Cameron rules out returning Kohinoor diamond to India

Last Updated: Thu, Feb 21, 2013 13:41 hrs

Amritsar: The British PM David Cameron says the Kohinoor diamond, which Britain forced India to handover in the colonial era, will not be returned.

Cameron ruled out handing back the 105-carat diamond during a speech on the third and final day of his visit to India, the Daily Mail reported.

The diamond is set in the late Queen's crown and is on display with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

"The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do, which is to link up with other institutions around the world to make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world," he was quoted as saying, adding: "I certainly don't believe in 'returnism', as it were. I don't think that's sensible."

The Kohinoor is one of the world's largest diamonds and some Indians - including Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Tushar Gandhi - have demanded its return to India.

Cameron said: 'I don't think that's the right approach.'

'It is the same question with the Elgin Marbles,' he said, referring to the classical Greek marble sculptures that Greece has long demanded be given back.

Cameron's statement comes after his visit to Amritsar yesterday where he stopped short of apologising for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. His approach was praised by many but not everyone is satisfied with Cameron's regret for the event and calling it "shameful".

While Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal called the trip a "historic day", Cameron is being targeted by relatives of those killed by the British Indian Army for not offering a clear apology.

Badal welcomed Cameron's expression of regret over the April 13, 1919 massacre.

Badal said: "The country, especially Punjab, had been waiting for such an apology. The visit ... to Jallianwala Bagh itself (said) a lot."

But families of the victims of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre said Cameron should have formally apologized.

"What he has said is his personal statement. There is no official apology

from the British government," said Sunil Kapoor, president of the Jallianwala Bagh Freedom Fighters Foundation whose great grandfather Vasu Lal Kapoor was among those killed in 1919.

He and others complained that the authorities did not let them meet Cameron.

"Since morning police were deployed outside our homes," said Jallianwala Bagh Shaheed Samiti president Bhushan Behl, whose grandfather, Shadi Lal, too was killed in 1919.

"It is routine for people to call it (massacre) a shameful act. The British government must apologize officially."

Cameron became the first prime minister of Britain to step into the

Jallianwala Bagh memorial. He took off his shoes before placing a wreath at the memorial.

"This was a deeply shameful act in British history. One that Winston Churchill rightly described as monstrous. We must never forget what happened here and we must ensure that the UK stands up for the right of peaceful protests," Cameron wrote in the visitors' book.

Cameron signed as "Prime Minister David Cameron".

Hundreds of innocent and unarmed men, women and children were massacred at the Jallianwala Bagh by British forces led by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer.

The victims had no place to escape as the only narrow entrance was blocked by troops.

Colonial era records had put the death toll at around 400 while leaders of the country's freedom movement placed it at over 1,000.

On Wednesday, Cameron walked through the same narrow pathway, painted in pale saffron colour, to bow his head and pay homage to those killed inside.

Queen Elizabeth had visited the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in 1997.

S.K. Mukherjee, whose great-grandfather S.C. Mukherjee was among those killed, said he was satisfied with the prime minister's visit and expression of regret.

Mukherjee, whose family has been associated with the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust, accompanied Cameron during the visit on Wednesday.

Cameron was the first British prime minister to make a gesture of condolence at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology for his country's actions 94 years earlier.

"This is a deeply shameful event in British history — one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as 'monstrous,'" Cameron wrote in the visitors' book at the site. "We must never forget what happened here. And in remembering we must realize that the United Kingdom stands for the right of peaceful protest around the world."

He later defended his decision not to say sorry, explaining that it had happened 40 years before he was born and it thought it was not "the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things you can apologize for".

"I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened," Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying.

Queen Elizabeth II visited the same site in 1997 and laid a wreath there. She called the killings "distressing."

Cameron's visit to Amritsar came at the end of his trip to India. The trip was aimed at boosting trade and investment between the two countries in the areas of energy, infrastructure, insurance, banking and retail.

Earlier, some organisations had pressed for an apology from the British Premier during his visit to the site.

Cameron paid floral tributes to the martyrs of Jallianwalla Bagh. He also stood for a few seconds before the Amar Joyti (burning flame) at Jallianwalla Bagh where he bowed his head to show respect to the martyrs. He spent nearly 25 minutes in the park.

Indian media was kept at a distance during the visit of Cameron. Only photojournalists were allowed to click from a distance distance.

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre had taken place in Amritsar on 13 April, 1919. On hearing that a meeting of 15,000 to 20,000 people was taking place at Jallianwala Bagh, Brigadier General Reginald E H Dyer had ordered 50 riflemen to shoot at the crowd.

Dyer kept the firing for about ten minutes, till the ammunition supply was almost exhausted with approximately 1,650 rounds fired that resulted in the killing of more than 1000 innocent Indians besides leaving more than 1100 injured.

Earlier, Cameron paid obeisance at the Golden Temple where he was presented a robe of honour.

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