Lala Lajpat Rai (1856-1928): Sher E Punjab: The Revolutionary Series (Part 2)

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Lala Lajpat Rai better known as Sher e Punjab (Lion of Punjab) was one of the most influential and prominent revolutionaries of Modern India. He was a lawyer, social reformer, and staunch nationalist who lived and worked for the betterment of his motherland and died for its freedom.

Lala Lajpat Rai
Image of Lala Lajpat Rai: The Lion of Punjab

He was the contemporary of other nationalists and revolutionaries like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo Ghosh, Bipin Chandra Pal, etc. Through his aggressive and militant campaigns, he relentlessly led mass agitations against the oppressive policies of the Raj whether violence or nonviolence Lala Lajpat Rai took part in every possible struggle against the British authorities in order to attain Swaraj.  

He took part in almost all the national movements which were directed against the tyranny of the Raj. Prominent movements were the Swadeshi movement, Noncooperation movement, Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Simon Commission, etc.

Early Life

Lala Lajpat Rai was born in 1865 in the Moga district of Punjab. His father was a government school teacher and was a master of Persian and Urdu languages.

He pursued his initial education at a government higher secondary school in Punjab. Later he took admitted to a law college at Government College in Lahore which proved to be a turning point in his life.

It was from this college where Lala Lajpat Rai came in contact with prominent freedom fighters like Pandit Guru Dutt, Lala Hansraj, etc.

Political Activities and Organizations: Rise of Lala Lajpat Rai

Initially, he joined Indian National Congress and took part in their annual sessions of 1888 and 1889. He also laid the foundation of the Punjab branch of the Indian National Congress.    

During this time the emergence of Arya Samaj was in full bloom. Due to this many youngsters got inspired by their activities and Lala Lajpat Rai was also one of them.

In the year 1886 inspired by the thoughts of Arya Samaj and its leader Dayanand Saraswati Lala Lajpat Rai aided in the establishment of Dayanand Anglo Vedic School (DAV) at Lahore.

Apart from this, he was also inspired by the famous Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini.

He soon developed resentment against the moderate leaders of the Indian National Congress. While the moderates followed the path of prayer, petitions, and protest the extremist leaders like Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, and Lala Lajpat Rai advocated the path of self-sacrifice, strong will, and self-reliance.

He along with Tilak and Bipin Chandra led the great Swadeshi movement against the partition of Bengal. The movement focused on the goals of Swaraj and boycotted British products.

Due to his growing popularity among the Indian masses, aggressive activities, and participation in anti-British movements, the government imprisoned him in the year 1907 and sent him to Mandalay jail without trial. However, due to insufficient evidence, he was later released in the same year.

Later he decided to take India’s freedom struggle in a foreign land and tried to bring out the hidden conditions and sufferings of the Indians under the British Raj to the world. For this purpose, he left for London in the year 1914 and later moved to the US and continued his struggle from there.

Lala Lajpat Rai
Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Bipin chandra pal
Image of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Bipin Chandra Pal better known as Lal Bal Pal.

He founded the India Home Rule League of America in 1917 and also wrote a book titled Young India which shed light on the freedom movement during the first half of the 20th century.

After his return in 1920, he took part in various national movements. In Punjab, he led the agitation against the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the infamous Rowlatt Act.

He also took part in the famous Non-Cooperation Movement which Mahatma Gandhi led in 1920. However, he got disappointed when the movement got suspended due to the Chauri Chaura incident, and due to this, he founded Congress Independence Party with a Hindu ideology.

He also founded Hindu Orphan Relief Movement in 1897 in order to prevent the rise of Christian missionaries. He also worked closely with Hindu Mahasabha.

In Lahore, he founded Quami Vidyapeeth and Servants of the People Society a social welfare organization in 1921.   

He also started weeklies like The Regenerator of Aryavarta (1883), The Panjabee (1904), The People (1925), Deshopkarak (1883), Bande Mataram: an urdu weeklie in 1920.

He is also responsible for the establishment of Punjab National Bank at Lahore in 1894 and he himself opened the first account in it. For the benefit of the Indian traders, he laid the foundation of Lakshmi Insurance Company to support the exports of Indian traders.

Simon Commission and Martyrdom

In 1928 when the British appointed the Indian Statutory Commission better known as the Simon Commission for further constitutional development for the Indians.

However, the problem with this commission was that all the members were British and there was no Indian member in the commission.

Lala Lajpat Rai
Protest Against Simon Commission

Due to this the national leaders and Indian National Congress decided to boycott the Simon Commission. When the Simon Commission arrived in Bombay on 3-Feb-1928 it was greeted with black flags with the slogan Simon go back.

The protest against Simon Commission was strongest in Punjab and the British followed the policy of brutal suppression. Lala Lajpat Rai was leading the protest in Lahore when James Scott the superintendent of Police ordered a lathi charge in which the former got seriously injured.

Even though injured the Lion of Punjab dirt surrendered and said The blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffins of the British Rule in India”.

Due to the injuries, Lala Lajpat Rai attained martyrdom on 17 November 1928 just a few days after this incident.

The death of Lala Lajpat Rai suddenly generated a great sense of hatred towards the British Raj. Young revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, and Sukhdev decided to assassinate James Scott.

Bhagat Singh's story: the other side - The Friday Times - Naya Daur

On 17 December 1928 Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and C.S.Azad killed John Saunders in place of James Scott. This assassination of Saunders was seen as revenge for the death of the great Lala Lajpat Rai.

A subject people have no soul, just as a slave can have none.. A man without a soul is a mere animal. A nation without a soul is only a dumb driven cattle. Swaraj is the first requisite for a nation and reforms or good government could be no substitute for it.

                             Lala Lajpat Rai


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