GIANI ZAIL SINGH, whose ascendancy in the service of the nation can be traced from the humblest of origins, combines rare qualities of head and heart. The Giani's innings in public life have been long and varied - freedom fighter, social reformer, champion of the down-trodden, State Congress Leader, successful Chief Minister and Union Home Minister. Truly, he was a relentless fighter against princedom, feudalism and foreign domination in the pre-independence days, a tireless crusader against communalism, economic disparities and social injustice, a true friend of the down-trodden and the economically weak. Tall, handsome and immaculately dressed Giani Zail Singh was a firm believer in democratic traditions, most unassuming, a God fearing man and true son of the soil. No wonder that he has been able to carve out a distinguished niche for himself in Indian public life.
Giani Zail Singh, was born on May 5, 1916 in village Sandhwan in Faridkot District in a family of artisans, taken to agriculture. His father Sardar Kishan Singh owned about fifty-six acres of land which was intershared by Giani Zail Singh and his two brothers. He comes from common stock and was born in a mud house in a remote village having no pull or patronage. Stitching clothes, crushing stones, ploughing in fields, laying roads, digging wells and making swords on the part of Gianiji gave him a rare insight into the psyche of the common man - his problems and aspirations. Also as a form of basic education, he has gone through the Quran, Geeta, Ramayana, besides an intensive study of the Sikh Scriptures.
Displaying precocity from his early childhood, Gianiji cultivated literary tastes. By the time most of the boys of his age had passed their matriculation examination, he had completed the study of Sikh Religion, Sikh History and Sikh Scriptures. He grew to be a Giani which means a Scholar. He was very well versed in Hindi and Urdu. Though not well-versed in the nuances of the English language, the valuable example which he furnishes of the power of self help, of patient purpose, resolute working and steadfast integrity illustrate the efficiency of self respect and self reliance in enabling men of even the humblest rank to work out for themselves and honourable competency and a solid reputation.
The martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and his companions, valiant freedom fighters, on March 23, 1931, moved the young Giani who was then only 16. The story of Giani Zail Singh's ordeals started with setting up of the branch of the All India Congress in the State of Faridkot in 1938. Giani Zail Singh was proclaimed and treated as an ordinary criminal. The Maharaja regarded the opening of the Branch of the Congress as a challenge and the man who did it as an arch enemy. So it was that Gianiji having founded the Congress in the State of Faridkot found himself behind prison bars for five years. He was kept in solitary confinement throughout his imprisonment. Even after his release, Gianiji was harassed and he had to spend sometime outside the State. During this period he canvassed support for the freedom movement in his State. During the same period he was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's message of non-violence.
In 1946, Gianiji was back in his State to resume the freedom struggle on the lines initiated by Mahatma Gandhi - Father of the Nation. The whole State of Faridkot rose to a man on the question of hoisting the National Flag. But a reign of terror was unleashed by the Maharaja. Hearing of this high-handedness from Gianiji and some of colleagues Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru decided to visit Faridkot to hoist the Tricolour. This brought Gianiji into close contact with Panditji and ever since that day, Panditji kept his benign eye on the young and promising freedom fighter.
Setting up a parallel Government in Faridkot was the most perilous adventure of Giani Zail Singh's life. Giani Zail Singh was held guilty of leading the revolt against the Raja's Government and taken into custody. Then occurred the famous Jeep Episode - a tyrannical response to Gianiji's quest to end the princely and feudal tyranny. Gianiji was bound hand and feet to a jeep and was threatened that he would be dragged along the streets unless he relented. But ultimately good sense prevailed and the threat was not carried out.
When Faridkot State was merged into the State of Patiala and East Punjab States Union, Giani Zail Singh made historic contributions in removing socio-economic injustice of farm labourers, small cultivators and tenants in his capacity as a Minister for Revenue and Agriculture. The conferment of proprietory rights on the actual tillers and the abolition of absentee landlordism and the legislative steps ensuring the security of tenancy and the rights of tenants to share the lands declared as "surplus" after land-ceiling, are all to the credit of Gianiji. The protection given in PEPSU against State ejectments by landlords is till today a shining landmark in the post-freedom history of agrarian reforms in India.
On November 1, 1956, when PEPSU was integrated with Punjab it opened a new chapter in the life of the peasants and workers and the common people. In 1956, Giani Zail Singh became a Member of Rajya Sabha and the Senior Vice-President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee. He injected new fervour among the partymen and struggled selflessly to ensure thumping victories for the Congress in Punjab in 1962 General Elections to Punjab Vidhan Sabha and the Lok Sabha. He was taken as a Minister in the Government headed by the late Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon but in 1962, he sacrificed that office when the Chinese aggression brought new challenges in its wake.
During 1962 to 1972, Giani Zail Singh waged an uncompromising battle against the forces of communalism, reaction and exploitation for about ten long years in Punjab. As a President of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, the spirit he was able to infuse in the rank and file of the Congress against heavy odds, triumphed with decisive and overwhelming majority for the Congress in the 1971 Lok Sabha elections and the 1972 Punjab Vidhan Sabha poll.
In March, 1972, he was elected unanimously by the Punjab
Congress Legislative Party to be the Chief Minister of Punjab. For an
unprecedented spell of stability for five years and three months, Giani Zail
Singh accelerated the pace of Green Revolution and industrialization in the
State and strengthened the forces of secularism by promoting the unity of the
people of all faiths.
Under his dynamic stewardship Punjab saw prosperity, stability, vitality, unity and solidarity. Inspired by the Leadership of Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Gianiji worked with dedication to make the Punjabis realize their dream of a better life.
With the advent of the multiparty governments at the Centre and in certain States including Punjab towards the middle of 1977, Giani Zail Singh had to brave a fresh spate of difficulties, hardships and harassment. The trials and tribulations, however, failed to break his spirit or to deprive him of the love of the common masses. He was elected to the Seventh Lok Sabha in January, 1980, from the Hoshiarpur Constituency in Punjab with a thumping lead of over 1,25,000 votes over his nearest rival, and became Home Minister in Government of India in Smt. Indira Gandhi's Cabinet.
As a Union Home Minister, Giani Zail Singh made a notable
contribution in maintaining law and order, handling the Assam agitation and
dealing firmly with communal riots in the country. He used his vast
administrative experience spanning over more than three decades as Minister in
PEPSU and Punjab and as the State Chief Minister to his great advantage. In
attending to almost all the major problems facing the nation today, he has shown
rare qualities of a seasoned statesman. The most striking, however, is his role
in the Assam Crisis. He used all his skill in bringing round the agitation
leaders to the negotiating table. His personal intervention at the crucial
moments during the talks brought him many laurels, and greatly helped create a
congenial climate for mutual discussions. As Home Minister he has abundantly
shown his keen alertness to the numerous problems facing the nation. He has been
able to strengthen the national integration and has shown tenacity in curbing
violence of all types.
Giani Zail Singh was elected to the highest office of the President of India on July 15, 1982 and took the oath of office on July 25, 1982.
Giani Zail Singh believes in the efficiency of politeness in expression and penetrative understanding of human relations and problems. This has, however, never impaired his firmness on basic principles of approach and the fundamentals of the policy and programmes. A refined sense of humour, backed by his intense love for children and the suffering humans in all parts of the country, is his inbuilt safeguard against tensions and malice in his public conduct.