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Ashoke Kumar Sen – India’s inevitable law minister for decades

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Ashoke Sen served as law minister from the tenure of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to that of Rajiv Gandhi, the sixth PM.

New Delhi: Ashoke Kumar Sen, who held the record of having the longest tenure as law minister since Independence, was born on 10 October, 1913.

Lawyer and parliamentarian, Sen remained undefeated in four consecutive Lok Sabha polls. He won a total of five parliamentary elections. He served as law minister from the tenure of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to that of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s sixth PM and Nehru’s grandson.

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He is the brother of Sukumar Sen, India’s first Chief Election Commissioner.

Early life

Sen was born in a well-known Baidya-Brahmin family in Faridpur district of present-day Bangladesh. His father was a district magistrate.

Sen received his education at the Sambalpur High School in Odisha and went on to study at the London School of Economics and at Gray’s Inn, one of the four professional associations of barristers and judges in the United Kingdom.

In 1943, Sen married Anjana Das, daughter of a senior barrister.

Sen as an advocate

Once in India, Sen quickly moved to teaching law at City College under the University of Calcutta. Soon after, he began practising in Calcutta High Court.

For Sen, success came early in his career. Within just five years of practising law, he became one of the top lawyers in Calcutta High Court. He also authored a book on commercial law and later became the editor of the Calcutta Law Journal, one of the oldest law journals in the country.

He was the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association for nearly a decade.

The parliamentarian

Sen’s legal acumen at a relatively young age had caught the attention of Bidhan Chandra Roy, then chief minister of West Bengal, who recommended him to Prime Minister Nehru. Realising the potential of this young lawyer, Nehru asked him to contest the Lok Sabha elections.

Sen won from the North-West Calcutta constituency, a communist stronghold, in the 1957 elections by more than one lakh votes. He was a Lok Sabha MP from 1957 to 1977 and later from 1980 to 1987.

He was first inducted into Nehru’s cabinet in 1957 as law minister. He served as union minister for five times, holding the portfolios of communications, steel and mines besides law.

His last assignment as law minister came when Rajiv Gandhi took over as PM, and it lasted until 1987. He then resigned, saying “self-deception” by the Congress party led to the party’s crushing defeat in elections in West Bengal, The New York Times reported.

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Like his legal career, Sen had a successful stint as a parliamentarian as well. He was India’s regular representative to foreign countries and the United Nations. He was later appointed a member of the Rajya Sabha, a position he held until April 1996, a few months before his death.

Sen, known for creating a large library with many rare collections in it, died in September 1996. He was survived by his wife Anjana, four children and seven grandchildren.

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  1. Very flat piece on a legend like Ashoke Sen – about whom stories abound (some apocryphal and many real). The piece could have been far more colourful and interesting with those anecdotes – including some of the major cases he won.

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