Visit of French Ambassador to Chandigarh
Ambassador Ziegler visits Chandigarh for the presentation ceremony of the bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, offered by the State of Punjab to Ville de St-Tropez, native town of General Allard, who served as a military advisor of the Maharaja in the 19th century.
Chandigarh, 12 July 2016
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Honourable Chief Minister,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I have undertaken my maiden trip to Chandigarh as the Ambassador of France to India. I am especially delighted that it has taken place at your invitation on an occasion whose significance I fully appreciate, as it celebrates the history of Indo-French relations in its most beautiful, most personal and most sentimental aspects. It is hence with deep gratitude that, on behalf of France, I accept the magnificent gift that you are presenting us. Because, beyond the remarkable bust itself, which will be a testament to the special relations that unite St-Tropez and Punjab – and through this our two countries – you offer us your friendship, which is the most precious of all.
But let’s get back to history, because this exceptional relationship was founded on it. I would like to recapitulate this history very briefly for those who may not remember it very well. It all began in 1785, in a little village in the south of France, St-Tropez, with the birth of Jean-François Allard. It was in 1803, at the age of 18, that he embarked on a glorious military career in Napoleon’s army, whom he would serve so valiantly that he would receive the Legion of Honour from no less than the hands of the emperor himself.
But after Napoleon’s abdication in 1815, Allard, who was a fervent Bonapartist, found himself under house arrest in St-Tropez at the age of 30, after 12 years of outstanding military service. Three years later, he was granted furlough to visit one of his uncles in Italy. This uncle sent him to Aleppo to recover a debt, and introduced him to Abbas Mirza, crown prince of Persia. For some time he served Abbas Mirza, who later had to send him away at the behest of the British. Allard then set off for Kabul with his fellow countryman, Ventura. In the course of this journey, Allard and Ventura met Maharaja Ranjit Singh for the first time in March 1822. At the time the maharaja was fighting for his kingdom’s independence against the invasion of the British. From this providential meeting between Allard and Maharaja Ranjit Singh was born an exceptional cooperation and a lasting friendship, which has been perpetuated through generations, all the way down to us.
For Ranjit Singh, Allard had the advantage of being neither Sikh, nor Hindu, nor Muslim. He could therefore command soldiers from these communities with complete neutrality. To begin with, Ranjit Singh entrusted him with the training of 5000 men, then 20,000 men, and then 40,000 men. This army was modelled on Napoleon’s French army, including the uniforms. The British army never managed to defeat them while General Allard and Maharaja Ranjit Singh were alive. Incidentally, both of them died in 1839.
General Allard married a young princess from Punjab, Bannu Pan Deï, who bore him seven children. In 1835, Allard went to France to solicit help from King Louis-Philippe to fight the British. He would return to Punjab in 1837 with arms and ammunition as well as plans for making firearms. So you see, he actually was a precursor of Indo-French military cooperation and transfer of armament technology!
During his trip back to France, Allard wished to settle his family in St-Tropez, which is where his wife eventually passed away and where her remains lie buried. But General Allard himself breathed his last in the service of a country he had come to call his own, and he was buried in Punjab. During the ceremony for installing the bust of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in St-Tropez on 17 September, a bust of Bannu Pan Deï – gifted by the Allard family and the Community of Sikhs in Europe – will also be placed alongside the existing one of her husband and the one that you are presenting us today. I urge you all to visit St-Tropez for the inauguration ceremony and, of course, to explore the famed attractions of the French Riviera.
The September event in St-Tropez will also come under the umbrella of the “Namasté France” festival being organized all over France by the Embassy of India from September to November. This will be followed by the “Bonjour India” festival that we will be holding here, in India. These two initiatives fulfil a necessity: that of underscoring the ties of friendship between France and India that have flourished through the decades, and encouraging exchanges and cooperation between our two nations. Through its illustrious child, Jean-François Allard, Saint-Tropez has fulfilled this ambition. Apart from the inauguration of the busts, the festival of India in Saint-Tropez will also include conferences and a historical exhibition on France-Punjab relations.
If all this is happening today, if the Indo-French friendship is so robust today, it is especially through the example of this historical hero, who forged such enduring bonds. I would therefore like to thank you once again, Honourable Chief Minister, for making these ties come alive again and for strengthening them with this wonderful gesture of friendship.