Source: Bhargava Parag Narain, Who’s Who in India (Lucknow: Newul Kishore Press, 1911)

Lala Lajpat Rai

Lala Lajpat Rai was born into a poor family in 1865 in the province of Punjab, then known as the sword-arm of India. Lala Lajpat, however, came from a long line of peaceful traders. He was also of frail stature, was short, and suffered from tuberculosis. Therefore, his activities of early life did not not portend that he would be later named the ‘Lion of Punjab’.

To support his family Lala Lajpat Rai gained qualification early on for the profession of law. Upon his graduation in 1885, he also co-founded the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic College in 1885. He then moved from Hissar to Lahore and joined the Bar of the Punjab Chief Court in 1892. At the same time, he threw himself with great passion into the social and educational work of the Arya Samaj Movement. Later in life Lajpat Rai would soon leave the Arya Samaj, but was always remembered as one of its most prominent workers and benefactors. He also attended preliminary meetings of the Indian National Congress (INC) and attended the party’s first official meeting in 1893, presided over by Dadabhai Naoroji. While Lajpat Rai was not an office-bearer of the INC Reception Committee, he was an impassioned contributor to the party.

Above all, Lala Lajpat Rai was a public servant. He regularly contributed to the Tribune newspaper on a variety of public questions, organized famine relief, raised funds for the establishment of an orphanage, and also came to be regarded as a fantastic orator. Indeed, he was considered one of the most powerful debaters in the Indian Legislative Assembly.

After supporting an agrarian uprising in Rawalpindi, Lajpat Rai was deported by the British government to Mandalay in Burma. His deportation significantly increased his popularity back home. When he was allowed to return to Indian after six months, he was greeted with an extremely warm welcome and many, many donations. He henceforth began on a more intrepid and outspoken campaign against British rule in India.

Lala Lajpat eventually went on to both England and America to pursue his cause. There, he wrote books, gave lectures, and took interviews, all to expose how India’s journey toward progress and stable nationhood was being hampered by colonial rule. From America, however, he was refused passage to either India or England by the British Government. Thus, when the 1919 Jallianwallah Bagh massacre took place in his native state of Punjab, Lala Lajpat found himself on the other side of the globe.

Using connections he had with influential friends among British politicans and public men, Lajpat Rai managed to gain permission to return to India. Upon doing so, he promptly joined Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation movement. Also, working in tandem with other leaders of the country, he refused to close up the Congress office, or to discontinue enlisting volunteers, as the British government had ordered. He was thus thrown into jail, and it was only when serious health afflictions and symptoms of tuberculosis began to show that he was released.

After being released, he was elected as the first Punjabi President of the Indian National Congress.

Source: Bhargava Parag Narain, Who’s Who in India (Lucknow: Newul Kishore Press, 1911)Nagendranath Gupta, Seven Noble Lives (Bombay: Hind Kitabs Limited), 182-208

Works

England’s Debt to India (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1917)

Young India: An Interpretation and a History of the Nationalist Movement from Within (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1916)

The Political Future of India (New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1919)

The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study (Calcutta: R. Chatterjee, 1916)

Reflections on the Political Situation in India (Leipzig: Verlag Von Otto Wigand, 1917)

Lala Lajpat writings and speeches, Volume 1 (University Publishers, 1966)

Ideas of IndiaIdeas of India