G. L. Batra, ST Guest Columnist, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
Lala Lajpat Rai, reverently known as the ‘Lion of Punjab’, was a multi-faceted personality. His contributions spanned the fields of politics, social work, and journalism. He was an outstanding writer, orator and Parliamentarian. Like many prominent leaders of the freedom movement, Lalaji was a lawyer, but his contributions are not restricted to the field of law alone. A prolific writer, Lala Lajpat Rai is known for his works ‘Unhappy India’, ‘England’s Debt to India’, ‘Indians will to freedom’, ‘Ideals of Non-Co-operation’, ‘The Depressed Classes’ amongst others.
Lala Lajpat Rai joined the newly created Indian National Congress as an elected representative from Hissar in 1888, at the young age of 24. He went on to serve the Congress in various capacities for forty long years. Along with Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lala Lajpat Rai traveled to England as a representative of the Congress to put the grievances of the Indians before the British public, and his eloquent speeches supported by facts and figures, created a tremendous impression in the minds of the English populace. He also later traveled to America, where he was instrumental in setting up the ‘Indian Home Rule League of America’ to further all forms of social, political and educational intercourse between India and America.
Lalaji was a true nationalist and his group always took a hard stance in the Congress. He represented the spirit of swarajya in the Indian independence movement. He was instrumental in spreading the swadeshi movement in India, and his activities in Punjab, especially the opposition of the enhanced irrigation rates in the Punjab Colonisation Act, resulted in his being branded a ‘revolutionary’. The British government was threatened by his activities, and he was arrested in 1907 and incarcerated in Mandalay for six months. Lalaji was also instrumental in forming the Servants of People society which did yeomen’s service in the upliftment of the downtrodden, rural reconstruction and educational and social welfare.
Deeply pained by the Jallianwala Baugh massacre in 1919, Lalaji was one of the prime movers of the Non-Co-operation movement against the British in 1920, and it was under his Presidency of the Lahore special session of the Congress, that the historical resolution for Non-Co-operation was passed. He was arrested again in 1921 and sentenced to one years imprisonment. When the all-white Simon Commission was appointed in 1927, it faced vehement opposition from the Indians, and the Congress passed a resolution for its boycott. Violating the imposition of Sec 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Lalaji led a procession of protest against the Simon Commission in Lahore. The police lathi-charged the procession, and Lalaji received blows on his chest which ultimately resulted in his death. Lalaji’s words about this incident, “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” turned out to be prophetic. His death plunged the nation into gloom, and rich tributes were paid to him. Pt. Motilal Nehru said, “He was one of those outstanding personalities whose place it is impossible to fill. It would indeed be difficult to find another man with public activities covering such a wide field…His earnest patriotism did not allow his inexhaustible energy to any particular channel, but found avenues for useful work in almost every department of life which goes to build up a nation.” Jawaharlal Nehru described him as “truly a great son of the soil”.