AMRITSAR: Claiming that the Sikh community was the "legitimate" owner of the Kohinoor diamond, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) on Tuesday demanded that the priceless stone should be handed back to the Sikhs.
In a statement issued here, SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar expressed surprise over the Centre's stand in the Supreme Court on Monday that the Kohinoor was "neither stolen nor forcibly taken away but was gifted" to the British East India Company by Maharaja Duleep Singh, who was aged only nine at that time.
"To say that the Kohinoor was neither stolen nor forcibly taken away by the British but was given as a present by Maharaja Duleep Singh to the East India Company is a gross misrepresentation of historical facts. This stand seems to support the deceitful ways and means of the British," Makkar said in the statement.
The SGPC said the Kohinoor was taken away through "deceitful means" by the British from a young Maharaja Duleep Singh, who was the last Sikh ruler of Punjab.
Makkar demanded that the ministry of culture, which put the Centre's stand before the Supreme Court, should review its stand on the issue.
"Even if the maharaja himself parted with the diamond, we cannot ignore the ways and means the British must have employed to secure it," he said, adding that not only the Kohinoor but other priceless treasures belonging to the Sikhs - like the Peacock throne - were taken away from Lahore after the fall of Maharaja Ranjit Singh's empire.
The Centre's stand on the matter was conveyed to a bench of Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit in response to a public interest litigation by an NGO, All India Human Rights and Social Justice Forum, seeking directions to the government to make efforts for getting the diamond back to India.
The court, while giving the government six more weeks, said that if it accepted the government position and dismissed the PIL, all future avenues for staking any legitimate claim over the diamond will be shut.
The apex court gave the time as Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar told it that the stand was that of the ministry of culture but the "ministry of external affairs is also a party but their response is yet to come".
The 108-carat diamond was presented to the then British monarch, Queen Victoria, in 1850 after the Anglo-Sikh wars, in which the Britain gained control over the Sikh empire in the then undivided Punjab.
The Kohinoor diamond, kept under tight security at the Tower of London, is claimed by India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.