Comment: If we want India on our side after Brexit, we must face up to the mixed history of our Empire

Comment: If we want India on our side after Brexit, we must face up to the mixed history of our Empire

In July 1854, Queen Victoria found herself faced with a conundrum. The Koh-i-Noor diamond had been presented to her four years earlier by the Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie, who had seized it from the Sikh Maharajah Duleep Singh at the British conquest of the Punjab. Now, however, Duleep Singh was her guest at Osborne.

Characteristically, the Queen decided firmly to grab the nettle: “Maharajah,” she said one afternoon, “I have something to show you.” Duleep Singh moved towards her, not knowing what to expect. The Queen took the jewel from its box and dropped it into his hand.

The Maharajah held up the diamond to the sunlight. “For all his air of polite interest and curiosity,” wrote one observer, “there was a passion of repressed emotion in his face … evident, I think, to Her Majesty, who watched him with sympathy not unmixed with anxiety.”

The Maharaja Dalip Singh The Maharaja Dalip Singh Credit: Winterhalter, Franz Xaver 

The awkwardness in the room grew.

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