Indian-born MP set British parliament recordMarch 16th, 2010 - 7:42 pm ICT by IANS
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 16 (IANS) Ashok Kumar, the Indian-born MP who was found dead at his home Monday, had notched up an enviable reputation as the British lawmaker with the highest level of contact with voters in his constituency.
Kumar, whose death has been described as unexpected and accidental, was so determined to reclaim the parliamentary seat he lost in 1992, he set about meeting as many voters as he could in his Middlesbrough South and Cleveland East constituency.
And after fighting his way back to parliament in 1997, the Hardwar-born Labour MP would return to his constituency every weekend to keep up his contacts with constituents, taking up their cases and working on local campaigns, according to accounts of his life published Tuesday.
“In consequence, he achieved a phenomenal 80 percent contact rate with his constituents, which was regarded with awe by his colleagues at Westminster and with quiet satisfaction by the residents of the seat he first won in 1991,” said a report in The Guardian newspaper.
One of the last big causes he took up was to speak up for steelworkers who were thrown out of their jobs after Tata-owned Corus decided recently to mothball its steel plant in the town of Redcar in the Teesside region of northeast England.
“The last time we spent a significant amount of time together was in December, when we were both part of a team of local MPs who went to see Gordon Brown to discuss the future of the Corus plant in Redcar,” said Redcar MP Vera Baird.
“It was a long trip and Ashok was in fine form; you could see how much the future of the plant meant to him. It is a loss for Parliament, but a devastating one for his constituents, for whom he was a first-rate constituency MP.”
Tributes poured in for Kumar - only the fifth person of South Asian origin to be elected to the British lower house since the war - and all emphasised his closeness to his constituents.
“He was a tenacious campaigner for his constituents and a warm and incredibly generous man,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
Although he broke ranks with Labour MPs in 2006 by calling on Tony Blair to step down in favour of Brown, the former prime minister said Monday, “As a neighbouring MP I saw first hand his commitment to the north-east where the support he received grew year after year.”
Fellow Indian-origin Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the Ethnic Minority Taskforce, said Kumar was a natural fighter and community leader, adding: “Ashok was a fine politician who served his constituency and his constituents with diligence and unswerving commitment.”
Meanwhile, police said it was investigating Kumar’s death but that it was too early to say whether his death is being treated as suspicious.
Kumar, 53, who was single, was not thought to be unwell.
A former research scientist at Imperial College, Kumar worked for many years at the local British Steel plant as a researcher and continued to support his passion for science and technology during his time at the House of Commons.
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