A seasoned politician(1929-2017)

Pinjala Shiv Shankar, the former Union Minister who held charge of several portfolios in the central government during the prime ministerships of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, passed away on 27 February 2017 at the age of 88. He was a grassroots leader who rose from the ranks, and endeared himself for his yeoman service to the cause of the marginalised sections.

Shiv Shankar, who was born on 10 August 1929 in Madanapalli in Andhra Pradesh, was one of nine children of a paan leaf seller. He graduated from the Hindu College in Amritsar, took his degree in Law from the Osmania University, and set up practice as an advocate specialising in taking on cases involving the weaker classes, before he assumed charge as a judge of the Andhra Pradesh High Court. He took the plunge into mainstream politics as a member of the Indian National Congress, and entered the Lok Sabha in 1979 after winning the elections from the Secunderabad constituency in Andhra Pradesh, and was re-elected for a second term in 1980.

He was appointed as the Minister for Law and Justice in the Indira Gandhi government due to his expertise in legal matters, but his tenure was rather controversial as he introduced several changes in the transfer of judges across the country, which led to his crossing swords with the judiciary. He was also a member of the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha, for two terms from 1985-1993 representing Gujarat, and during this time he was entrusted with the vital portfolio of External Affairs, which he discharged with distinction. An influential member in both Indira and Rajiv’s cabinets, he was also Minister for Petroleum and Human Resources Development and enjoyed the confidence of both the Prime Ministers. Rajiv was known to utilise his services in sorting out ticklish issues involving the neighbouring countries, apart from serving as a troubleshooter back home as well.

He played a significant role in the signing of the Punjab Accord between the government and Sant Longowal. Shiv Shankar was subsequently made Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission in the year 1987, and served the commission till 1988 and also served in several Parliamentary Committees. He was the leader of the opposition in Parliament from 1989-1991 after being elected to the Lok Sabha from the Tenali constituency in Andhra Pradesh in 1989. Shiv Shankar also had a gubernatorial stint when he was appointed the Governor of Sikkim in 1994 for a year, and thereafter as Governor of Kerala from 1995-96. His comeback to the political scene in 1998 was not very eventful as he had by then fallen out of favour with the party top brass.

The veteran Congressman quit the party in 2004 after differences with the high command over the distribution of party tickets which he felt were being sold to the highest bidder. After a hiatus from politics, he re-emerged on the political horizon after joining the Praja Rajyam Party floated by matinee idol on the Telugu screen, Chiranjeevi. The party later folded up and merged with the Congress but by that time Shiv Shankar had withdrawn from active politics. He groomed a number of young politicians and also shared an excellent rapport with the party cadres.

In a tribute to him after his passing, President Pranab Mukherjee, a long time associate and cabinet colleague hailed his contribution to Indian politics and opined that the nation had lost an eminent public figure, who will always be remembered for his selfless service to the people. The late politician was a self-effacing leader who was also media shy and never sought the limelight unlike many of his cabinet colleagues. In his four decade long political career, Shiv Shankar contributed much to the political discourse, and also to the cause of the nation and the people.

– C. V. Aravind is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist.