Zail Singh

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Zail Singh
Giani Zail Singh 1995 stamp of India.jpg
7th President of India
In office
25 July 1982 – 25 July 1987
Prime MinisterIndira Gandhi
Rajiv Gandhi
Vice PresidentMohammad Hidayatullah
R. Venkataraman
Preceded byNeelam Sanjiva Reddy
Succeeded byR. Venkataraman
Minister of Home Affairs
In office
14 January 1980 – 22 June 1982
Prime MinisterIndira Gandhi
Preceded byYashwantrao Chavan
Succeeded byR. Venkataraman
9th Chief Minister of Punjab
In office
17 March 1972 – 30 April 1977
Preceded byPresident's rule
Succeeded byPresident's rule
Personal details
Jarnail Singh

(1916-05-05)5 May 1916
Sandhwan, Punjab Province, British India
(now in Punjab, India)
Died25 December 1994(1994-12-25) (aged 78)
Chandigarh, India
Political partyIndian National Congress
Spouse(s)Pardhan Kaur (1919–2002)[1]
Children1 son, 3 daughters[1]
Alma materShaheed Sikh Missionary College

Giani Zail Singh (About this soundpronunciation ; born Jarnail Singh, 5 May 1916 – 25 December 1994[2]) was the seventh President of India serving from 1982 to 1987. Prior to his presidency, he was a politician with the Indian National Congress party, and had held several ministerial posts in the Union Cabinet, including that of Home Minister. He also served as the Secretary-General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1983 to 1986.

His presidency was marked by Operation Blue Star, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.[3] He died of injuries in 1994, after a car accident.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Sandhwan, Faridkot district on 5 May 1916 to Kishan Singh and Mata Ind Kaur, a Ramgarhia couple of a small village, Sandhvan, near Kot Kapura, in the princely state of Faridkot. Kishan Singh was the village carpenter. Additionally, he had his own small acreage to till. He was a devout Sikh and was known in the countryside for his simple and upright manner. Zail Singh was named Jarnail, meaning “General”, but as a young man, he changed his first name to Zail after being imprisoned several times for opposing the rule of the maharajah of Faridkot.[2] He was a Sikh by religion, was given the title of Giani, as he was educated and learned about Guru Granth Sahib at Shaheed Sikh Missionary College in Amritsar.[4]

State politics (1947–1972)[edit]

In 1947, with the reorganization of India along secular lines, he opposed Harindar Singh Brar, ruler of Faridkot State and was incarcerated and tortured for five years.[5] He was called on to be the Revenue Minister of the recently formed Patiala and East Punjab States Union, under Chief Minister Gian Singh Rarewala in 1949 and later became Minister of Agriculture in 1951. From 3 April 1956 to 10 March 1962, he was a member of the Rajya Sabha.[6]

Chief Minister of Punjab (1972–77)[edit]

Zail Singh was elected as a Congress Chief Minister of Punjab in 1972.[7] He arranged massive religious gatherings, started public functions with a traditional Sikh prayer, inaugurated a highway named after Guru Gobind Singh, and named a township after the Guru's son.[8] He created a lifelong pension scheme for the freedom fighters of the state. He repatriated the remains of Udham Singh from London, armaments and articles belonging to Guru Gobind Singh.

Central government[edit]

In 1980, Zail Singh was elected to the 7th Lok Sabha, and appointed to join Indira Gandhi's cabinet as Minister of Home Affairs.[3]

President of India[edit]

In 1982, he was unanimously nominated to serve as the President. Nonetheless, some in the media felt that the President had been chosen for being an Indira loyalist rather than an eminent person. "If my leader had said I should pick up a broom and be a sweeper, I would have done that. She chose me to be President," Singh was quoted to have said after his election.[9] He took the oath of office on 25 July 1982. He was the first Sikh to hold the office.

He served beside Gandhi and protocol dictated that he should be briefed every week by her on the affairs of the state. On 31 May 1984, day before Operation Blue Star, he met with Gandhi for more than an hour, but she omitted even sharing a word about her plan.[10] Following the operation he was pressured to resign from his post by Sikhs. He decided against resignation fearing to aggravate the situation on advice from Yogi Bhajan. He was subsequently called before the Akal Takhat to apologize and explain his inaction at the desecration of the Harimandir Sahib and killing of innocent Sikhs. Indira Gandhi was assassinated on 31 October in the same year, and he appointed her elder son Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister.[11]

Also, in 1986 he exercised the Pocket veto with respect to the Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill, passed by Rajiv Gandhi, imposing restrictions on the freedom of press and hence, was widely criticised.


Zail Singh was awarded the Order of St. Thomas[12] (the highest honorary award conferred by the Indian Orthodox Church) by Catholicos of the East Baselios MarThoma Mathews I during the Catholicate Platinum jubilee celebratory meeting held at Kottayam Nehru Stadium on 12 September 1982.

Letter issue[edit]

Singh used a pocket veto to refuse assent to the "Post Office (Amendment) Bill" in 1986 to show his opposition to the bill. The bill was later withdrawn by the V. P. Singh Government in 1990.[13]

Death and legacy[edit]

On 29 November 1994, Zail Singh suffered multiple injuries following a motor accident near Kiratpur Sahib in Ropar district when a truck driving down the wrong side of the road hit the car he was travelling in.[14][15] Singh died in PGI, Chandigarh where he had been undergoing treatment on Christmas Day in 1994, aged 78.[16][17] The Government of India announced seven days of official mourning following his death.[17] He was cremated at the Raj Ghat Memorial in Delhi.[18] He is survived by his son and two daughters. He was also survived by his wife, who outlived him for seven years and died on 12 May 2002.

A commemorative postage stamp was issued by India's Department of Posts on the occasion of Singh's first death anniversary in 1995.[19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hazarika, Sanjoy (26 December 1994). "Zail Singh, 78, First Sikh To Hold India's Presidency". New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  2. ^ a b Obituary: Zail Singh". The Independent. 29 December 1994. Retrieved 2018-22-06.
  3. ^ a b "Zail Singh, 78, First Sikh To Hold India's Presidency". The New York Times. 26 December 1994. Retrieved 2011-26-10.
  4. ^ "Zail Singh". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  5. ^ A.C. Aurora, "Punjab Riyasti Praja Mandal", The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, ed. Harbans Singh, Vol. III, Patiala, India, Punjabi University, 1997, p. 278.
  6. ^ Rajya Sabha member
  7. ^ Sangat Singh, The Sikhs in History, New Delhi, Uncommon Books, 1999, pp. 350–54; Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume II: 1839–2004, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, pp. 315–17.
  8. ^ Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume II: 1839–2004, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 355.
  9. ^ "10 stories that changed in our lifetime". India Today. December 2008.
  10. ^ Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume II: 1839–2004, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 359-60.
  11. ^ Harjot Singh, "Zail Singh, Giani", The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, ed. Harbans Singh, Vol. IV, Patiala, India, Punjabi University, 1997, pp. 456–57.
  12. ^ "Order Of St. Thomas".
  13. ^ "Show Of Dissent". India Today. Archived from the original on 26 March 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
  14. ^ "Zail Singh's death: RI for truck driver". The Hindu. 7 December 2000. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  15. ^ "Giani Zail Singh's widow dead". The Tribune. 12 May 2002. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  16. ^ "Zail Singh dies after crash". The Washington Post. 26 December 1994. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  17. ^ a b "Zail Singh dies after car crash". Independent. 26 December 1994. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  18. ^ "Giani Zail Singh: 13 facts you should know about the only Sikh President of India". India Today. 5 May 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  19. ^ "Presidents of India on Indian Stamps". Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  20. ^ "1st Death Anniversary of Giani Zail Singh". Indian Philately. Retrieved 19 September 2016.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Yashwantrao Chavan
Minister of Home Affairs
Succeeded by
R. Venkataraman
Preceded by
Neelam Sanjiva Reddy
President of India
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy
Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement
Succeeded by
R. Venkataraman