Recently, Venktesh Shukla (founder and managing partner of an Indian investment company Monta Vista Capital) started a petition demanding the British return the Koh-i-Noor diamond to India.
It reads: 'The British should return the Kohinoor diamond to India now. Every time the crown appears with Kohinoor as the jewel of the crown, it reminds the world of Britain's colonial past and the shameful way they got a five-year-old prince to "gift" it to Britain. The UK is an honourable country and let us remind it that the honourable thing to do is to return such "loot" to its rightful owner.'
The LinkedIn post has since gone viral. Venktesh Shukla aims to get 1 million signatures.
Ever since the British monarch Queen Elizabeth II passed away on 8 September, people the world over have been reacting to the news on a spectrum, ranging from inconsolable grief to angry demands of the British monarchy's formal recognition of the atrocities it committed in the former colonies.
Be that as it may, most states, especially the commonwealth countries, acknowledged her passing by declaring a formal state of mourning. Bangladesh also observed three days of official mourning from September 9 to 11.
The parallel existence of love and hate for the British monarchy is indeed curious. While the gossip columns cannot stop talking about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's conduct during the formal ceremonies, the more serious academics have once again raised age-old questions of what is the point of the monarchy in the 21st century? Will King Charles III be able to hold the Commonwealth together?
These questions are of course still relevant.
As a Bangladeshi, one does wonder what it is that we benefit by being a member of the Commonwealth? After all, the Commonwealth is basically a consolation prize for Britain for losing its empire. What relevance at all does it have in the present world?
"The Commonwealth is nothing more than a traditional association, a nostalgic entity that evokes the memory of the British Raj. It has no convenience for post-colonial countries," said Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam, English and Humanities professor at ULAB and former professor of Dhaka University.
The United Kingdom is no longer in a place where it can help Commonwealth countries economically or politically, he points out.
The nostalgia, however, comes from all the institutions we inherited from the empire.
"There was a time when world literature and the English language came to this land through them. The University of Dhaka was built in the model of Oxford University," said Professor Manzoorul.
The UK may have lost some of its economic and political clout in the modern world, but its role as the motherland of the English language still allows it to exercise a lot of influence in the global cultural sphere.
"Writers from Bangladesh take part in the Commonwealth writer's prize. So the non-political aspects, the cultural associations, can be important for us to represent the country in the international space," said Professor Manzoorul. And then [there's] the Commonwealth games where we participate in.
He also emphasised that the new King Charles III is very vocal about the climate issue.
"Being a climate-vulnerable country, Bangladesh should be an agenda of the Commonwealth, [which] should be active on the climate, human rights and the Rohingya issue."
"Charles also advocates architectural preservation. So if we need architectural preservation, I think he will render help in this regard. It will depend on how we can carry our diplomacy forward. If Bangladesh can work with these goals in mind, it can definitely get some advantage from the association."
There was a time when the UK actively advocated democracy. Pakistan's membership of the Commonwealth was suspended twice during the military rule of Pervez Musharraf. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 after its election was marred by violence and intimidation. Nigeria was suspended when its military ruler executed the death sentence of Ken Saro Wiwa, a writer and a human rights activist, sentenced in a kangaroo court.
Professor Manzoorul said, "[The] UK doesn't have an active role in ensuring democracy. It has become very dormant."
He nonetheless thinks our association with the organisation could continue, albeit a dormant one.
"We don't need to cut off the relationship. A lot of people stay there still, [and] many Bangladeshis are aspiring to migrate there. We must think about them as well".
Former ambassador Humayun Kabir resonates with this, agreeing with the fact that although it's a dormant connection and there is not much benefit, there is no harm in having this relationship with such a prolific association, which will allow our voice to reach the international platform.
"In the present world, the world is moving towards groupings: QUAD, NATO, etc. This need for belonging to groups is increasing. This could be for economic, diplomatic, cultural or political benefit."
Not everyone however agrees that we should still stick around in the Commonwealth.
"The UK is no longer a big power. Our biggest market is the US and the EU. Now that Britain has left the EU, it's not a part of a big trading bloc anymore," said columnist and journalist Afsan Chowdhury.
"Even if you talk about the cultural aspects, Bangladeshi students prefer US universities over British ones."
On the other hand, Professor Shahab Enam Khan, international relations Professor at Jahangirnagar University, feels that the organisation is still very relevant for Bangladesh, especially for two reasons.
First of all, it is an international association of post-colonial countries which allows Bangladesh to promote its interests, both economic interests and the Rohingya issue.
"As we are carrying the burden, like-minded countries will always understand the pain and problem of the Rohingya crisis. Therefore this is also a platform for collective action against the persecution and genocide Myanmar is conducting."
And the second reason is an intrinsic resource linkage with the UK, as well 56 Commonwealth countries.
"The UK is still one of the major development partners of Bangladesh. So for us, it is a major partnership that benefits us," Professor Enam said.
According to the department of International Trade of the UK, trade between the UK and Bangladesh was £3.5 billion in the four quarters to the end of Q1 2022, an increase of 27.3% or £745 million from the four quarters to the end of Q1 2021.
Bangladesh was the UK's 48th largest trading partner in the four quarters to the end of Q1 2022, accounting for 0.3% of total UK trade.
Shahab Enam said, "The survival of any organisation depends more on mutual needs and understanding of the countries, not the King or the Queen. Whether the Commonwealth will survive or not is difficult to predict. But it is in the interest of all these decolonised countries to continue with the Commonwealth. At least, for us, for sure."
Let's circle back to the Koh-i-Noor.
If you visit the website of the British Museum, you will see hundreds of beautiful stones, figures, jewels, stunning pieces of Mughal era jewellery, thrones, dresses, paintings etc, that all belonged to the Indian subcontinent.
In 2000, Indian parliamentarians signed a letter to Britain calling for the Kohinoor to be given back. "Britain owes us," prominent Indian MP Shashi Tharoor said once. The campaign for the diamond's return gained momentum again in 2013 when then UK Prime Minister David Cameron visited India.
"Koh-i-Noor is more of a symbolic artefact, it has a certain charm or emotional background," Afsan Chowdhury said.
"The most fundamental point is that India recognises its inheritance from the British colony. The relationship with the Commonwealth is important for India, and from that perspective, it is demanding the diamond back."
"But for Bangladesh, the connection with colonial Britain is not that strong. The British colonisers were based in Kolkata, not in Dhaka."
"What they stole from us was the cheap labour of the people, our Muslin industry, our crops, the lives of the people. We have nothing to ask. Rather, what they can do is pay us more for the RMG they buy, or at most, they can send an apology note," Afsan said.
Humayun Kabir, however, said we should focus on future relationships with the country and the organisation, rather than fumbling with the past.