Giani Zail Singh was an Indian politician from Punjab who served as the seventh president of India from 1982 to 1987.
64 Facts About Zail Singh
Zail Singh was associated with peasant agitations and the movement seeking a representative government in Faridkot.
Zail Singh's policies aimed to undercut the influence of the Shiromani Akali Dal party by championing Sikh religious causes.
Zail Singh hit back by questioning government policy and subjecting proposals sent to him to minute scrutiny.
Zail Singh died in 1994 of injuries sustained in a road accident.
Zail Singh's samadhi is at the Ekta Sthal in Delhi.
Zail Singh was born in Sandhwan, Faridkot district on 5 May 1916 to Kishan Zail Singh and Ind Kaur, as the youngest of their five children.
Zail Singh was a Ramgarhia Sikh, belonging to a caste associated with engineering, architecture and carpentry.
Zail Singh married Pardhan Kaur with whom he had three daughters and a son.
In 1936, Zail Singh was imprisoned for a year for his participation in the Kisan Morcha.
In 1938, Zail Singh founded the Praja Mandal, a political organization allied to the All India States Peoples' Conference, in Faridkot.
Zail Singh was jailed between 1938 and 1943, spending time in solitary confinement in a Faridkot prison.
The maharaja's failure to fully implement the pact led to a renewed agitation in the state in 1948 when Praja Mandal activists besieged the state's secretariat and Zail Singh declared the formation of a parallel government in Faridkot.
In January 1949, Zail Singh became minister for revenue in the government of PEPSU under Chief Minister Gian Zail Singh Rarewala.
Raghbir Singh became the Chief Minister and Zail Singh was appointed minister for agriculture.
Zail Singh piloted the Biswedar Abolition Ordinance that provided for the appropriation without compensation of land owned by the landlords and tenancy rights to the cultivators.
Zail Singh resigned his membership in March 1962 to contest the Punjab state assembly elections and won from the Faridkot constituency.
Zail Singh briefly served as a minister in the Partap Singh Kairon ministry but resigned in the wake of the 1962 war with China and the reduction in size of the ministry.
Zail Singh was the first Other Backward Class leader and the only non-Jat Sikh to be elected Chief Minister of Punjab since its reorganization in 1966 until 2021 when Charanjit Zail Singh Channi, a Dalit Sikh, became Chief Minister.
Zail Singh's government enacted the Punjab Land Reforms Act, 1972 which fixed land ceilings at 18 acres per family.
Zail Singh introduced a scheme for life-long pension for participants in India's independence movement.
In 1974 Zail Singh repatriated the remains of Udham Zail Singh from the United Kingdom which were then taken in a procession to Punjab, cleverly utilizing the media attention and popular interest in it to burnish his credentials.
Zail Singh took to honouring the legacy of Bhagat Singh, declaring a gazetted holiday on his birthday, converting his ancestral home at Khatkar Kalan into a museum and honouring his mother with the title of 'Punjab Mata'.
Zail Singh was responsible for getting the Department of Electronics to establish the Semiconductor Complex Limited at Mohali in 1974 overriding their preferred choice of Madras.
In 1975, Zail Singh introduced a reservation of fifty per cent of jobs for Valmikis and Mazhabi Sikhs under the quota of jobs reserved for the scheduled castes.
Zail Singh was forced to implement the policy, in part, to retain favour with Sanjay Gandhi, whom he had once described as his savior, and to stave off the challenge to his leadership from other Congress leaders of Punjab, notably Mohinder Zail Singh Gill who was the party's president.
The defeat of the Congress Party in the elections of 1977 led Sanjay Gandhi and Zail Singh to look for a Sikh leader who would weaken the Akali Dal by espousing a strident stand on matters of Sikh faith thus undercutting the Akalis.
Zail Singh was inducted into the government as Minister of Home Affairs on 14 January 1980 continuing in that post till 22 June 1982.
The Punjab government under Parkash Zail Singh Badal was dismissed and the state brought under President's rule in February 1980.
In each of these instances even as Darbara Singh wanted to crack down on Bhindranwale, Zail Singh intervened on his behalf in the hope of using him as a pawn in his political battle against Darbara Singh.
