Giani Zail Singh was first punjabi to become president of India. Born on 5 May 1916, son of Mata Ind Kaur and Bhai Kishan Singh in a small village named Sandhwan, near Kot Kapura, formerly prince state of Faridkot. Kishen Singh was village carpenter. He also had some land to till. He was devout Sikh and was known in the countryside for his simple and upright manner. Zail Singh was youngest of Five brothers and sisters. Zail Singh lost his mother at his early age. He was brought up by the sister of his mother named Daya Kaur. He had little formal education. He inherited the family’s broad interest in religious learning and gained easy fluency in reading the Guru Granth Sahib . He acquired a fairly wide knowledge of Sikh doctrine and history. He was accepted for admission to the Shahid Sikh Missionary college at Amritsar, without fullfilling the miminum entry condition of marticulation. What immpressed authorities was his flair for public speaking.
After this course, Giani was attached to his name., which meant "the one learned in the religious lore". This epithet was stuck to his name for rest of the life. He grew into the mastery of public speaking and could easily throw spells on his audiences. He could mix with uncanny facility couplets of Urdu verse with his fluent Punjabi. He had a subtle sense of fun.
His native Faridkot was small unit politically and geographically., peaceful and quiet. It ruler, Raja Harinder Singh was a colorful personality. He was full of energy and ambition. One of his aims was to open the doors of modern progress for his state and have it counted among the more progressive territories of the region. Because of Raja’s friendly nature he knew almost two three families of all the villages of his territories. Raja was an easy mixer with common folks. In the year of Indian Independence, 1947 Nehru came to Faridkot asking Raja to align himself with India. Nehru encouraged the local extremsits. When Raja was away in Malerkotla they formed a parallel government. Raja was in a rage. He immediately put an end to revolt and send out a very angry cable to Nehru and Patel, two indian leaders who were negotiating with the Indian Princes. Since Zail Singh was aligned with the people who were protesting against the Raja, he had to bear the Raja’s brunt.
After India was divided into Muslim Pakistan and Secular India, East Punjab’s small kingdoms were made into a state called PEPSU short for Patiala and East Punjab States Union, that was conglomerate of Patiala,Jind, Nabha, Kapurthala and Faridkot states. This new state had total area of 10,090 Sq Miles with population being 34,24,060. The annual revenue of the state was little over 5 crores.
Giani Zail singh had emerged from one of the smaller units. He was dedicated and single minded with limitless powers of concentration. In 1949, a non party government was established in PEPSU with Gian Singh Rarewala of Patiala as Chief Minister and Giani Zail Singh as Revenue minister. Then after the elections in 1951, in the congress government formed on 23 May 1951, he became Agriculture minister. From 1956 to 1962 he served as a Member of Indian parliament (Rajya Sabha). In general elections in 1972, he became chief minister of Punjab. In the 1980 General elections Giani Zail singh was elected as Member of Parliament of Lok Sabha, Indira Gandhi the president of the Congress party made him minister of home affairs. In 1982 Giani Zail Singh was unaanimously elected by the congress party as a choice for President. Giani Zail Singh won almost by a unianomous vote of the nation. Even the dissident parties such as Akalis and Communists supported him.
Eventhough Giani Zail Singh achieved much in his life but he did not aligned himself with the Akalis in Punjab, the leading group of Sikh political aspirations. Giani Zail Singh owing to his humble background was always trying to immpress his bosses (especially Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India), he even once said "I will sweep the door of her house if Madam tells me to do so". Such comments from a person of such stature made him unpopular in Sikhs and Akalis. Earlier when he was Chief Minister of Punjab he dangerously brought religion into politics. He would often visit Gurdwaras and give them huge grants. He named many roads on the name of Sikh Gurus. Obviously this type of politics was to undermine Akalis who were openly working for Sikhs and Sikhism causes. His dirty politics with religion brought in front Jarnail Singh Bhindrenwale who was simple minded and zealously working for Sikh causes and hated both Congress and Akalis. Zail Singh supported Bhindrenwale and brought back the rule of Congress in Punjab under Darbara Singh as chief minister. When he was president of India, Indira Gandhi ordered Army attach on Golden Temple called Operation Blue Star without disclosing these orders to the President of India, Zail Singh., eventhough Army is under the direct command of President of India. This incident alone shows that President is merely a puppet at the hands of Prime Minister. Giani Zail Singh visited Golden Temple four days after the army attack. After this attack many Sikh resigned from their posts, many sikhs revolted in army, but Giani Zail Singh remained firmly attached to his ceremonously post, this showed his true colors and respect for Sikhs and Sikhism. Then when Indira Gandhi was murdered by two Singhs named Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, Giani Zail Singh made Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India. Rajiv Gandhi’s party and henchmen killed more then 7000+ Sikhs (Government of India estimates), but Sikh president of India could do nothing. SO! this biography of Zail Singh is being presented as a dark chapter in Sikh history, the darkest hour of this century in Sikh history that was 1980’s.
In 1994 when he was on a pilgrimage to Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib his car met with a serious accident. He was taken to PGI at Chandigarh where he died on 25 December 1994.