A martyr’s day many Indians fail to recognise

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A martyr’s day many Indians fail to recognise

Thursday, 28 January 2021 | BISWARAJ PATNAIK

Leading Odia daily newspaper ‘The Samaja’,  believed to be neutral and unbiased,  has survived all this long only because it was given away to the ‘Servants of People Society’,  a non-profit social service organisation founded in 1921 by the legendary freedom fighter Lala Lajapat Rai to identify and train national missionaries for attaining independence for the motherland.

In 1886, his family shifted to Hissar where Lala started practising law. Soon, the incomparable patriot set up the nationalistic ‘Dayanand Anglo-Vedic’. He had, meanwhile, turned a follower of Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of ‘Arya Samaj’. The Punjab National Bank too was promoted by him in 1895 with the sole objective of extending support to the self-help groups and enterprises in India.

For some obvious reasons, quite a few leading, highly-sacrificing freedom fighters like Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal and Bal Gangadhar Tilak are not routinely remembered today.  Everybody unfailingly remembers Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Shashtri because they attained political power after independence and ruled India for a good length of time.Though Lajpat Rai was trained to be a lawyer, he chose to devote life to snatching power from the British to make India free.

His personal sacrifices can be rated higher than those of Gandhi’s on several fronts. It is Lajpat Rai only who had initiated Gandhi into the ‘Swadeshi’ moment after he returned from tour across Britain and the USA between 1917 and 1920. Gandhi mastered the Swadeshi plank to become hugely famous. Incidentally, Lajpat Rai had founded the Home Rule League of America in 1917 in New York and worked hard there to get the moral support from Americans for the Indian independence movement. The All India Trade Union Congress leaders had also found him so capable and courageous that they chose him their president.

After returning home, he was asked to lead a special session of the Congress party. At the session, the first thing he did was to explain and launch the noncooperation movement to be headed by Gandhi.

Much before Gandhi and Nehru, Lajpat Rai had specifically stressed self-reliance for Indians in the 1900 session of the Indian National Congress (INC). Thus, he is the pioneer of the ‘Make in India’ initiative in India. Such was his vision of entrepreneurship in those primitive times. Lala Lajpat Rai strategised the noncooperation movement in a manner as to resist the British, particularly to oppose the Rowlatt Act which was essentially passed so as to be able to jail any Indian likely to cause damage to them through public protests.  For being exceptionally brave in opposing this new legislation, Lala was given the title of 'Punjab Kesari'. He was an intellectual par excellence and authored books explaining the meaning of a happy society and people’s behaviour that brought public joy.

His books include 'History of the Arya Samaj', 'England's Debt to India: India, The Problems Of National Education In India', 'Swaraj and Social Change', and 'The United States of America: A Hindu's impressions and a study'.In 1928, Lajpat Rai launched a peaceful procession to boycott arrival of the Simon Commission in Lahore, which was to recommend Constitutional reforms under the British rule.

The Superintendent of Police, one Mr Scott, ordered a lathi-charge to stop the activists.  Lala received grave injuries on the chest and head as the police had targeted him specifically. The roaring lion of Punjab died in hospital after only a few days.  Bhagat Singh and his associates tried to assassinate Scott in an act of revenge. But they ended up killing one JP Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, mistaking him for Scott.

Lajpat Rai has been rightly described as 'a pillar of extremist nationalism in India' for his incomparable bravery in protesting against the British rule with unusual courage and sacrifice.

He was one of the three extremist members of the INC along with Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal. He was so courageous in his extremist approach to the freedom struggle that people  fondly named him ‘Punjab Kesari', meaning the Lion of Punjab.

Rai was born on January 28, 1865 in Dhudike, a small village in Moga district of undivided Punjab to an Agarwal-Jain family of intellectuals. His father Munshi Radha Krishna Azad was a great scholar of Persian and Urdu and his mother Gulab Devi a strict religious lady. Lala died fighting until his last breath. He showed the best paths to other leaders. But because he died on November 17, 1928, the freedom fighters who chose to become rulers by acquiring political powers simply ignored him as the soul and spirit behind the rising of many ordinary mortals to fame including Mahatma Gandhi. Lala had the keenest sense of nonviolence that Gandhi imbibed, indomitable courage and hit-hard spirit marked in Subhas Bose and also the statesmanship of Nehru and Jinha put together.

A great son of India who died earlier than the independence was achieved. Or else, he would have remained the guiding spirit behind Gandhi, Nehru and Patel in all matters of governance.  Many knowledgeable people say India would have remained undivided even today if Lala had lived longer because he had knowledge, skills and a robust commonsense. 

The Servants of People Society is existent even today but not so vibrantly as of yore. Values and ideals have changed. So has the sense of judgement as to who is a real hero and who zero. The people of Odisha owe Lala Lajpat Rai so much for having kept the daily Samaja live up to this day.  If it were a family enterprise by any chance, it would have faced the same fate as of ‘Prajatantra’, once a most glorious and popular Odia daily. The day of his demise, November 17, is insignificantly observed as one of the martyrs days in India. On this day, Lala was born 155 years ago. But not many seem to care.

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