Punjab Kesari Guru of Bhagat Singh

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Anupama Nair



Our great Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the Amrit Mahotsav or celebration of  India’s 75th year of Independence. We will be celebrating this event till 2022. I am going to write a feature on all those great men and women who fought against foreign invasion not just against the British. 28th January is the birth anniversary of ‘Punjab Kesari’ – Lala Lajpat Rai.

To understand the story of Lalaji, I need to take you back many centuries before. India was ruled by the Mughals. It is a credit to the British, how the merchants who came to do trade with India, within 300 years became the masters of the entire land from Khyber to Chittagong and from Kashmir to Comorin (now Kanya Kumari), i.e., entire Sub-Continent. The English East India Company was formed by merchants of England to trade with Asia and India the “golden bird” in particular and America. It was formed by Royal Charter on New Year’s Eve on 1600. They landed in the Indian subcontinent on August 24, 1608, in Surat (Gujarat).

The Battle of Plassey (1757) and Battle of Buxar (1764) , smoothened their path to conquer the sub-continent. Robert Clive became the first Governor General of British India. By spinning a web of deceit, and many laws like Subsidiary Alliance (Lord Wellesley) and Doctrine of Lapse (Lord Dalhousie), they succeeded in ruling the entire sub-continent by 19th century. Jawaharlal Nehru in his book Discovery of India quoted “British rule in India had an unsavory beginning and something of that bitter taste has clung to it ever since”.

Lala Lajpat Rai was born on January 28, 1865 to Munshi Radha Krishna Azad and Gulab Devi at in Ferozpur. His father was a great scholar of Persian and Urdu while his mother was very religious and trained her children strong morals values. Lala ji received his elementary education in the school where his father was posted as teacher and joined the Government College at Lahore in 1880 to study Law. While in college he came in contact with patriots and future freedom fighters like Lala Hans Raj and Pandit Guru Dutt. He started his legal practice in Hissar. A desire to serve Bharat Ma was there from childhood and he took a pledge to free her from British rule. In Hissar, Lajpat Rai set up the nationalistic Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School and became a follower of Dayanand Saraswati. In 1888 and 1889 he was a delegate to the annual session of the Indian National Congress. He moved to Lahore to practice in the Punjab High Court in 1892. He also set up the National College in Lahore, where Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev studied.

In 1895, he was the founder of the Punjab National Bank , which showed his belief in self-help and enterprise. In 1897, he founded the Hindu Orphan Relief Movement to keep the Christian missionaries from securing custody of these children. He stressed the importance of constructive, nation-building activity and programs for self-reliance. Gradually, Lajpat Rai curtailed his legal practice and instead concentrated all his efforts to free the country from the British. In October 1917, he founded the Indian Home Rule League of America in New York.

Lala Lajpat Rai was a voracious reader and everything he read left a great imprint on his mind. He was deeply impressed by the ideals of patriotism and nationalism outlined by Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini. Inspired by Mazzini, Lalaji became believed in the revolutionary way of attaining freedom. He, along with other prominent leaders like Bipin Chandra Pal, Aurobindo Ghosh, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, began to see the negative aspects of moderate politics advocated by many leaders of the Indian National Congress. They voiced their strong opposition to the Congress’ demand for gradual progress to dominion status and began voicing the need for complete independence or ‘Purna Swaraj’. He was a great believer in inter-faith harmony, but he did not like the trend of Congress leaders to sacrifice Hindu interests to appease the Muslim section of the party.

In 1920, after his return from America, Lajpat Rai was invited to preside over the special session of the Congress in Calcutta,. He led blistering demonstrations against the British in Punjab in protest for their brutal actions at Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre. When M.K. Gandhi launched the Non-cooperation movement in 1920, he lead the movement in Punjab. When Gandhi decided to suspend the movement after the Chauri Chaura incident, he criticized the decision and went on to form the Congress Independence Party.

The year 1928 was also the year of the Simon Commission, under John Simon who was appointed to study the implementation of the Government of India Act 1919, also called the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms  that advocated the need to emancipate the local governments and legislatures from central control. Lala Lajpat Rai, along with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev held a rally in Lahore protesting against the Simon Commission with placards “Simon Go Back”. The British police began to lathi-charge and unfortunately Lalaji breathed his last after being brutally beaten up. Bhagat Singh and his fellow revolutionaries decided to avenge the killing of Lalaji and decided to kill the officers involved in the Lathi-charge. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev shot the British police officer John Saunders eight times from within the DAV college in Lahore. Azad helped them and shot dead Charan Singh, the British-employed Indian police constable who chased Bhagat Singh and Rajguru as they fled and entered the college after killing Saunders. However, the person they intended to kill was not Saunders but Superintendent of Police James Scott who had ordered his men to lathi-charge protesters leading to the death of Lalaji. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev who confessed their brave act was hanged on March 23, 1931 in Hussainwala, Lahore and thus beloved sons of Bharat Maa, gave their lives for an Independent India.

Not only Lalaji was a heavyweight leader of the Indian Nationalist Movement, but his views on patriotism and nationalism earned him the status of a venerated leader. He inspired young men of his generation and kindled latent spirit of patriotism in their hearts. Young men such as Chandrasekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh were driven to dedicate their lives for the sake of freedom of their Motherland following his example.

 Lala ji will live in our hearts forever.



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