Sunday, July 26, 2009

THE LION OF PUNJAB

Inspiration

It has been two days since the 10th anniversary of Kargil victory was commemorated and time for me to rewind once again to those days when a commom man could defy authority, uphold the truth and refused to bow before tyrants. And it has to be a persona like ‘The Lion of Punjab’ who along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak & Bipin Chandra Pal (the famous trio of Lal-Bal-Pal we already know) were the first Indian leaders to demand complete political independence & wanted a degree of self-government that was considered radical at the time.

However, my first brush with this great man’s legacy came only when I realized that this was the man whose death gave birth to another inspirational revolutionary, Bhagat Singh. The kinetics of nationalism is moved by the fuel of sweat and blood. When courage and integrity withstand oppression, history is the natural offshoot. Lala Lajpat Rai’s death goaded revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev to lay down their lives at the altar of freedom.

Birth & Early Life

Lala Lajpat Rai was born on 28th Jan, 1865 at a village named Dhudike in Ferozepur District of Punjab
. His father, Munshi Radha Krishan Azad was a great scholar of Persian and Urdu. Lalaji's mother, Smt Gulab Devi, a strict religious lady, inculcated in her children strong moral values. Lalaji was brought up in a family background that allowed freedom of having different faiths and beliefs. Since childhood he had a desire to serve his country. In 1884 his father was transferred to Rohtak and Lala Lajpat Rai came along.

In college he came in contact with patriots and future freedom fighters like Lala Hans Raj and Pandit Guru Dutt. He passed his Vakilship Examination (Law exams) from Government College in 1885 and started his legal practice at
Rohtak but moved Hissar. Lalaji's early legal practice at Hissar was very successful. His life of six years in Hissar became the apprenticeship for public service. He was elected to the Hissar municipality as a member and later as secretary. Lalaji started attending the meetings of the Congress Party and became an active worker in the Hissar-Rohtak region. He shifted to Lahore in 1892.

Vision

Like Lala Lajpat Rai believed that patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. He was convinced that India is one nation and that it belongs to all its inhabitants. To quote him:

"If Mother India is proud of Nanak, she is also proud of Chishti. If she had an Ashoka, she had an Akbar too. If she had a Chaitanya she had Kabir also; .... she can as well be proud of her Khusros, Faizs, Ghalibs, Zauqs, Farishtas and Gnimats as she can be of a Valmiki, Kalidasa, Tulsidas, Ram Das, Chand Nasin and Guru Gobind Singh".

Lala Lajpat Rai favoured a system of education which would inculcate higher values in an individual, awaken in him the desire to serve his motherland and yet help him to develop a global vision.

Endless Public Service

By establishing the Depressed Classes Education Society (1911), Servants of People Society (1921) and All- India Achhut Uddhar Committee (1924), Lala Lajpat Rai provided a great fillip to the movement of social reform. His humanitarianism came to the fore when he arranged help for the victims of famine during 1898-1900. When people fleeing the famine reached Lahore, they spent that night at Lalaji's house. In 1898, Lalaji curtailed his legal practice and vowed to devote all his energy for the nation. The Kangra district of
Punjab suffered destruction in the earthquake of 1905. Lalaji was there once again, organizing relief for extricating people from the debris.

Lala Lajpat Rai founded the Indian Home Rule League of America in October 1917 & Lalaji returned to India on Feb 20, 1920 as a great hero. He presided over the First Indian Trade Union Congress at Bombay in 1920, and was one of its founder members. Its purpose was "to further the interests of Indian Labour in matters economic, social and political" and "to coordinate activities of all organizations". In 1926, he represented Indian Laborers at the 8th International Labour Conference held at Geneva and created a great impression.

In the field of business, he promoted the growth of Punjab National Bank and sponsored Lakshmi Insurance Company Ltd. His contribution to the field of education was immense — the DAV College which grew under his patronage, and National College, Lahore, which he founded became nurseries of intellectuals, revolutionaries and reformers. Dwarka Das Library now housed in Chandigarh and Gulab Devi Hospital, Jalandhar, are among the living monuments of his work and vision.

Lala Lajpat Rai’s creativity expressed itself in almost all walks of life. 'He was not only a good orator but also a prolific and versatile writer. To spread the message of Swaraj, Swadeshi and social reform he founded three papers — Punjabee, Bande Matram (Urdu) and People (English) besides publishing a number of books and tracts. He instituted the ‘Tilak School of Politics’ to keep alive the idea that political rights could not be achieved by speeches or resolutions but by sacrifice.

Rai led the Punjab protests against the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre (1919) and the Non-Cooperation Movement (1919 - 1922) and he was repeatedly arrested. He founded the ‘Servants of the People Society’, which worked for the freedom movement as well as for social reform in the country.

Contribution


Lalaji injected new life in his countrymen. His writings and speeches were both hard hitting and effective. They swayed those they aimed to reach. He was a crusader, who knew no fear and championed every worthy cause with all the passion of his soul. He was indeed ‘The Punjab Kesari’, The Lion of Punjab. His love for service was insatiable. He founded educational institutions. He befriended the suppressed classes. In the political field he was indispensable. He was an ardent social reformer.

The Fatal blow

In 1928, British Government decided to send Simon Commission to India to discuss constitutional reforms. The Commission had no Indian member. This greatly angered Indians. A strong believer in leading by example, he himself led a procession in Lahore on Oct 30, 1928 to demonstrate against the Simon Commission, which was to prove fatal for him. While Lalaji tried his level best to keep the demonstration peaceful, the police targeted him and wounded him on his chest. The people were enraged at this insult and held a meeting the same evening. Lalaji, though in intense pain, spoke with such vigor that his words, "...every blow aimed at me is a nail in the coffin of British Imperialism...." became historic. Though he recovered from the pain within three days, his health had received a permanent setback and on November 17, 1928, he succumbed to the fatal injuries.

Legacy

"No man is truly great who is great only in his lifetime. The test of greatness is the page of history", wrote William Hazlitt. If this yardstick is applied to Lala Lajpat Rai, he emerges as a giant among historic personages. The lesson which the Lion of Punjab Lala Lajpat Rai taught the country was to be brave. To the Indians in the chains of slavery his message was "Begging or prayer cannot bring freedom. You can win it only through struggle and sacrifice."

Lalaji once said: "If I had the power to influence Indian journals, I would have the following headlines printed in bold letters on the first page:

Milk for the infants
Food for the adults
Education for all,"

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