to her as 'Mrs Fagin'," he said.
The Sandhanwalias' legal battle for the diamond and the last Sikh emperor's body to be returned, will begin in Chandigarh's civil court on Monday, September 10, 2012.
"The great-grandfather of Duleep Singh and the great-grandfather of the Thakur were from the same family, but he [Duleep Singh] also adopted them as his sons. Our property was confiscated by British rule. This letter establishes us as the rightful heirs of Duleep Singh and we want to get back his remains and his other belongings to the Golden Temple," Jaswinder Singh Sandhawalia told The Daily Telegraph on Sunday.
THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 95
An Indian, obviously encouraged and supported by the Indian government - he's the handsome sardar shown on the top right of this page, his swagger-driven fingers twirling his mousctache, his khumaari-laden eyes dreaming of glory - wants Britain to hand over Maharaja Duleep Singh's Koh-i-Noor and Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Golden Throne to a corrupt and teetering India.
His far-fetched and convoluted claim is based on a dubious story of being the descendant of a man who was purportedly adopted by Duleep Singh. The evidence: a self-serving letter purportedly sent by this man's ancestor to Duleep Singh, thanking him for being treated like a "son"!
This week, we ask you to tell us if you are in agreement that the Koh-i-Noor and Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Golden Throne be sent to India by the British.
A reminder: there's still been no accounting of the manuscripts and artifacts stolen from the Sikh Reference Library in Amritsar by the Government officials in June 1984, or the full and proper whereabouts of the complete contents of the Toshakhana (Treasury) of the Darbar Sahib since the same tragedy.
Conversation about this article
1: Sandeep Singh Mehrok (Chandigarh, Punjab), September 10, 2012, 9:24 AM.
The Indian government treats Sikhs as foreigners in India. Punjab is our land and we have every right to it as a Sikh nation. I strongly support your concluding comments re the Kohi-i-Noor and the throne. I am with you.
2: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), September 10, 2012, 1:06 PM.
We should be more interested in pursuing the whereabouts of our looted heritage during Operation Blue Star rather than just the Koh-i-Noor.
3: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), September 10, 2012, 1:54 PM.
The Koh-i-Noor and other Sikh treasures should only be returned to a Sikh world body and be held secure and be displayed outside India, in the West - say, Britain - until circumstances change.
4: Ari Singh (Sofia, Bulgaria), September 10, 2012, 3:04 PM.
In my opinion there is no chance of the Koh-i-Noor going back to Punjab or India. As little a chance as it has of going back to Kabul or Persia! But there is no harm in trying to get it in the hands of Sikhs in Britain ...
5: N. Singh (Canada), September 10, 2012, 6:03 PM.
This is not the first time this matter has been brought up! I believe the last time this was discussed was in the 70's. Both India and Pakistan had put in a claim and my father (excuse my bragging), along with other Sikh delegates, were adamant at the time that it should go to the Sikhs. I hold firmly to this view. However considering the circumstances of current day Punjab I believe that it should remain in "custody" with the British (with approval from the Panth) until the time is right. However, this man's mischievous claim needs to be challenged by the Sikhs, and why am I not surprised that this man is Indian-born despite living in Amsterdam? I also strongly disagree with Sunny Grewal (#2). All Sikh treasures are of equal value whether of a religious or secular nature. We have a right and claim to ALL of them.
6: Artika Bakshi (Sri Lanka), September 11, 2012, 12:22 AM.
This topic is very close to my heart as I have read quite a bit about Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his descendants. Putting aside the fact that Ranjit Singh himself was a man and ruler beyond comparison, the Lahore Durbar was a mess after he passed away. The Kohinoor has always been the symbol of power and was stolen by the British crown when Punjab was annexed! Rather than get into this issue, as some others have said above, we should ensure that Sikh heritage, wherever stored or displayed, is recognized and well preserved! Sadly, the Indian Government and the Punjab state do not have the capabilities of preserving history the way it has been preserved in Britain, or Italy or France for that matter. Let's clean up our mess first.
7: Jaspreet (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), September 11, 2012, 2:02 AM.
I hope the body and the jewel remain in England. At least they will be safe there and remind us of our history. In India nothing of our history is safe. When they want they come take stuff out of the Toshakhaana and destroy our literature and manuscripts too. Some of the treasures that Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated to Harmandar Sahib were stolen by Indian government officials during the 1984 attack. It is in India's interests to get the remains of our last king and the jewel away from our eyes for they remind us of our history as a brave and free people. We are better off with our treasures remaining in Britain for the time being.
8: Ari Singh (Sofia, Bulgaria), September 11, 2012, 1:10 PM.
I agree with most readers. The Kohinoor is safe in England just as we were safer with the English than with the Indians!
9: Jaspreet (Surrey, British Columbia, Canada), September 14, 2012, 12:33 AM.
I told my mother about this article and her words were:" Why doesn't Mr. Sandhawalia first get the treasures Maharaja Ranjit Singh gave to Harmandar Sahib back from the Indian government for the Sikhs?"
10: Narindar Singh Dhesi (United Kingdom), October 13, 2012, 3:02 AM.
In the political vacuum created by the successive deaths in November 1840 of Maharaja Kharak Singh and his son Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh, Sher Singh staked his claim to the throne of the Punjab. Another major contestant was Rani Chand Kaur, Kharak Singh's widow, who sent for Gulab Singh Dogra from Jammu and with the support of the Sadhanwalia Sardars gained complete control of the administration. Chand Kaur had appointed Gulab Singh Dogra as commander-in-chief and charged him with defending the capital city of Lahore. As Sher Singh forced his way into the city, Chand Kaur chose to fight. For two days, Sher Singh's artillery shelled the fort, but with little effect. On the evening of 17 January 1841, Dhian Singh Dogra arrived and secured a ceasefire. Chand Kaur was persuaded to accept a jagir and relinquish her claim to the throne. At midnight, Gulab Singh Dogra had crept away from the Lahore Fort taking with him all the gold and jewellery of the Sikhs, which made him one of the most successful jewel thieves of all time. He used part of the hoard to buy the sovereignty of Kashmir. Part of the hoard still exists in the government treasury in Srinagar. Sher Singh occupied the fort and ascended the throne on 20 January 1841. On 15 September 1843, Ajit Sadhanwalia hacked off the head of Maharajah Sher Singh while Lahina Singh Sadhanwalia pounced upon the 12-year old son of Maharaja Sher Singh and hacked off his head. The Sandhanwalia Sardars were hunted down and killed shortly after this. The petition from a member of this family of murderers claiming to be the descendants of Duleep Singh will only enable the Indian government to intensify its efforts to reclaim for itself the Sikh treasures stolen from Lahore.