Lajpat Rai, popularly known as 'Punjab Kesari',
was born on 28 January 1865 at village Dhundhike
in Jagraon tehsil of the Ludhiana district, Punjab,
in a Hindu Aggarwal (Bania) family. His mother,
Gulab Devi, came from a Sikh family. Lajpat Rai's
family was far from affluent; his grandfather,
Lala Rala Ram, was a shopkeeper, and his father,
Lala Radha Kishan, an Urdu teacher in a Government
Lajpat Rai had three brothers, Dhanpat Rai, Ranpat
Rai and Dalpat Rai. He was married to Radha Devi
(1877) who came from an Aggarwal family of Hissar.
He had two sons, Amrit Rai, Pyare Lal, and one
Lajpat Rai studied first at the village school
and then at the Mission High Schools at Ludhiana
and Ambala. He passed the Matriculation examination
at fifteen and joined the College at Lahore (1880)
for his Intermediate and Law. He completed his
final Law examination in 1886. He taught for some
time at the D.AV. College, Lahore, but soon took
up law as his profession, and practised it first
at Hissar and later at Lahore.
Lajpat Rai's interest in Politics was aroused
by his father who in his early life was a great
admirer of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan but whom he condemned
later for his anti-Congress tirade in an open
letter which appeared in the Koh-i-Noor, an Urdu
journal (1888). Lajpat Rai too had shared his
father's admiration for Sir Syed Ahmed Khan but
from 1888 began to criticise in his writings the
anti-Congress activities of Sir Syed. Lajpat Rai's
father was well-versed in Urdu and Persian languages,
had great respect for Islam, fasted and prayed
like a Muslim, but did not embrace Islam largely
dut to his wife's attachment to the Hindu and
The Arya Samaj movement, a vital force in the
Punjab in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
century, had a tremendous appeal for Lajpat Rai
(he had met Swami Dayanand at fourteen), who came
under its influence from his student days. It
was Lajpat Rai's attachment to the Arya Samaj
which led his father also to veer round to Hinduism.
The Arya Samaj work brought Lajpat Rai into close
touch with Lala Chura Mani and Pandit Lakhpat
Rai at Hissar, and Lala Sain Dass, Mahatma Hans
Raj and Pandit Guru Datt at Lahore.
Lajpat Rai's political activity began from 1888
when he joined the Congress session at Allahabad.
In the early part of his political career, his
interest was confined to social and educational
reforms, but his views on politics changed radically
as a result of the hasty and ill-conceived measures
trust on the country by the habit of driving his
reforming plough onward a little too roughly.
He criticised Curzon's system of government as
despotic, and also disliked the moderate policy
of the Congress in the face of Government highhandedness.
He regarded the practice of passing long-winded
| and making petitions
as 'mendicancy' and totally obsolete, and shared
B.G. Tilak's views about fighting the British
through mass agitation, use of Swadeshi and Boycott
of foreign cloth. He declared, 'I am a Swadeshi.'
He organised big meetings in the Punjab, travelled
widely, raised funds for the national cause and
exposed the poverty of the people and its causes.
He brought out in his writings and speeches lurid
comparisons between the economic conditions in
India and those in the Western Countries, and
attacked the economic exploitation by the British
as unjust and oppressive. His speeches, always
forceful and based on authentic data, sparkled
with appealing phrases and epigrams and pertinent
references to the heroism of Mazzini and Garibaldi,
Shri Krishna, Shivaji and Swami Dayanand Saraswati
whose short biographies he produced.
In August-September 1905 Lajpat Rai and Gopal
Krishna went to England as delegates of the Congress
to educate British public opinion on the Indian
situation and won the support of Labour, Democratic
and socialist parties. At the Benares Congress
in December 1905, Lajpat Rai seconded a resolution
on the boycott of English cloth in a forceful
speech. In 1907 he organised and led a massive
agrarian movement in Punjab, for which he was
deported, along with Ajit Singh, to Burma under
Regulation III of 1818.
His confinement in Burma gave him time for solitary
taught and he absorbed himself in the study of
the freedom movements in India and other countries
(he studied some of the primary works on the 1857
Rebellion in India at this time), and prepared
copious notes which he used later for quotations
in his speeches and writings. He gave in his writings
elaborate figures illustrating life-expectancy,
death-rate, average income, taxes, wages, illiteracy,
and the frequency of famines.
If there was one ingredient of which he had a
grain too much, it was the ardour for fame. When
after his release from deportation in November
1907, Tilak pressed his claims for the Presidentship
of the Congress, Lajpat Rai withdrew voluntarily
and bent his energies to save the split in the
Lajpat Rai went to England in 1908 for the second
time, delivered lectures to Indian students and
returned to India in 1909. In 1913 he visited
Japan, England and the United States on a lecture
tour, and returned to India in 1920. He had left
India in disgust.
He describes his state of mind in the following
words: "Then I began to suspect that I was being
spied on by my own servant who lived with me in
the same compound. Life became intolerable and
I lost my sleep and appetite, so I decided to
leave India." During his stay abroad he is believed
to have supported the Ghadar Party's programme.
He was very close to Lala Hardyal. He also established
the Indian Home Rule League in the United States
on 15 October 1916.