Prince Charles: "I'll Help Repatriate Indian Booty"

The-Latest  -  EXCLUSIVE 

Milo Wakelin

Kohinoor Diamond
Britain's heir to the throne Prince Charles was at the centre of an international row in April over Indian treasures – including the world famous Kohinoor diamond (pictured atop Queen Elizabeth's crown). Charles plunged into political controversy when it was claimed he said he would "use his influence" to get the precious objects returned. The Prince of Wales, currently on a tour of India, is widely reported to have assured Indian religious leaders he would give them "all possible help" in repartriating the priceless gem, as well as other plundered historical artefacts.

These included weapons belonging to the last of the Sikh Gurus (religious leaders) and a royal Maharaja's throne, which are currently held by British museums, according to The Tribune, an English-language Indian daily.

A British Museum spokesperson said that Prince Charles had no authority to demand the return of items from its collections, pointing out that they are owned by the public. She said: "The Museum is governed by an Act of Parliament. Prince Charles' current status would not be enough to make a difference. I am slightly unsure if we even hold the objects in question."

The throne of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the last Sikh king, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. But the British Museum spokesperson said: "We are not aware of any weapons of G G Singh in the UK, unless they are at Windsor Castle itself as certain other important Indian swords are. Another possibility is the Royal Armouries in Leeds."

Controversy in India flared after Prince Charles met officials from the Shiromani Gurdwara Pardandhak Committee (SGPC), a leading Sikh religious organisation. "Now when the Prince has assured us of all possible help to get back the historical articles, I will send him all details of these," SGPC President Avtar Singh told reporters.

The Tribune's story was backed up by reports published in leading Indian papers, including The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, the Amar Ujala, and The Ajit.

However, an official spokesperson for Prince Charles in London was anxious to distance him from the controversy, insisting that: "The matter was not discussed."

This was the second time in a week that the Prince was accused of sticking his nose into the British Museum's affairs, after it emerged he had pestered its director, Neil MacGreagor, to reorganise the display of Greek Orthodox icons. Yesterday, the museum was anxiously trying to establish whether or not the Indian treasures were still among its collections.

Many of Guru Gobind Singh's weapons were returned to India in 1966. As for the 'Mountain of Light' Kohinoor diamond, the world's largest cut diamond, the Prince may want to look closer to home: it is owned by his mother The Queen, as part of her famed Crown Jewels.

Prince Charles'  father, The Duke of Edinburgh, infamously sparked controversy when he described a tangled fusebox as looking "as if it was put in by an Indian".

Today, it seems that it is the heir to the throne who has got his wires crossed.