|7th President of India|
25 July 1982 – 25 July 1987
|Prime Minister||Indira Gandhi|
|Vice President||Mohammad Hidayatullah|
|Preceded by||Neelam Sanjiva Reddy|
|Succeeded by||R. Venkataraman|
|Minister of Home Affairs|
14 January 1980 – 22 June 1982
|Prime Minister||Indira Gandhi|
|Preceded by||Yashwantrao Chavan|
|Succeeded by||R. Venkataraman|
|9th Chief Minister of Punjab|
17 March 1972 – 30 April 1977
|Governor||D. C. Pavate|
Mahendra Mohan Choudhry
|Preceded by||President's rule|
|Succeeded by||President's rule|
|Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement|
5 May 1916
Sandhwan, Punjab, British India
(now in Punjab, India)
|Died||25 December 1994 (aged 78)|
|Political party||Indian National Congress|
|Spouse(s)||Pardhan Kaur (1919–2002)|
|Children||1 son, 3 daughters|
|Alma mater||Shaheed Sikh Missionary College|
Giani Zail Singh (pronunciation (help·info), born Jarnail Singh; 5 May 1916 – 25 December 1994) was the seventh and the first Sikh 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 Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1983 to 1986.
He was born in Sandhwan, Faridkot district on 5 May 1916 to Kishan Singh and Mata Hind Kaur, a Tarkhan 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. 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.
State politics (1947–1972)
In 1947, with the reorganisation of India along secular lines, he opposed Harindar Singh Brar, ruler of Faridkot State and was incarcerated and tortured for five years. 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.
Chief Minister of Punjab (1972–77)
Zail Singh was elected as a Congress Chief Minister of Punjab in 1972. 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. 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.
President of India
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. 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. 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 apologise 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.
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 (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.
Death and legacy
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. Singh died in PGI, Chandigarh where he had been undergoing treatment on Christmas Day in 1994, aged 78. The Government of India announced seven days of official mourning following his death. He was cremated at the Raj Ghat Memorial in Delhi.
- Hazarika, Sanjoy (26 December 1994). "Zail Singh, 78, First Sikh To Hold India's Presidency". New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- "Obituary: Zail Singh". The Independent. 29 December 1994. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
- ""Zail Singh, 78, First Sikh To Hold India's Presidency". The New York Times. 26 December 1994. Retrieved 26 October 2011.
- "Zail Singh". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- A.C. Aurora, "Punjab Riyasti Praja Mandal", The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, ed. Harbans Singh, Vol. III, Patiala, India, Punjabi University, 1997, p. 278.
- Rajya Sabha member
- 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.
- Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume II: 1839–2004, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 355.
- "10 stories that changed in our lifetime". India Today. December 2008.
- Khushwant Singh, A History of the Sikhs, Volume II: 1839–2004, New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 359-60.
- Harjot Singh, "Zail Singh, Giani", The Encyclopedia of Sikhism, ed. Harbans Singh, Vol. IV, Patiala, India, Punjabi University, 1997, pp. 456–57.
- "Order Of St. Thomas". www.notknowingyourhistoryisnotknowingyourself.wordpress.com.
- "Show Of Dissent". India Today. Archived from the original on 26 March 2013. Retrieved 13 June 2012.
- "Zail Singh's death: RI for truck driver". The Hindu. 7 December 2000. Archived from the original on 3 December 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "Giani Zail Singh's widow dead". The Tribune. 12 May 2002. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "Zail Singh dies after crash". The Washington Post. 26 December 1994. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "Zail Singh dies after car crash". Independent. 26 December 1994. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "Giani Zail Singh: 13 facts you should know about the only Sikh President of India". India Today. 5 May 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
- "Presidents of India on Indian Stamps". Retrieved 19 September 2016.
- "1st Death Anniversary of Giani Zail Singh". Indian Philately. Retrieved 19 September 2016.