'No legal ground' for restitution of Kohinoor: UK minister

Britain has ruled out return of the famous `Kohinoor' diamond to India despite all the noises that the Indian government and the media here make, saying that it was neither stolen nor was it taken by force.

Alok Sharma, the UK's minister of Asia Pacific affairs, today said his government does not believe ''there is any legal ground'' for restitution of the diamond.

"It is a longstanding position of the UK government that we don't believe that there is any legal ground for restitution of diamond," said Sharma, the first British minister to visit India since Brexit.

British forces conquered and subjugated Punjab in 1849 and confiscated the properties of the Sikh Empire, including the 105-carat Kohinoor diamond, which was since transferred to the treasury of the British East India Company in Lahore.

Later, the diamond was shipped to Britain and was handed to Queen Victoria in July 1850. It was cut to improve its brilliance and was mounted onto Queen Victoria's crown. The diamond now forms part of the Crown Jewells displayed in the tower of London.

The British government rejected India's demand for return of the diamond in 2013.

The British minister's fresh assertion comes amidst the Indian government's resolve to make all possible efforts to bring back the Kohinoor in an amicable manner.

"The factual position is that the matter is sub judice at present. A PIL has been led in the Supreme Court, which is yet to be admitted. Besides, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar was asked to seek the views of the Government of India, which have not yet been conveyed," said a government statement.

The NDA government had, on 18 April, told the Supreme Court that as per the ministry of culture, India should not stake a claim to the famed Kohinoor diamond as it was "neither stolen nor forcibly taken away".

Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the government, said this was the stand of the culture ministry. "Ministry of external affairs is also a party and their response is yet to come," he informed the court. He also told the apex court that the Kohinoor diamond was handed over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh to the East India Company."

"To exploit our good relations with some country to obtain free gifts from it of valuable articles does not seem to be desirable. On the other hand, it does seem to be desirable that foreign museums should have Indian objects of art," India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said.

The NDA government has so far succeeded in bringing back three valuable artifacts from foreign lands - In October 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel returned a 10th century Indian statue of Goddess Durga that was stolen in 1990 and found in 2012 at a museum in Germany; in April 2015, then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper returned a sculpture known as the 'Parrot Lady', which dates back to almost 900 years; and in 2014, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, on his India visit, had returned antique statues of Hindu deities that were in Australian art galleries.

None of these gestures affected India's relations with Canada, Germany or Australia.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as chief minister of Gujarat, also managed to bring home the ashes of Shyamji Krishna Varma almost 70 years after his death.

Kohinoor too remains a target for the NDA government, which is hopeful of an amicable settlement whereby India gets back a valued piece of art.

Meanwhile, the New British Prime Minister Theresa May has reaffirmed Britain's strong bilateral ties with India following her country's exit from the European Union (EU), the external affairs ministry said.

She said this on Tuesday during a phone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who called her to congratulate on the assumption of new responsibility.