Ashok Kumar mattered. I first came across him in 2001, when I was appointed to look after a parliamentary group seeking to build bridges between the UK & India. That first meeting left a deep impression on me. In an age where we’re generally fed up with all politicians, its important to remember that people like Ashok spoke and fought for the common man. That’s why he mattered.
Ashok never made it to Ministerial ranks, but unlike many of his peers he never made that into an issue. He simply got on with representing his constituents to the best of his abilities.
The things that I particularly liked about Ashok all stemmed from his inability to plot effectively – which you wouldn’t necessarily think was a good thing in politics – but it was exactly this feature that endeared him to many. You knew that he spoke it how it was, he wore his heart on his sleeve, and had your best interest in mind.
As a person of Indian origin, Ashok mattered even more. He recounted the tales of how after losing his seat in 1992, his popularity within the local party had plummeted to the extent that when he wanted to pick the pieces back up, all he requested was one additional helper to accompany him on his rounds on the streets of Middlesborough. When I asked why just one person, his response left a mark on me. He said “I need a witness if someone physically attacks me on the doorstep”! As a ethnic minority, to win a seat like his – with little diversity – makes his achievement even more worthy of recognition.
His fearlessness inspired us.
He recounted stories of legendary people like V. K. Krishna Menon, who joined the Labour Party in the 1930s – in the context of the sacrifices and contributions made by people of Indian origin in British politics.
I hadn’t kept in regular contact with Ashok, but knew that if I ever needed any advice, he’d give me as much time as required.
In a world bereft of good role models, Ashok stood out, especially amongst his Asian peers in the Commons, as a caring man, who genuinely wanted you to do well.
This is why Ashok Kumar mattered.