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Joe Biden’s possible India links spark genealogical frenzy


Arun Sankar & Vishal Manve

Already bursting with pride at Kamala Harris’s ancestry, India has now started digging up potential local roots for US President-elect Joe Biden.

The next leader of the United States has speculated that he might have had relatives in colonial India. While there is no proof, the Biden name has become a genealogical target of investigation across the country.

A plaque commemorating 19th-century British ship captain Christopher Biden has been a popular selfie spot in the eastern city of Chennai since the US election.

And a Biden family in western India says it has become “exhausted” by calls since their namesake staked his claim to the White House.

The American vote has been under the spotlight in India because Biden’s running mate is the daughter of a migrant from Tamil Nadu state.

The 56-year-old Harris has made much of her Indian connections and how she likes to eat “idli with a really good sambar” — typical food from the south.

Less attention has been paid to Biden, who has established Irish links. But he spoke of possible Indian connections on a trip to Mumbai in 2013 when he was vice-president. Biden said in a speech that he had received a letter from an Indian Biden after becoming a senator in 1972, suggesting they could be related.

“One of the first letters I received and I regret I never followed up on it,” he said. The letter said their “mutual, great, great, great, something or other worked for the East India Trading Company back in the 1700s”.

It sparked excitement in Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu state, which is also home to Harris’s Indian relatives.

A plaque at St George’s Cathedral in Chennai that celebrates Christopher Biden, born in 1789, has suddenly become a local tourist draw.

“We’ve come to know the records of two Bidens — William Biden and Christopher Biden — who were brothers and became captains of the East India Company on merchant ships in the 19th century,” the Bishop of Madras, Reverend J George Stephen, said. — AFP

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