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A memorial service for the late Senedd Member Mohammad Asghar was held at the Senedd on Wednesday.
Mr Asghar, who represented the South Wales East region, passed away on June 16, 2020, aged 74.
The Conservative MS had represented the region in the Senedd for 13 years, and was the first ethnic minority Senedd Member and the first Muslim elected to the Senedd.
Mr Asghar, who was affectionately known as ‘Oscar’, became a Plaid Cymru AM in 2007, but switched allegiances to the Tories in 2009.
The memorial was attended by Senedd Members past and present and MPs, as well as family members of Mr Asghar.
Opening the service was Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies, who spoke about Mr Asghar’s love for his family, the pride he felt serving in Wales’ parliament and his wealth of knowledge, as well as his passion for cricket and his faith.
His speech was followed by prayers from religious leaders of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Hindu faiths, before First Minister Mark Drakeford addressed the service.
Mr Drakeford described Mr Asghar as a “enormously proud representative” for people from ethnic minority backgrounds and said his loss left a sense of shock across the Senedd.
He also spoke about their shared love of Glamorgan Cricket Club – something the two had bonded over during their time in the Senedd together.
His speech was followed by Nick Bourne, former leader of the Welsh Conservatives, who described his late colleague as a “trailblazer” who was “principled, yet pragmatic” and proud to be able to stand up for all faiths.
“He was proud of his community, his country and the Senedd,” said Lord Bourne, who went on to call Mr Asghar a “thoroughly modern, principled Muslim” and a “generous philanthropist and friend”.
“What an exceptional individual he was”.
Joanna Markham, who worked at Mr Asghar’s office in Newport, read out a letter from a constituent to whom Mr Asghar had made a profound impact, before Conservative MS Darren Millar spoke.
The final speaker at the service was Mr Asghar’s daughter, the Conservative Senedd Member Natasha Asghar.
Ms Asghar, who represents the South Wales East region her father once proudly represented, was elected to follow in her father’s footsteps last year –becoming the first woman of colour ever elected to the Senedd.
She shared personal stories about her father and said he was “a lot of things to a lot of people”, before praising his ability to “deal with anything life threw his way”.
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From Amritsar to the Assembly
Born in Amritsar, India on September 30, 1945, Mr Asghar was raised in Pakistan. The second eldest of nine children, he came to the UK in 1970 – arriving in London with just $22 in his pocket – before later making Newport his home.
He married his wife, Dr Firdaus Asghar, after seeing her at a High Commission Event in London. The couple had one daughter together – Natasha Asghar.
A qualified pilot, Mr Asghar was fluent in Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi and spoke English fluently as his fourth language.
Originally a Conservative, he joined Labour in the mid-1990s before later joining Plaid Cymru.
In 2005, he became the first Muslim councillor in Wales, representing the Victoria ward on Newport City Council.
He went on to stand in the 2007 Welsh Assembly Elections, and was elected to Cardiff Bay against the odds – becoming the first Muslim elected to the institution.
He served the South Wales East region, which includes the constituencies of Caerphilly, Islwyn and Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, as well as Blaenau Gwent, Newport East, Newport West, Monmouth and Torfaen.
In 2009 he joined the Welsh Conservatives and became the first Senedd Member, or Assembly Member as they were then known, to cross the floor and switch allegiances to another party.
A keen cricket fan, Mr Asghar passionately advocated for the creation of a Welsh national cricket team.
In 1964, aged 19, Mr Asghar ran with the Olympic torch. In 2012 when the Olympics came to London, he was able to carry the torch once again.
He passed away in June 2020, aged 74. He was succeeded by Laura Anne Jones.
Just days before his death, Mr Asghar wrote an article for Caerphilly Observer talking about his experiences of racism. During his life, he even wrote a children’s book about race relations, called Oscar Makes New Friends.
Speaking in the Senedd on the first anniversary of his death, Nastasha Asghar said: “Oscar was not a typical politician and undoubtedly paved the way for many other people and ethnic minorities to enter the Senedd and I know that he would have been delighted to see more people from diverse backgrounds enter the Senedd in various roles from Members to support staff and the service teams we rely on every day to do our jobs.”
Ms Asghar continued: “He was a man of the world and knew and was the first to invite the Israel and Palestine High Commissioners to the Senedd to discuss peace between Israel and Palestine.
“He was also the first to hold a traditional Kirtan in the Senedd, among many activities that he held so dear.
“He was passionate about eradicating inequality for anyone who experienced it and genuinely cared about his region of South Wales East.
“Oscar loved his job and worked tirelessly for all his constituents. I know he would often stand in the chamber and one debate would be on one subject and go off on a tangent completely. For example, speak on the concerns of dentists within his region.
“When asked about it afterwards, rather sternly by his family, he would often say ‘this is the most pressing issue for me and for them right now, and it should be heard by everyone.’
“You could never find someone more passionate about Wales and its culture, longside seeing the formation of a Welsh cricket team, than Oscar did.
“Oscar was a people’s politician and is still sadly missed by many in this chamber and beyond.”
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