Patriots > Extremist Leaders > Lala Lajpat Rai
Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928)
Lala 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 school.

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 daughter, Parvati.

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 Sikh faiths.

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 pious resolutions
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 Congress.

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.
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