Chandrashekhar Tiwari was drawn into the non-cooperation movement of 1920-21, at the age of 15, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. When arrested he gave his name as ‘Azad’, his father’s name as ‘Swatantra’ and his residence as ‘prison’. This annoyed the magistrate who sentenced him to fifteen lashes of flogging. The title of Azad stuck thereafter. Although Gandhiji was appalled by the brutal violence at Chauri chaura and suspended non-cooperation movement, Azad did not feel that violence was unacceptable in the struggle, especially in view of the Amritsar Massacre.
He got involved in revolutionary activities and joined the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), a revolutionary organization formed by Ram Prasad Bismil . He trained the revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Batukeshwar Dutt, and Rajguru. He was involved in the Kakori Conspiracy where revolutionaries looted the Government treasury from train. He was also involved in the attempt to blow up the Viceroy’s train, the Assembly bomb incident, the Delhi Conspiracy and the Second Lahore conspiracy. He was one of the three who were involved in the shooting of Saunders at Lahore. Azad was also a believer in socialism as the basis for a future India, free of social and economic oppression and adversity. He was instrumental in transforming the HRA into the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in 1928 so as to achieve their primary aim of an independent India based on socialist principle.
As a result of a friend’s betrayal, he was encircled by the police at Alfred Park in Allahabad on 27 February 1931 where he had gone to meet his colleague Sukhdev Raj. Surrounded by the police, he put up a good fight which made it possible for Raj to escape. When he was left with only one bullet, he fired it at his own temple and lived up to his resolve that he would never be arrested and be dragged to gallows to be hanged. After the independence, to commemorate Azad, Alfred Park was renamed Chandrashekhar Azad Park.
While in college Lala Lajpat Rai joined the Arya Samaj founded by Swami Daya Nand Saraswati. Soon he became one of the three most prominent Hindu Nationalist members of the Indian National Congress, the Lal-Bal-Pal trio. They formed the extremist faction of the Indian National Congress, as opposed to the moderate one led first by Gopal Krishna Gokhale and then Gandhiji. Lalaji actively participated in the struggle against partition of Bengal. Along with Surendra Nath Banerjee, Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurorbindo Ghosh, he galvanized Bengal and the nation in a vigorous campaign of Swadeshi. Lalaji was arrested on May 3, 1907 for creating “turmoil” in Rawalpindi. He was put in Mandalay jail for six months.
He left for Britain in April 1914 to organize propaganda in foreign countries about freedom struggle. At this time First World War broke out and he was unable to return to India. He went to USA to galvanize support for India. He founded the Indian Home League Society of America and wrote a book called “Young India”. He was able to return to India in 1920 after the end of World War. After his return, Lala Lajpat Rai, led the Punjab protests against the Jalianwala Bagh Massacre and the Non-Cooperation Movement. He was arrested several times. He disagreed with Gandhiji’s suspension of Non-Cooperation movement due to the Chauri-Chaura incident, and formed the Congress Independence Party, which had a pro-Hindu slant.
In 1928, British Government decided to send Simon Commission to India to discuss constitutional reforms. The Commission had no Indian member. This greatly angered Indians. In 1929, when the Commisssion came to India there were protests all over India. Lala Lajpat Rai himself led one such procession against Simon Commission on October 30, 1928 in Lahore. While the procession was peaceful, James Scott, superintendent of Police brutally lathicharged the procession. Lala Lajpat Rai received severe head injuries and died on November17, 1928. Subsequently to avenge Lalaji’s death, Bhagat Singh and others planned to kill James Scott, however ended up killing John P. Saunders, Assistant Superintendent of Police, in case of a mistaken identity.