The King and His General

by Navneet Mendiratta
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Vikram Sahney at the launch of the book

Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s bust to be placed next to that of his French General in Saint Tropez in September this year.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh was a great visionary. He also had one of the finest armies any Indian king had ever formed and led in several thousand years. His Fauj-e-Khas was an exemplary force equipped with advances techniques of warfare. And heading that army was a French General, Jean Francois Allard.
Committed to his king as the general was, he laid down his life fighting the British and now almost two centuries down the line, his lineal descendent, Henri Prevost Allard, is here in India to receive the bust of the great king from the Government of Punjab and take it back with him to Saint-Tropez in France, where it would be placed next to that of his General, in September. The bust is a gift from the Government of Punjab.
General Jean Francois Allard was a military officer who led Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army from 1822 to 1839.  “General Allard was fugitive Frenchman who had served in Napoleon’s army before political changes took over in France. He modeled Ranjit Singh’s Army Fauj-e-khas on the lines of that of the Napolean, taught them to build a canon and led from the front,” Allard shared. He soon won over Maharaja, who planned a marriage for him with a Princess from Chamba, Bannu Pan Devi, so he did not have to return.
The general kept his promise and died fighting for his king in India, but not before he had settled his wife and
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children back in France. “The prevalent practice of Sati put the fear in him that his wife would meet a similar fate in the event of his death in a war. So he took her and his children back to his native village in France, called Saint-Tropez. However, he returned soon after to be with his king and died fighting for him. He was buried in Lahore,” he said.
Now, as part of the ongoing cultural exchange effort, this little French village is gearing up to pay a befitting tribute to the legendary king by installing his bust next to that of his General. A bust of Bannu Pan Devi would also be unveiled during the grand ceremony scheduled to be held on September 17. This bust is a contribution from the Allard family. Several other events, including an exhibition and a conference have also been planned around the event.
A historian and writer himself, Allard is a Deputy Mayor for Tourism of Saint Tropez. He published a novel on his ancestor called ‘Le Generalissime’, in which he has paid glowing tributes to Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his legacy. He shared: “Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s bust is also made in bronze (the metal in which General Allard’s bust has been crafted) and is approximately 80 cm in height. It will be set up on the same type of plinth as that on which General Allard is displayed.” The bust has been sculpted by Prabhat Rai, a sculpture from Madhya Pradesh, as commissioned by the Government of Punjab. Bannu Pan Devi’s bust has been sculpted by a sculpture in Venice, Italy.

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