Lala Lajpat Rai (28 January 1865 – 17 November 1928) was an Indian author and politician who is chiefly remembered as a leader in the Indian fight for independence from the British Raj. He was popularly known as Punjab Kesari meaning the same and was part of the Lal Bal Pal trio.He was also associated with activities of Punjab National Bank and Lakshmi Insurance Company in their early stages. He sustained serious injuries by the police when leading a non-violent protest against the Simon Commission and died less than three weeks later. His death anniversary (November 17) is one of several days celebrated as Martyrs’ Day in India.
Lala Lajpat Rai was born in Dhudike (now in Moga district, Punjab) on 28 January 1865.His grandfather was a Svetambara Jain while his father had great respect for Islam, and he even fasted and prayed like Muslims, but did not embrace Islam largely due to his family’s attachment to the Hindu faith. Rai had his initial education in Government Higher Secondary School, Rewari (now in Haryana, previously in Punjab), in the late 1870s and early 1880s, where his father, Radha Krishan, was an Urdu teacher. Rai was influenced by Hinduism and Manusmriti and created a career of reforming Indian policy through politics and writing.(When studying law in Lahore, he continued to practice Hinduism. He became a large believer in the idea that Hinduism, above nationality, was the pivotal point upon which an Indian lifestyle must be based.) Hinduism, he believed, led to practices of peace to humanity, and the idea that when nationalist ideas were added to this peaceful belief system, a non-secular nation could be formed. His involvement with Hindu Mahasabha leaders gathered criticism from the Bharat Sabha as the Mahasabhas were non-secular, which did not conform with the system laid out by the Indian National Congress.This focus on Hindu practices in the subcontinent would ultimately lead him to the continuation of peaceful movements to create successful demonstrations for Indian independence. He was a devotee of Arya Samaj and was editor of Arya Gazette, which he set up during his student time.
Graduates of the National College, which he founded inside the Bradlaugh Hall at Lahore as an alternative to British institutions, included Bhagat Singh. He was elected President of theCongress party in the Calcutta Special Session of 1920.
Travels to America
Rai traveled to the US in 1907, and then returned during World War I. He toured Sikh communities along the US West Coast; visited Tuskegee University in Alabama; and met with workers in the Philippines. His travelogue, The United States of America (1916), details these travels and features extensive quotations from leading African American intellectuals, including W.E.B. DuBois andFredrick Douglass. The book also argues for the notion of “color-caste,” suggesting a sociological similarities between race in the US and caste in India.During World War I, Lajpat Rai lived in the United States, but he returned to India in 1919 and in the following year led the special session of the Congress Party that launched the noncooperation movement. Imprisoned from 1921 to 1923, he was elected to the legislative assembly on his release.
In 1928, the British government set up the Commission, headed by Sir John Simon, to report on the political situation in India. The Indian political parties boycotted the Commission, because it did not include a single Indian in its membership, and it met with country-wide protests. When the Commission visited Lahore on 30 October 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai led a non-violent protest against the Commission in a silent march, but the police responded with violence. The superintendent of police, James A. Scott, ordered the police to lathi charge the protesters and personally assaulted Rai, who was grievously injured, later on Rai could not recover from the injury and died on 17 November 1928 with Heart attack. It was obviously known that Scott’s blows had hastened his demise.However, when the matter was raised in the British Parliament, the British Government denied any role in Rai’s death.Although Singh did not witness the event he vowed to take revenge and joined other revolutionaries, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad, in a plot to kill Scott. However, in a case of mistaken identity, Singh was signalled to shoot on the appearance of John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police. He was shot by Rajguru and Singh while leaving the District Police Headquarters in Lahore on 17 December 1928. Chanan Singh, a Head Constable who was chasing them, was fatally injured by Azad’s covering fire.
This case of mistaken identity did not stop Singh and his fellow-members of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association from claiming that retribution had been exacted.
Inspiration and memorial
The Lala Lajpat Rai Trust was formed in 1959 on the eve of his Centenary Birth Celebration, to promote education. The trust was founded by a group of Punjabi philanthropists (including R.P Gupta and B.M Grover) who have settled and prospered in the Indian State of Maharashtra.
A state university was created in memory of Lala Lajpat Rai at Hisar, a prominent city in Haryana, where Lala Ji also practised and was married. The university is named as Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, Hisar and has started functioning from 1 December, 2010. The university has started celebrating 28 January as an Annual Memorial Day from 2012 as per wishes of its founder Vice-chancellor, Dr Hardeep Kumar. A statue of Lajpat Rai stands at the central square in Shimla, India (having been originally erected in Lahore and moved to Shimla in 1948). Lajpat Nagar and Lajpat Nagar Central Market in New Delhi, Lajpat Rai Market in Chandani Chowk, Delhi; Lala Lajpat Rai Hall of Residence at Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in Kanpurand Kharagpur; as well as the Lala Lajpat Rai Institute of Engineering and Technology(LLRIET), Moga, are named in his honor. Also many institutes, Schools and Library in his hometown of Jagraon, district Ludhiana are named after him. The bus terminus in Jagraon, Punjab, India is named after Lala Lajpat Rai. Lala Lajpat Rai Hospital, Kanpur is also named in his honor.
Lala Lajpat Rai Institute of Management is also one of the famous B-schools in Mumbai.
Gulab Devi Chest Hospital
Lala Lajpat Rai’s mother, Gulab Devi, died of TB in Lahore. In order to perpetuate her memory, Lala Lajpat Rai established a Trust in 1927 to build and run a TB Hospital for women reportedly at the spot where she had died.
The Trust purchased 40 acres of land in April 1930 from the then Government which gave a free grant of an additional 10 acres on Ferozepur Road (the road is now called Sharah-e- Roomi). Construction work was started in 1931 and completed in 1934 when the Hospital gates were opened to TB patients.
A marble plaque bears witness to the opening of the Hospital on 17 July 1934 by Mahatma Gandhi. On the migration of trustees to India in 1947, the Government invited Begum Raana Liaquat Ali Khan, Syed Maratab Ali, Professor Dr.Amiruddin and some other notables and philanthropists to become acting Trustees of the Hospital in July 1948. They constituted a Managing Committee with Begum Raana in the Chair, for running the Gulab Devi Chest Hospital.