Punjab is the land of the brave. It has been one of the leading states in bravery and sacrifice. Lala Lajpat Rai was one of those distinguished persons who brought honour not only to Punjab but to the entire sub-continent. He was truly called the "Lion of Punjab". Grateful people also fondly refer to him as "Punjab Kesri".
He was one among the famous trio-Bal, Pal and Lai, who fought throughout their lives most bravely and selflessly against the mightiest empire, world history has seen so far. Lala Lajpat Rai was one of those freedom fighters who like true soldiers fought to the last breath and literally died on the battle-field of freedom.
He was not one of those who are born great. He achieved name and fame slowly and gradually by dint of courage and hard work.
He was born in an ordinary family in village Dhodika in Ferozepore district on 28th Jaunary, 1865. His father Lala Radha Krishan was a school teacher. Starting his education from his village school he studied at Mission High School, Ludhiana and at Ambala from where he matriculated in 1880 scoring very good marks and winning a scholarship.
He continued his education at Government College, Lahore from where he passed Intermediate examination. Later on he passed Law examination and started his practice at Hissar.
But it was not formal education alone which engaged his attention. Nature had endowed him with a sympathetic heart and a keen social awareness. It was in his nature to help others and share their pains and pleasures.
It was these traits which brought him popularity. Lala Lajpat Rai could not remain unaffected by the nascent Arya Samaj movement launched by Swami Dayanand. The movement in those days represented reformist ideas, social service and self sacrifice. Lalaji could not remain away from it. He started working for it with great enthusiasm.
He took keen interest in education. Besides founding a Sanskrit school at Hissar, he took a lot of pains in collecting funds for opening Dayanand Anglo Vedic College at Lahore. He was associated with D.A.V. institutions throughout his life in an honorary capacity. He was always ready for social service and had devoted himself wholeheartedly in the service of the sufferers of famine that swept the country in 1899.
He attended the Congress Conference in Prayag in 1888 and formally joined the Congress, but his career as a full-fledged politician began in 1905 when he was sent along with Gopal Krishan Gokhale to England to protest against the partition of Bengal. In fact, it was this trip abroad which brought a change in his attitude towards the Britishers. On his return to India he told his countrymen not to depend on the generosity of the arrogant white rulers but to, build their own strength and resources in order to achieve their goal.
Lalaji was a very good orator. His speech at a young age in a meeting convened to mourn the death of Swami Dayanand is still remembered. His words were effective and his voice was forceful. His words went directly to the hearts of his audience. He swayed the people by his words.
He was equally forceful with his pen. He started a monthly paper 'Young India' and wrote Self Determination for India, Autobiography, Unhappy India, England's Debt to India, Bandematram etc. besides other writings and articles. By his written word also, as by his spoken word, he stirred the people out of their slumber.
He was a friend of the poor. He was opposed to capitalism and economic exploitation in whatever form. He was the first President of the Indian Trade Union Congress. He led an agitation against the Colonization Bill, for which he was sentenced to transportation for six months. He had to undergo imprisonments and other hardships for his patriotism and love for freedom. He observed at an early stage of his public career that much reform of the type he wanted was not possible until the country was free from the foreign yoke.
He joined the Swaraj Party founded by Deshbandhu Das and Moti Lai Nehru. He was elected to the Central Legislative Assembly as a Swarajist. By this time the Simon Commission was appointed to explore further possibilities of political progress of India. Like all Nationalists, he was not in favour of this all-white Simon Commission and it was under his lead that a resolution advocating its boycott was passed.
The Commission arrived at Lahore on 31st October, 1928 against whom the people of Lahore demonstrated under the lead of Lalaji. The procession was declared illegal and the police resorted to lathi charge to disperse the crowd. A British officer Mr. Saunders suddenly assaulted Lalaji without any provocation. He was injured and as a consequence taken seriously ill. He breathed his last on 17th November, 1928, eighteen days after the brutal assault.
The same evening when lathi blows were rained on him he spoke the prophetic words addressing a mammoth public meeting in Lahore. He said, "Every blow showered on me would prove to be a nail in the coffin of British imperialism."
His death was mourned throughout the country and glowing tributes were paid to him by national leaders. Gandhiji said, "Lalaji cannot die so long as the sun shines. Lalaji means an institution. From his youth, he made his country's service his religion."
In fact he died when he was needed the most by his country. He will be fondly remembered for his patriotism, fearlessness, sincerity and earnestness.