PM rejects 'returnism' of treasures
Published 21/02/2013 | 00:41
Following his visit to the site of the Amritsar massacre in India, Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected suggestions that Britain should now return the Koh-i-Noor diamond as a further mark of atonement for its imperial past.
The Prime Minister insisted that there was "an enormous amount" to be proud of in the British Empire, and said that the UK's historic links with India had a positive overall impact on the countries' modern-day relationship.
And he rejected the concept of "returnism", arguing that treasures such as the Elgin Marbles brought back to the UK during the imperial period should remain in British museums, while being made available to be "properly shared" with institutions abroad.
On Wednesday, Mr Cameron became the first serving PM to visit the site of the 1919 massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, bowing his head in honour of the hundreds of people killed when troops under British command fired into a crowd of protesters.
Writing in a book of condolence, he said the episode was "deeply shameful" and should never be forgotten. But he stopped short of apologising for an event which happened decades before his birth, saying that this would not be appropriate as the killings were condemned at the time by the UK authorities.
Asked later whether he would respond to Indian calls for the return of the Koh-i-Noor - the world's largest diamond and the centrepiece of the Queen's coronation crown - Mr Cameron said: "I don't think that's the right approach. It is the same question with the Elgin Marbles.
"The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do 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.
"I certainly don't believe in returnism, as it were. I don't think that's sensible."
Mr Cameron accepted that there were "bad events" in the history of the British Raj in India, but insisted that Indians themselves would argue that the Empire also did much that was good for the country. "I think there is an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British Empire did and was responsible for, but of course there were bad events as well as good events," the Prime Minister said.
"The bad events we should learn from and the good events we should celebrate. In terms of our relationship with India, is our past a help or a handicap? I would say that net, it is a help, because of the shared history, culture, the things we share and the contribution that Indians talk about that we have made. But obviously, where there are bad events we have to remember them and be clear about them and learn from them."