US returns what was India's: Does getting back 200 stolen artefacts strengthen Indo-US ties?

The United States on Tuesday returned over 200 stolen artefacts, estimated at $100 million, in a repatriation ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Lynch declared that “more than 200 antiquities and cultural artefacts that speak to India’s astounding history and beautiful culture are beginning their journey home.” She hoped that it would serve as a sign of America’s great respect for the Indian culture and appreciation of the ties between both the nations.

The repatriation is a response to a major federal investigation against Subhash Kapoor, who is accused of smuggling the statues into the US.  The CNN had reported that the US launched ‘Operation Hidden Idol’  after Homeland Security special agents received a tip about a shipment of seven crates destined for the United States and labeled as "marble garden table sets.” The investigation, which began in 2012, led to the arrest of six people and the recovery of artefacts of over $100 million.

 US returns what was Indias: Does getting back 200 stolen artefacts strengthen Indo-US ties?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Twitter @MEAIndia

Among the pieces returned is a statue of Saint Manikkavichavakar, a Hindu mystic and poet from the Chola period (circa 850 AD to 1250 AD) stolen from the Sivan Temple in Chennai.

In April 2015, museums in Hawaii and Massachusetts handed federal officials eight items bought from Kapoor’s defunct business, Art of the Past, reported The New York Times. In October, the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio also returned a $ 245,000 statue.

There are still a number of artefacts which were stolen from India and are held by other countries. The head of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) told The Independent that the list of India’s treasures held abroad was "too long to handle."

However, in the recent years, a trend of returning lost symbols of Indian culture has begun among different nations.

For instance, in 2014 Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot carried with him two antique statues which were stolen from temples in Tamil Nadu. They were returned after India sent a formal request to Australia. Abbot too termed the gesture as a testimony with which “Australia views its relationship with India,” reported NDTV.

In October 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel returned a 10th century Durga idol which had gone missing from a temple in Kashmir over two decades back, reported The Indian Express.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper too returned to India a 900-year-old piece of sculpture from Khajuraho temple, which had somehow reached Canada in April 2015.

Getting stolen artefacts and pieces back has been an integral part of India’s diplomatic outreach in the recent years. There still remains a number of pieces which have not been returned. The most controversial among these is the Kohinoor diamond.

The debate around the Kohinoor diamond once again gained momentum with Modi’s visit to the United Kingdom in November 2015. The BJP claimed that the Narendra Modi dispensation has revised the stand of previous governments on the issue and will make all efforts to bring it back from the UK. It further accused the Congress of never making an effort to bring the Kohinoor back.

PM Modi claims that people are attracted to India because of its ancient civilisation.

The question that arises is, what is the significance of the repatriation years after the artefacts and art pieces were looted and taken away? Modi during a ceremony at the Blair House on Monday, “For some, these artefacts may be measured in monetary terms but for us this is beyond that. It’s a part of our culture and heritage.” It remains to be seen if the other nations respond in the same way.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Jun 08, 2016 17:55:14 IST

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