30th October 1928. The railway station at Lahore was surrounded by hundreds of Indian revolutionaries who were unwilling to accept the unjust Simon Commission. No Indian member was inducted in the commission which was aimed at bringing constitutional reforms. The moment Sir John Simon, the person heading the commission, and six other British parliamentarians stepped at the exit gate- a thunderous roar of “Simon Go Back!” pushed them back. Hundreds of freedom fighters roared at Sir John Simon but one voice sent chills down their spine. The discontent in his voice rattled the mere idea of the commission itself. It was Lala Lajpat Rai’s voice evoking the consciousness of the British and motivating the young blood participating in the protest.
The Police Superintendent ordered a Lathi Charge at the peaceful protest. The Police personnel had two targets. First, push the crowd back and second, neutralize Lala Lajpat Rai. 4-5 Policemen charged directly at him while other personnel started pushing the crown back. Lalaji was isolated and taken to the ground. The kicks, lathi strikes and manhandling didn’t deter him one bit. He kept screaming “Simon Go Back!” till a loss of excessive blood vanquished his consciousness. His wounds were fatal in nature. Yet, he woke up and addressed the crowd later the same night. None of the members participating in the protest headed back home, all they wanted was Lalaji’s improved health and his words gave them motivation to fight unto the last breath.
“I declare that the blows struck at me today will be the last nails in the coffin of British rule in India”
These are considered his last words. Words that kept ringing in the ears of many freedom fighters till independence was eventually achieved. 17th November, 1928, Lalaji died due to a heart attack. Those brutal lathi strikes had weakened his body and caused his death, but this also strengthened the struggle and caused an air of grit all around. Lalaji’s death was the beginning of the end for the British rule.
Lalaji the reformer
The HRA (Hindustan Republican Association) vowed to take revenge of Lalaji’s death. James A Scott, the Police Superintendent who ordered the Lathi Charge was targeted. In an act involving Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Rajguru and Sukhdev Thapar, the HRA killed Inspector John Saunders after mistaking him for Scott. Revenge was on the cards right since Lalaji’s death. The youth of India always saw the Punjab Kesari (The Lion of Punjab- Lalaji) as an angel on their shoulder. Apart from his work as a freedeom fighter, Lalaji was equally respected for his work as a social reformer. Right since his formative period he was a writer who openly criticized the British implementations. As a student, he subscribed to the ideas of Arya Samaj and was the editor of Arya Gazette which was a youth centric mouthpiece.
The British had established schools and colleges which were biased in nature. Many of their institutions were open for Indian students only if they are willing to convert to Christianity. Most of the youth in India were deprived from basic to formative education. To counter this, Lalaji established the National College in Lahore strictly for Indian students. This college donned a massive hall, classrooms and a huge library that was open to students and other people as well.
Lalaji founded the Punjab National Bank on 19th May 1894 in Lahore. Most of the banks then were run by Britishers and their policies towards Indian customers were unjust and extremely prejudiced. By laying the foundations of this bank, Lalaji not only created a source where people can keep their money safe but also created a route through which money could be easily transferred from one revolutionary to another- the British used to have a heavy check on that.
Lalaji’s beliefs and political life
He was a devout Hindu and had read the scriptures during his formative period. He was a member of the Arya Samaj and was also involved in the activities of the Hindu Mahasabha. Later he adopted more secular views claiming that Hinduism was his personal choice and nationalism is his Dharma. He Joined the Indian National Congress and became its President in 1920 after winning a unanimous election. Under his leadership, the British foundation-rattling Non Cooperation movement was declared during the Calcutta Special session. He went to jail several times, both as a young boy and as a Congressman.
Many institutions and hospitals have been named after him. His legacy is such that every organization wanted to be associated with him. Many streets, lanes, shops, hospitals, colleges etc even today don the name of Lalaji with great pride.