Biography of Giani Zail Singh – The first Sikh to hold the highest prestigious position of President

Zail Singh was the first Sikh religious person to hold the highest prestigious position in the country from 1982 to 1987 and was considered a successful person in the political arena. From an active member of the Indian National Congress to serving in multiple ministries in the Union Cabinet to occupying the highest prestigious position in the country, he has made an outstanding contribution to his Indian social life.

Biography of Zail Singh

Biography of Zail Singh

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Table of Contents

NameGiani Zail Singh[1]
Real NameJarnail Singh
Date of Birth5 May 1916
Place of BirthFaridkot District, Sandhawan, Punjab, British India
Father’s NameKishan Singh
Mother’s NameHind Kaur
EducationShahid Sikh Missionary College, Amritsar
AwardsOrder of St. Thomas Honors, 1982
Died25 December 1994

Early Life of Zail Singh

Zail Singh is the first Sikh religious person to hold the highest prestigious post in the country. Singh was sworn in as the seventh President of India in 1992. Singh was born on May 5, 1916 in Punjab in Sandhwan area of Faridkot district.  Importantly, Singh’s birth name was Jarnail Singh, which means “General.” But later he became known as Zail Singh because Jarnail Singh, a philanthropist, played an important role in establishing the Praja Mandal, a political organisation associated with the Congress party in Faridkot, and was jailed for several years for several protests against the maharaja’s rule in Faridkot, which is why Jarnail Singh became known as Zail Singh in social life as well. Another notable thing is that Singh acquired a lot of knowledge by studying the holy texts of Sikhism thoroughly. He was a Sikh by religion and was given the title of Giani, as he was educated and learned about Guru Granth Sahib at Shaheed Sikh Missionary College in Amritsar and he earned the title of Giani (“Learned Man”)..

Singh’s father’s name was – Kishan Singh and mother’s name was – Hind Kaur. His father Kishan Singh was a carpenter professionally but was famous all over Faridkot for his simple behaviour. Zail Singh, the youngest of five brothers and a sister, had a childhood of conflict and problems. He had to be deprived of his mother’s love in childhood. Singh grew up under the supervision of mother’s sister Daya Kaur for his mother’s untimely demise. Despite his formal education, Singh studied religious texts and holy book Guru Granth Sahib.

As a student of Missionary College, Singh took care to make Punjabi spoken language smoother. He also expressed his views more actively on matters of public interest. It may  be recalled that the Sandhawan area of Faridkot district, the birthplace of Singh, was a geographically small area. Singh, full of immense ambitions, also made great progress for the progress of his region.

Also Read : Biography of K. R. Narayanan

Political Career

Singh, who has been involved in social work for a long time, was urged to serve as Revenue Minister in the government formed in 1949 under Chief Minister Gian Singh Rarewala of Patiala. He later served as Agriculture Minister in the Congress-led government in 1951. It was followed by Zail Singh serving as a member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) from 1956 to 1962.

Singh later elected as a Congress Chief Minister of Punjab in the 1972 general elections till 1977. He took the lead in holding religious gatherings while in charge as chief minister. He also inaugurated a national highway named after Guru Gobind Singh and also named a township after the son of Guru Gobind Singh. Importantly, he also played a major role in implementing lifelong pension schemes for the freedom fighters of the state.

Zail Singh was elected as a 7th Lok Sabha MP in 1980 and appointed to join Minister of Home Affairs, in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet. He was subsequently sworn in as the first Sikh president on July 25, 1982, after Singh was unanimously nominated to serve as the president in 1982.

Operation Blue Star campaign was launched in 1984 during the presidency of Zail Singh. It was a kind of communal, horrible, vengeful and planned attack. Following the operation he was pressured to resign from the post by Sikhs. Operation Blue Star hurt the religious consciousness of Sikhs. It was because of the Operation Blue Star campaign in 1984 that President Zail Singh had to face the angers of Sikhs.

Indira Gandhi was killed by security guards Biyant Singh and Satwant Singh as a result of the communal rift sparked by Operation Blue Star. Later, Indira Gandhi’s follower Zail Singh played a special role in the subsequent assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31,1984, in the same year, and he appointed Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister.

Importantly, Singh faced criticism in some respects in parallel with the challenges faced in various fields while serving as President. Importantly, Zail Singh used pocket veto to refuse assent to the Indian 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.

Award Honours

Zail Singh was honoured with the Order of St. Thomas by Catholics of the East Baselios MarThoma Mathews during the Catholic Platinum Jubilee held at Kottayam Nehru Stadium on September 12, 1982. It may be recalled that this honour is the highest prestigious award given by the Indian Orthodox Church.


On 29 November 1994, 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, he was 78 years old at the time of his death. The Government of India announced a seven-day official mourning on the death of Zail Singh who performed his last rites at Rajghat in Delhi.  Importantly, in memory of Singh, the Indian Postal Department unveiled a special postage stamp on the first death anniversary in 1995.

Zail Singh’s political integrity, values, strong personality, ideals will always be alive among the new generation. He is always relevant to his thoughts because of the intellectual approach, hard work and humble behaviour. Singh, is respected as a man of great personality in parallel with his contribution as a politician. One of the people whose personality and patriotism has made India a modern, powerful country is Zail Singh.


1/ Who is the first Sikh person to be elected president?

Answer – Indian National Congress member Zail Singh was the first Sikh President of India. Moreover, he was the president who was re-elected after completing his full five-year term. Singh’s presidency was held from July 25, 1982 to July 25, 1987.

2/ Why did Jarnail Singh’s name change to Giani Zail Singh?

Answer – The birth name of Giani Zail Singh was Jarnail Singh. This means “General.”  But he later came to be known as Zail Singh. Because he was jailed for protesting against the maharaja’s rule in Faridkot many times, which led to his name Zail Singh instead of Jarnail Singh. Another notable thing is that Singh acquired a lot of knowledge by studying the holy texts of Sikhism thoroughly. Because of his scholarly mastery, He earned the title of “Giani” (“Learned Man”).. These are the reasons why Jarnail Singh’s name changed to Giani Zail Singh.

3/ When did Zail Singh die?

Answer – Singh succumbed to injuries in a road accident on November 29, 1994 and he died while undergoing treatment at a hospital in Chandigarh on Christmas Day i.e. December 25, 1994.

4/ What was the birth name of Zail Singh?

Answer – Jarnael Singh. This means “General.”

5/ When and where was Zail Singh born?

Answer – Singh was born on May 5,1916 in Punjab in Sandhavan area of Faridkot district.

6/ What is the name of Zail Singh’s father, mother?

Answer – Singh’s father’s name is – Krishan Singh and mother’s name is – Hind Kaur.

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