Remembering Lala Lajpat Rai: The Lion of Punjab on his birth anniversary-Puri
Jaswant Singh Puri/ January 28,2023
Popularly known as ‘Punjab Kesari’, Lala Lajpat Rai was a versatile personality – politician, social worker, author, journalist and parliamentarian. He was born on 28 January, 1865 to Munshi Radha Krishan Agarwal and Gulab Devi Agarwal in Dhudhike village of Ludhiana district (at that time now it’s in Moga district) . His father was a teacher of Urdu and Persian and his mother was a very religious minded lady.
Lala Lajpat Rai was also known as ‘Punjab da Sher’ which literally means the ‘Lion of Punjab’. He was one of the three members of the ‘Lal Bal Pal’ triumvirate i.e. Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab, Bal Gangadhar Tilak of Maharashtra and Bipen Chandra Pal of Bengal. He spent much of his youth in Jagraon and his house in Jagraon still houses a library and museum. He also built the first educational institute known as R.K. High School in Jagraon.
Lala Lajpat Rai received his early education at the Government Higher Secondary School in Rewari, Punjab Province where his father was employed as an Urdu teacher. He got his law education from Government College, Lahore where he met future freedom fighters like Lala Hans Raj and Pandit Guru Dutt. He was influenced and inspired by Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s Hindu Reformist Movement in Lahore and entered the Arya Samaj Movement. He became the founding editor of the Arya Gazette in Lahore. He moved to Hisar in 1886 where Lajpat Rai and Babu Churamani were the founder members of the Hisar Bar Council.
Lajpat Rai had developed a strong impulse and instinct in 1886 to free India from foreign rule and established the Branch of the Indian National Congress in Hisar District. He attended the annual session of the Congress in Allahabad in 1888 and 1889 along with Babu Churamani, Lala Chhabil Das and Seth Gauri Shankar. He relocated to Lahore in 1892 for practice in law at Lahore High Court. Being strongly interested in journalism, he contributed to many reputed newspapers. He supported Mahatma Hans Raj in founding Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School at Lahore in 1886.
Lajpat Rai was baptised in the cult of Arya Smaj in 1882. He was appointed Secretary of Arya Smaj at Rohtak and he made it one of the most distinguished centers of Arya Smaj activities. His efforts founded Arya Smaj as a practical social service organisation. During famines, he devoted his energies to relief work. He was an energetic social worker and a philanthropist. He served the people tirelessly during the famines of 1896, 1899-1900 and the earthquake victims in Kangra in 1905.
He worked for the abolition of untouchability and devoted selfless services to ‘Harijan Sewak Sangh’ organisation of Mahatma Gandhi. He did a lot for the depressed classes. He imparted special attention for the amelioration of Hindu Society in general and untouchables in particular. He planned schemes to set up orphanages for destitute children for which he won appreciation from the authorities.
Being a well-versed educationist, Lala Ji devoted a lot of time and energy for the cause of education. Education programmes of Arya Smaj and DAV College proved to be the focus of his educational activities. He had a deep association with DAV College. Lala Ji was of the view that education carried utmost importance since our future relies on it. He was of the view that the objective of education was progress and its test was the growth of freedom.
Lajpat Rai was a well-knit writer of eminence and wrote biographical books on Mazzini, Garibaldi, Shivaji and Swami Dayanand. Indian National Congress Committee in 1905 found in him a loyal and selfless worker devoted to the country and its cause. He was selected as one of the delegates to place political grievances of the Indian people before the Britishers. He along with Gopal Krishna Gokhale brought to the mind of the Britishers in various parts of England about the evils of the Government in India. He espoused the cause of ‘the half starving and half-dying people of India’. He visited USA also where he personally analysed the working of many educational institutions.
Lajpat Rai’s ideal was deep rooted Indian nationalism for which he suffered and laid down his life. He suffused a new meaning to the Nationalist Movement. He very strongly opposed the hard measures adopted by the Government to suppress the agitation in Bengal. It was Lajpat Rai and the Nationalists who visualized ‘Swaraj’ as India’s birth right. Lala Lajpat Rai put his heart and soul in ‘Swadeshi Movement’. He came to be regarded as a ‘revolutionary’ by the British and the ‘Anglo Indian Press’. He was against the Punjab Colonisation Act and increase of the irrigation rates. His exposition of the misdeeds of the British Government frightened it so much that he was arrested and put in Mandalay Fort.
Lala Lajpat Rai visited England and USA in April, 1914 where he exposed the false propaganda of the British Government against the Nationalist Movement. There was a need to enlighten the Americans about the autocratic manner of the British Government. The British Government thought Lalaji to be dangerous when he was away to England and USA. So his entry to India was barred and he remained in political exile for five years. Even then he worked passionately for the freedom of India from the foreign land. He started the ‘Indian Home Rule League of America’ with its headquarters at Broadway, New York when in 1916, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mrs. Annie Besant started the Home Rule Movement in India. Annie Besant was a champion of human freedom and an ardent supporter of Indian self-rule. She was an educationist and her contributions included being one of the founders of Benaras Hindu University. Her goal was to provide employment, better living conditions and education. In 1922, she helped to establish the Hyderabad (Sind) National Collegiate Board in Bombay. She also became involved in politics in India and joined the Indian National Congress.
Lajpat Rai came back to India in 1920 and established a school for politics known as Tilak School of Politics. The practical training was to be imparted by the Tilak School of Politics on the model of the Servants of India Society, Poona which had done commendable work in the realm of politics, social welfare, Harijan uplift, education, rural construction etc. It imparted a force to great personalities like Lal Bahadur Shastri, Shri Balwant Rai Mehta and Shri Purushottam Das Tandon. Lajpat Rai’s society was a rich treasure of action-spirited personalities of initiative and energy.
It was under Lajpat Rai’s leadership as President of All India Congress Committee that it adopted the resolution of Non-cooperation with the British Government after the Jallianwala Bagh Tragedy. After withdrawal of the Non-cooperation Movement, Lajpat Rai joined ‘Swarajya Party’ founded by CR Das and Motilal Nehru.
Simon Commission was appointed in 1927 but it was opposed strongly by Indians. The Indian National Congress passed a resolution for its boycott. Lala Lajpat Rai led the procession to show resentment against the Simon Commission despite imposition of Section 144. While leading the Boycott Procession at Lahore on 30 October, 1928, he received lathi blows on his chest which brought about his death on 17 November, 1928. What he said about this incident became prophetic:
“Every blow aimed at me is a nail in the coffin of British imperialism. I do not know whether I shall remain but you should never worry. My spirit after me will go on exhorting you to make more sacrifices for liberty”.
Mahatma Gandhi paid a glowing tribute to Lala Lajpat Rai:
“Lalaji means an institution. His patriotism was no narrow creed—his activities were multifarious. It is impossible to think of a single public movement in which Lalaji was not to be found.”
Lalaji was not merely an outstanding politician but also an able writer. He wrote outstanding books about Shivaji, Sri Krishna and Dayanand Saraswati. While in America, he wrote two books: ‘Arya Smaj’ and ‘England’s Debt to India’. His organizing ability and speeches were inspiring.
Note: This article is dedicated to Smt. Alka Puri, M.A. (Hindi, B.Ed.). She was the Secretary, Ladies Club, Punjabi University, Patiala during the tenure of Vice-Chancellor Dr. S.S. Johal who was awarded with prestigious Padma Bhushan Award in 2004. Smt. Alka Puri was the devoted wife of Dr. Ajit Singh Puri and affectionate mother of Journalist Jaswant Singh Puri.
(The views expressed are personal)