Zail Singh was seen as a weak and inept minister who was appointed to prevent him from developing strong base in Punjab and as someone who mishandled crises in the Punjab, Kashmir and the North East.
In June 1982, Zail Singh was chosen by the Congress party to be its candidate for the presidential election to succeed Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, rejecting a proposal by the opposition to have a consenus candidate.
Zail Singh's nomination was seen as a gesture to the Sikhs at a time when the separatist agitation for Khalistan was gaining popularity.
Zail Singh won a majority in each of India's state assemblies except for West Bengal and Tripura.
Zail Singh was sworn in the seventh President of India on 25 July 1982.
Zail Singh was the first Sikh as the first person from a backward caste to become president.
Zail Singh was known for his loyalty to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and had remarked that he would pick up a broom and become a sweeper if she were to ask him to do so.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrived on a state visit in November 1983, as the guests of President Zail Singh and stayed at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Zail Singh was not appraised of these plans neither when Punjab was brought under President's Rule nor when Prime Minister Gandhi met him for a routine briefing the day before the operation was launched.
Zail Singh was deeply upset at the damage done to the temple complex.
Zail Singh later justified Operation Blue Star saying bloodshed could have been avoided had militants surrendered and urging all Sikhs to ensure that their temples would not in the future be used to house arms and material not sanctioned by Sikh tradition.
Zail Singh was exonerated 24 days later by the Sikh high priests after he expressed contrition and sought forgiveness before the Akal Takht for the 'unfortunate incidents' that had happened there.
The Zail Singh presidency saw similar dismissal of state governments and imposition of President's rule in Jammu and Kashmir and in Sikkim.
Zail Singh returned to Delhi the same evening and visited the All India Institute of Medical Sciences where Indira Gandhi had been admitted.
That convention would have required Zail Singh to appoint Pranab Mukherjee as the acting prime minister.
Accordingly, Zail Singh swore Rajiv Gandhi in as Prime Minister in the evening of 21 October 1984.
Zail Singh later admitted that his commitment to the Congress party and to the Indian constitution were severely tested by these events but he chose to remain in his post.
Zail Singh retaliated by subjecting all proposals sent to him to minute scrutiny, seeking explanations from the government on not formulating a policy on judicial appointments, questioning its television coverage policy and cautioning the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Kumudben Joshi, to desist from interfering in the state's politics besides seeking an explanation from the Chief Election Commissioner of India about delay in holding scheduled elections in the state of Haryana.
However, Zail Singh is best remembered for his stance on the Indian Post Office Bill, 1986.
Zail Singh responded by writing to the prime minister narrating specific instances where no information had been furnished despite repeated demands.
Gandhi, who had strained relations with the Chief of the Army Staff General Sundarji and his Defence Minister Arun Zail Singh, was opposed to giving Zail Singh a further term in office.
Zail Singh never acted on the plan and decided not to seek a second term as he failed to get the open support of the opposition and feared it could lead to an army takeover.
Zail Singh led state visits to Czechoslovakia, Qatar and Bahrain in 1983, to Mexico and Argentina and to Mauritius, North and South Yemen in 1984.
Zail Singh was in Aden, Yemen when Indira Gandhi was assassinated.
Zail Singh made visits to Nepal, Yugoslavia, Greece and Poland in 1986.
Consequently, Zail Singh became one of the least travelled Presidents of India.
Zail Singh was succeeded to the presidency by Ramaswamy Venkataraman, who was sworn in on 25 July 1987.
Zail Singh chose to spend his retirement in Delhi where the government provided him with a bungalow on Circular Road.
Zail Singh was severely injured in a road accident when his car collided with a truck at Kiratpur Sahib in the Ropar district of Punjab on 29 November 1994.
Zail Singh was admitted to the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh where he died on 25 December 1994 aged 78.
Singh's autobiography, The Memoirs of Giani Zail Singh, was published in 1996.
The birth centenary of Zail Singh was celebrated in 2016 at which a documentary film on his life and a book were released in his honour.