Ashoke Kumar Sen

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Ashoke Kumar Sen
Black-and-White image of Ashoke Kumar Sen speaking at a United Nations coference
Ashoke Sen at the United Nations
Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)
for West Bengal
In office
3 April 1990 – 2 April 1996
Minister of Law and Justice
In office
1957 - 1966
Prime MinisterJawaharlal Nehru
Preceded byCharu Chandra Biswas
Succeeded byGopal Swarup Pathak
In office
1984 - 1987
Prime MinisterRajiv Gandhi
Preceded byJagannath Kaushal
Succeeded byP. Shiv Shankar
Minister of Electronics & Communications Technology
In office
1 September 1963 – 13 June 1964
Preceded byJagjivan Ram
Succeeded bySatya Narayan Sinha
Minister of Steel and Mines
President of Supreme Court Bar Association of India
President of Indian Football Association
Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha
In office
1957 - 1977
Preceded byMeghnad Saha
Succeeded byBijoy Singh Nahar
ConstituencyCalcutta North West
In office
1980 - 1989
Preceded byBijoy Singh Nahar
Succeeded byDebi Prasad Pal
ConstituencyCalcutta North West
Personal details
Born(1913-10-10)10 October 1913
Faridpur, Bengal, British India
Died21 September 1996(1996-09-21) (aged 82)
New Delhi, India
Political partyIndian National Congress Janata Dal, Independent
Spouse(s)Anjana Sen
Children2 daughters
2 sons
RelativesSukumar Sen (brother)
Amartya Sen (nephew)
Alma materPresidency College, Kolkata
London School of Economics

Ashoke Kumar Sen (10 October 1913 – 21 September 1996) was an Indian barrister, a former Cabinet minister of India, and an Indian parliamentarian.

He also holds the record for winning a Lok Sabha seat the most times and also the record for being not only an MP for the most years, but also a cabinet minister – serving more than 7 prime ministers. For decades, he was the inevitable Union Law Minister.


Ashoke Kumar Sen was born in 1913 in a well-known Baidya-Brahmin family. His father was a district magistrate. Both Ashoke Kumar Sen and Sukumar Sen were students of Sambalpur High School, Odisha wherein Late Mr. Suryamani Jena of village Kusupur was the Principal. His elder brother, Sukumar Sen ICS (b. 1899), who went on to become India, Sudan and Nepal's first Chief Election Commissioner,[1] funded his education in England, at the London School of Economics. Ashoke Sen went on to study for the Bar at Gray's Inn.

Upon his return, he started teaching law at the City College, Kolkata a constituent college of the University of Calcutta[2] He then began practising in the Calcutta High Court. At the age of 26, he had already written a book about Commercial Law, which was endorsed by Mr. Sen's then senior Sudhi Ranjan Das, the future Chief Justice of India.

Some years later, in February 1943, Ashoke Kumar Sen married Anjana Das, his senior's only daughter. They had two sons and two daughters.[3]

Legal career[edit]

Within five years of practice, Sen became regarded as one of the top lawyers in the Calcutta High Court and gained wide acclaim. He published many books and articles, and was the Editor of Calcutta Law Journal.[2]

Sen was a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court, and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association several times.[2]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Ashoke Kumar Sen with President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Nehru and Bidhan Chandra Roy

Because of his legal acumen, Bidhan Chandra Roy, Chief Minister of West Bengal, recommended him to the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru wanted Sen in his cabinet, and asked him to contest elections for the Lok Sabha.

In 1957, the Calcutta North West seat for the Lok Sabha was a communist stronghold. Sen had tried in 1956 to win the election, but fell short by only a few votes. However, in the following year, he triumphed and won by over 100,000 votes. He retained that seat from 1957 to 1977, and again held the Calcutta North West seat from 1980 to 1989, being defeated in 1989 by Debi Prosad Pal.[4]

Sen was a Member of the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Lok Sabhas.[2]

He was later made a Rajya Sabha member and remained in the Upper House until April 1996, a few months before his death.

Ministerial career[edit]

Ashoke Sen became the Union Law Minister under Nehru. It is this post for which he became famous worldwide. He was Union Minister of Law, but he also held other portfolios such as Communications, Steel, and Mines.[2]

Ashoke Kumar Sen with Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister of the U.K

Over the next years, Sen was India's representative to foreign countries and the United Nations. According to Deve Gowda (1996), Sen led the Indian delegations to the United Nations Conference on Law, the United Nations Conference on Human Rights and several other conferences.

He was Law Minister lastly under Rajiv Gandhi and resigned in 1989 after his party's debacle in state elections in his home state West Bengal.[5]

Other activities[edit]

During his lifetime, Sen started the Paschim Banga Seva Samiti – a charitable organisation. He also served as the president of the Indian Football Association. During his lifetime, Mr Sen also amassed a large law library with many rare collections. This library is considered to be among the largest private law libraries in the world.


There is a block in the Supreme Court named after him. A portrait of him also hangs there.[citation needed] Several documentary films have also been produced on Sen.


Ashoke Kumar Sen was survived by his widow, Anjana (whom he married in 1943), and by his four children, and seven grandchildren.

Besides his brother Sukumar Sen, Ashoke Kumar Sen had another brother Amiya Kumar Sen, an associate of Rabindranath Tagore. Amiya, author of a book about the Tagore family newspaper, was formerly a lecturer at Calcutta University and Principal of the City College, Kolkata. Mr Sen is also uncle to Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen.


  1. ^ Hindu article (2002)on India's first general election in 1952 has historian Ramachandra Guha's take on the first CEC
  2. ^ a b c d e Memorial references by the Speaker Eleventh Lok Sabha Debates, Session II (Budget) Monday, 2 September 1996. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  3. ^ Two volume autobiography/memoirs of Sudhi Ranjan Das in Bengali, with family photographs, published 1993 by his daughter Anjana Sen. S.R. Das mentions his worries that his Brahmo daughter would not be accepted by her in-laws, and his refusal to approve the marriage until Sen's parents also accepted the match, and the Brahmo rites as religiously acceptable.
  4. ^ Calcutta North West Archived 11 April 2005 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ " Minister in India Quits In Election Aftermath" The New York Times 29 March 1987