US President Biden has ancestral ties in India?


In their first in-person meeting after 2020 US election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden resorted to familiar warm and fuzzy formulations to talk up bilateral ties, avoiding any mention of third countries while identifying challenges such as the pandemic, climate change, and ensuring stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

In a lighter moment, the US President repeated a story about having ancestral ties in India, where he had heard there were five Bidens, before remarking, “all kidding aside relations between India and the US…is destined to be stronger and closer. Today we are launching a new chapter and taking on some of the toughest challenge we face in our time starting with the pandemic.”

Prime Minister Modi said he had indeed followed up the story of Biden’s personal ties with India- which the US President said stems from an ancestor named George Biden who worked for the East India Company and married an Indian woman- and he had brought with him some documents for the US President to peruse.

The brief moment of levity aside, the two leaders gave scripted remarks that skirted hot-button geo-political issues including Afghanistan, save for a broad reference by Biden to the Indo-Pacific region. He put the pandemic and climate change front and center

The bilateral meeting came couple hours before the two will be joined by the Prime Ministers of Australia and Japan for the first-ever in person Quad summit that is ostensibly aimed at meeting challenges from an expansionist China.

Like during his meeting with US vice-president Kamala Harris, Modi was personally effusive towards Biden, lavishing praise for his “inspirational vision” of US-India partnership and his efforts and initiatives to fulfill that vision. The coming decade will be a “transformative period” in the relationship, he said.

Biden abjured any personal lauding, but talked up the democratic underpinning in both countries.

“Our partnership is more than what we do. It is about who we are…our democratic values, our diversity, and family ties that include 4 million Indian-American who make United States stronger,” the US President said, invoking Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday next week to remarks that “his message of nonviolence and tolerance matters more than ever before.”

Even as the meeting began, Biden remarked that the seat he led Modi to is occupied almost every day by an Indian American- a reference to his vice-president Kamala Harris, whose mother, the US President reminded, was a scientist and a “remarkable” woman from India.

While the two leaders gave broad direction indicating their desire for further upswing in the ties, sherpas from both sides are working on the fine print that is expected to detail new areas of cooperation including addressing supply chain issues that can offset dependence on China, exchange of cutting edge technologies, and ways to ensure an open and secure Indo-Pacific in cooperation with other Quad partners.