The Ferozepur road, one of Lahore’s arterial thoroughfares, evokes a lot of nostalgia. Starting from the Walled City, connecting several small ancient hamlets on the way, including Ichra, Mozang, Amar Sadhu and Kasur, it leads to Ferozepur in India. Or so it did.
Somewhere along its path, a boundary fence has been constructed. Two of the largest armies in the world, armed to their teeth, stand guard on either side of this fence.
The cities of Lahore and Ferozepur were linked by an ancient bond that several ravages of history – Mongol and Afghan invasions, and British colonialism – could not cut. But this bond was finally ripped apart in 1947 when the two new nation states of India and Pakistan were formed. The Ferozepur road now forlornly runs through Lahore, hastily abandoning its destination at the first sight of armed soldiers, betraying the traveller.
Located on this road, facing a modern multi-storey building, is the Gulab Devi hospital, which sprawls over an area of 40 acres, an indulgent expanse of space in an increasingly congested city.
For a young citizen, who has only known Pakistan, this name is likely to stand out. After Partition, this name would have been lost, just like the others, when the multi-religious Lahore of the past, with its several temples, gurdwaras, churches, mosques and dargahs, made way for a homogenous city. Old names, guilty by association with what was seen as an “impure” past were hurriedly jettisoned to keep afloat a new nationalist project. Gulab Devi survived because the hospital is run by a Trust, and one of its conditions is that the hospital’s name cannot be changed.
Constructed in 1934, and inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi, the hospital is named after the mother of Lala Lajpat Rai, the prominent Indian National Congress leader and freedom fighter.
Gulab Devi had died in Lahore due to tuberculosis. Lala Lajpat Rai formed the trust in 1927, and intended to build a hospital in his mother’s memory. Unfortunately the following year, before he could see his dream come true, he died due to a blow to his head at the Lahore Railway Station where he was a leading a procession to protest against the Simon Commission.
The protest against the Simon Commission and the death of Lala Lajpat Rai prompted the Indian National Congress to form a commission to propose constitutional reforms for India.
The Nehru Report of 1928, written by Motilal Nehru, the president of Congress at that time, was a step towards the Congress’s demand for self-rule, or Purna Swaraj, from the British. The report demanded self-government under dominion status within the empire.
The Nehru Report was made possible because of Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, which was launched in 1920 after his return from South Africa. As part of this movement, Lala Lajpat Rai founded the National College in Lahore to cater to the youth who were now boycotting British colonial institutes.
The road to self-rule
Located a few streets away from the office of the superintendent of police where freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and his comrades assassinated assistant superintendent of police John P Saunders to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, is the Bradlaugh Hall. The red brick building is a beautiful amalgamation of colonial and indigenous architectural traditions, but is locked and has fallen into disrepair. This building used to house the National College that Lala Lajpat Rai set up. It is here that Bhagat Singh and his friends received their initial doses of nationalism. During Bhagat Singh’s trial in Lahore, his parents used to receive visitors and sympathisers outside this hall.
Even though Bhagat Singh had parted ways with the Indian National Congress after being disillusioned by what he perceived to be their passive nationalism, the impact of his revolutionary fervour resonated with the younger cadre of the Congress.
Jawaharlal Nehru had been appointed president of the Congress to take over from his father, Motilal Nehru, at the annual session of the Congress in Lahore in December 1929. Riding through the streets of the Lahore on a white horse, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had turned 40 just the previous month, arrived at the historic Congress session to proclaim “purna swaraj’ or complete independence, rejecting his father’s proposal for a new dominion status constitution for India.
The All India Home Rule League and the All India Muslim League too had favoured a dominion status, but leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo and Bipin Chandra Pal argued for a complete separation from British rule. Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose agreed with them.
It was in this session in 1929 at Lahore that the Congress voted for complete independence as against a dominion status for India and passed a resolution fixing the last Sunday of January 1930 – which happened to be January 26 – as the Complete Independence Day.
On the midnight of December 31, 1929, on the eastern bank of the river Ravi, in the shadow of the Badshahi Masjid, Gurdwara Dera Sahib and the Lahore Fort, Jawaharlal Nehru raised the “swaraj” flag that was later adopted as the national flag of India. After Partition and Independence on August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru saw to it that India’s new constitution took effect on January 26, 1950, thus ensuring that it would not remain just a date in history.
Not very far from where the Congress session took place, on the other end of the Ravi Road, is Iqbal Park, earlier known as Minto Park. At the centre of this historical park is a tall minaret, Minar-e-Pakistan. It commemorates the Lahore Resolution – that demanded provincial autonomy – which the Muslim League adopted here on March 23, 1940. Gradually, after the creation of Pakistan, the resolution was appropriated as a demand for Pakistan, and was renamed Pakistan Resolution. Every year on March 23, the country celebrates Pakistan Day.
Every day, thousands of visitors descend upon Minar-e-Pakistan, paying homage to the founders of the country. In popular political discourse, politicians refer to the events of March 23 as a momentous moment in the history of Pakistan. Accolades are showered on Lahore, which is seen as the home of the movement that brought about Pakistan.
Perhaps consciously, or out of ignorance, Nehru’s declaration of independence, Lala Lajpat Rai’s protest against the Simon Commission, and Bhagat Singh’s sacrifice have now been forgotten in a city where these freedom fighters were warmly received once. As India last week celebrated its Republic Day on January 26, the streets of Lahore carried on their business unaware of the role they once played in this shared history.