Home - Personalities - Lala Lajpat Rai
 Lala Lajpat Rai (1865 - 1928)
Lala Lajpat Rai, popularly known as "Punjab Kesari", was born on January 28, 1865 in Jagraon tehsil of the Ludhiana district, Punjab, in a Hindu Aggarwal family. His mother, Gulab Devi, came from a Sikh family. Lajpat Rai's family was far from affluent.

Lajpat Rai's interest in politics was aroused by his father who in his early life was a great admirer of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan but whom he condemned later for his anti-Congress tirade.
Lajpat Rai too had shared his father's admiration for Sir Syed Ahmed Khan but from 1888 began to criticize in his writings the anti-Congress activities of Sir Syed. Lajpat Rai's father was well-versed in Urdu and Persian, had great respect for Islam, fasted and prayed like a Muslim, but did not embrace Islam largely due to his wife's attachment to the Hindu and Sikh faiths. The Arya Samaj movement, a vital force in the Punjab in the later 19th and early 20th century, had a tremendous appeal for Lajpat Rai (he had met Swami Dayanand at fourteen), who came under its influence from his student days. It was his attachment to the Arya Samaj which led his father also to veer round to Hinduism.

Lajpat Rai's political activity began from 1885 when he joined the Congress session at Allahabad. In the early part of his political career, his interest was confined to social and educational reforms, but his views on politics changed radically as a result of the hasty and ill-conceived measures thrust on the country by Lord Curzon. He organised big meetings in the Punjab, travelled widely, raised funds for the national cause and exposed the poverty of the people and its causes. He brought out in his writings and speeches lurid comparisons between the economic conditions in India and those in the Western countries, and attacked the economic exploitation by the British as oppressive.

In August-September 1905 Lajpat Rai and Gopal Krishna Gokhale went to England as delegates of the Congress to educate British public opinion on the Indian situation. They won the support of the Labour, Democratic and Socialist parties. At the Benares Congress in December 1905, Lajpat Rai seconded a resolution on the boycott of English cloth in a forceful speech. In 1907 he organised. and led a massive agrarian movement in Punjab, for which he was deported, along with Ajit Singh to Burma under Regulation III of 1818.

During his confinement in Burma, he prepared copious notes which he used later for quotations in his speeches and writings. He gave in his writings, elaborate figures illustrating life-expectancy, death-rate, average income, taxes, wages, illiteracy, and the frequency of famines. When after his release from deportation in November 1907, Tilak pressed his claims for the Presidentship of the Congress, Lajpat Rai withdrew voluntarily and bent his energies to save the split in the Congress.

Lajpat Rai went to England in 1908 for the second time, delivered lectures to Indian students and returned to India in 1909. In 1913 he visited Japan, England and the United States on a lecture tour, and returned to India in 1920. During his stay abroad he is believed to have supported, the Ghadar Party's programme. He also established the Indian Home Rule League in the United States on October 15, 1916.

He resumed his political activities on his return to India in 1920. He attended the Calcutta and Nagpur sessions of the Congress in 1920 and also presided over the All India Student's Conference at Nagpur (1920). He was arrested in 1921 while presiding over the Punjab Provincial Political Conference.

During his long stay abroad, Lajpat Rai saw India's struggle in a wider perspective against world movements and began to realise how India could win support from other countries. It was this which inspired him to write his major works: 'Young India', 'England's Debt to India', 'The Political Future of India' and 'Unhappy India'. In collaboration with Hardikar, he remained in close touch with British Labour and Irish organisation He was thinking at one time of writing a book on the application of Bolshevism to Indian conditions.

Lajpat Rai worked passionately for the freedom of India and believed that without no improvement in economic and social conditions was possible. About student's participation in the freedom movement, he once said, "I am not one of those who believe that the students, particularly University students, ought not to meddle in politics. I think it is a most stupid theory".

On his return in 1920 Lajpat Rai was shocked that British repression was even more ruthless than before. He reacted sharply to the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre.

After the advent of Gandhi, Lajpat Rai found a different world of politics, not really much to his liking, especially when he was called upon to preside over the Special Congress Session in Calcutta in 1920. Gandhi's politics looked to him as that of a visionary. Lajpat Rai was not enthusiastic about the Non-Cooperation Movement and predicted its failure; civil disobedience meant to him merely passive resistance which could never be effective in the conditions then prevailing. But like many others who had opposed Gandhi at the Calcutta session, he agreed with Gandhi at the Nagpur Congress Session (1920) and accepted non-violent non-cooperation as an instrument of fight.

In 1921 Lajpat Rai presided over the Punjab Provincial Political Conference and was arrested. After his release and the withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement, Lajpat Rai joined the Swarajya Party founded by C. R. Das and Motilal Nehru. On October 30, 1928, Lajpat Rai led a procession at Lahore for the boycott of the Simon Commission and received baton blows on the head and the chest from an English officer. Eighteen days, after this brutal assault he died of his injuries.

Lajpat Rai had a cosmopolitan outlook and was a staunch fighter against imperialism everywhere. He recognised the right of all the countries in Western Asia to freedom. He sympathised with the sufferings of Indians in South Africa. He had a high sense of national self-respect. He took Miss Mayo to task for her book, 'Mother India' to which he replied by his 'Unhappy India'. It was a powerful and a scathing refutation of Miss Mayo's scurrilous attacks on Indian society. Lajpat Rai was a prolific writer. He was deeply interested in journalism and founded an Urdu daily, the Bande Mataram and an English weekly, the People.

Lajpat Rai was called 'Sher-e-Punjab' (Lion of Punjab). Although he may have been wanting in the charms of Gokhale and the sheer magnetic power of Gandhiji, his integrity, sacrifice and persuasive power gave a special dignity to his carriage.
Category filed under: Political

 Quick Links
Browse personalities according to categories