The tragic story of Kohinoor
By Dr A.N. Bannerjee Ph.D. (Criminal Justice)
The history of the Kohinoor diamond is shrouded in mystery. Opinions are divided about its origin and subsequent history. Some say that this diamond was found in the diamond mines of Panna in Madhya Pradesh. Others claim that it was found in the Deccan and was in the possession of the King of Vijaynagar. Later on it came in the possession of the Sultan of Golconda. Aurangzeb captured Golconda in 1687 AD. Along with the spoils of war Aurangzeb seized the Kohinoor diamond as his lawful booty.
We again hear of the Kohinoor diamond, when Nadir Shah invaded India in 1739 AD. Along with the Peacock Throne he is said to have carried away the Kohinoor diamond to Persia. Till the rise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, there is no mention of the Kohinoor diamond. Sometime in 1830, Shah Shuja, the deposed ruler of Afghanistan, managed to flee with the Kohinoor diamond. He came to Lahore, the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and fell at his feet. He begged the assistance of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to win back the throne of Afghanistan.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh told Shah Shuja to first surrender the Kohinoor diamond and then only to negotiate further. Shah Shuja refused to part with the Kohinoor diamond, so Maharaja Ranjit Singh hit him with a shoe. Even then Shah Shuja refused to surrender the diamond. Maharaja Ranjit Singh again hit him with a shoe. Shah Shuja realised that Maharaja Ranjit Singh would not spare him. So, he finally handed over the diamond to Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
In return, Maharaja Ranjit Singh agreed to persuade the East India Company to lend their troops and win back the Afghan throne for Shah Shuja. Maharaja Ranjit Singh would not participate in the war but would allow transit facility to the Company'stroops. Thus was born the concept of the tripartite alliance between Shah Shuja, the Company and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The Kohinoor diamond blinked in the background.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh further proposed that he and the Company would seize Sind and partition it between the two of them. Lord William Benetick met Maharaja Ranjit Singh at the border town of Ferozepur, on the banks of the Sutlej. Further negotiations followed. During the negotiations, Lord William Benetick desired to see the Kohinoor diamond. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a generous host, readily obliged. Lord William Benetick then enquired as to what would be its price. Maharaja Ranjit Singh said that its price could not be paid in money. None of the long line of its owners ever paid for it in money. Its price was teen jutiyan. In plain language it meant that anyone who had the muscle power to hit the owner thrice with a shoe would be the undisputed master of the Kohinoor diamond. At this stage, the negotiations failed. Lord William Benetick returned to Calcutta, empty handed but with the lingering ambition of getting the Kohinoor diamond, for the British monarch. Shah Shuja was left in the lurch. He was of no further use to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Maharaja Ranjit Singh was also eager to get rid of his unwelcome guest as swiftly as possible. So he shoved Shah Shuja on to British territory across the Sutlej. Shah Shuja went to Calcutta and remained under the Company'sprotection.
Lord Auckland, the successor of Lord William Benetick, renewed the negotiations. This time Maharaja Ranjit Singh refused even to give transit facility. He only promised to remain neutral. The Company, therefore, decided to invade Afghanistan through Sind. At that time, Sind was an independent kingdom, therefore the transit of the Company'stroops through Sind was a gross violation of International Law. Not only did the Company'stroops cross into Afghanistan through Sind but also after a brief war with the Amirs of Sind, the Company annexed Sind in 1843.
The First Afghan War began in 1838. In 1839 Maharaja Ranjit Singh died. The Company was defeated in Afghanistan and retreated. Its only gain was that it annexed Sind.
The Company also did not forget the Kohinoor diamond. The death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was followed by the First and Second Sikh Wars (1845 and 1848), the capture of the Kohinoor and the annexation of the Punjab. The Kohinoor is now embedded in the crown of the British monarch.