Former Union Minister P Shiv Shankar, 87, passed away in Hyderabad on Monday due to age-related health issues. He was considered one of the most powerful men in the country during the regimes of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Even when the Congress went out of office in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi made him Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. But he fell out of favour during the stewardship of Sonia Gandhi.
He was a judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court before he joined the Congress and contested a bypoll from Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency in 1979. Shiv Shankar won the seat again in 1980 and became Minister for Law in the Indira Gandhi Cabinet. He held many important portfolios, including External Affairs and Petroleum and Chemicals, he courted controversy for his attempts to control the judiciary. His experience on the bench and the bar was useful for the task assigned to him by Indira Gandhi. Her worries vis-à-vis the judiciary stemmed from the fact that she was forced to impose emergency to remain in power after an adverse high court judgment.
Taking his job with utmost seriousness, Shiv Shankar sent a circular to governors for securing the concurrence of newly appointed temporary judges for being transferred to any high court. Though he packaged the move as one intended to promote national integration, the legal fraternity saw it as a tool to manipulate postings of judges according to the strategic interests of the central government. Consequently, a seven-judge bench in 1981 quelled the move by holding it illegal. He again courted controversy by alleging in a speech that the Supreme Court was a “haven” for antisocial elements. A senior lawyer, PN Duda, dragged him to the court for contempt, though he was let off by the apex court. In a political career spanning three decades he was Governor of Sikkim and Kerala.