Baffled Local Media Recall Joe Biden’s Claim to Indian Heritage

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the '100,000 Strong in the Americas' event, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. The event recognizes the accomplishments made over the past 3 years of the 100,000 Strong …
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Indian media outlets recalled in covering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s congratulations to former Vice President Joe Biden on American media proclaiming him president-elect this weekend that Biden has repeatedly claimed to have family in Mumbai.

“Nobody in Mumbai has so far turned up to claim that he is Mr. Biden’s relative,” the NDTV broadcast station noted on Sunday.

Biden has developed a record of questionable comments about Indian people. In 2006, Biden, then presumed a presidential candidate, joked that Indian people had overrun the 7-11 and Dunkin’ Donuts stores in Delaware, claiming, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” In 2012, Biden appeared to attempt an Indian accent when describing the employees at a call center during a speech in New Hampshire.

Biden chose an Indian-American, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), as his running mate in the 2020 election. Modi also congratulated Harris and noted her ancestry in Chennai, where reports indicated that local villagers gathered in temples to pray for her on Election Day.

Biden first alleged to have family ties to Mumbai during a speech there in 2013, according to NDTV.

“It’s an honor to be back in India and to be here in Mumbai. Off script for a second here, I was reminded I was elected to the United States Senate when I was a 29-year-old kid back in 1972, and one of the first letters I received and I regret I never followed up on it,” Biden said at the time. “Maybe, some genealogist in the audience can follow up for me, but I received a letter from a gentleman named Biden — Biden, my name — from Mumbai, asserting that we were related.”

In 2015, according to the Times of India, Biden identified a relative as “great, great, great, great, great grandfather George Biden,” an alleged captain in the East India Company. That supposed Biden, the vice president at the time said, had married an Indian woman and made a life there.

“There are five Bidens in Mumbai, India,” Biden told the Confederation of Indian Industry and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at an event that year.

Biden did not appear to be claiming that he was personally a descendant of Indians, which would make him America’s first Asian-American president. His remarks were also not clear enough, however, to dismiss the possibility that he meant to say he was a direct descendant of George Biden and his alleged Indian wife.

The Times of India noted that no record exists of any George Biden working for the East India Company.

“Though there are no records of a George Biden, two siblings named Christopher Biden and William Henry Biden did serve as captains in the East India Company, according to Gateway House, a foreign policy think-tank based in Mumbai,” the newspaper reported. “Christopher was 12 and his brother even younger when they started as third and fourth mates on the route between London and India via the Cape of Good Hope. In 1821, Christopher captained the Princess Charlotte of Wales and made four return journeys between England and Calcutta.”

Christopher Biden reportedly settled in Chennai, where Harris’s family is from.

Historians told the Times of India that they have no reason to believe Christopher Biden is related to Joe Biden, however.

“He’s talking about a George Biden, and there is no record of Christopher Biden having married an Indian. They don’t tally. There must be a separate George Biden, somewhere else,” V Sriram, an Indian historian, told the newspaper.

Notably, unlike Harris — whose ancestral village erupted in celebration when American media outlets claimed her presidential ticket had emerged victorious — no reports have surfaced of celebratory Indian Bidens, or even of Biden relatives anywhere in the country commenting on their distant relative’s political run.

A confirmation of Biden’s alleged Indian heritage would add surprising context to Biden’s comments on Indian-Americans over the years.

“I’ve had a great relationship. In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking,” Biden said during an appearance on C-SPAN in 2006, when he was the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Many reacted with concern to the remark, which appeared to be propagating an offensive ethnic stereotype that Indian people all run convenience stores. Biden later attempted to clarify that his remarks were meant favorably to Indian-Americans in remarks to MSNBC.

“What I said by the way was that 30 per cent of engineers in the Silicon valley are Indians and that a significant population of Indian-Americans in Delaware up to this point have been engineers and scientists. It was a very very wealthy Indian community,” Biden said.

Biden also disappointed Indian-Americans in a 2012 speech in which he appeared to have thoughtlessly attempted an Indian accent and immediately reversed himself.

“The accent was so badly done that some commentators immediately speculated that it was supposed to be Russian — but still it brought to mind Mr. Biden’s 2006 Indian-American gaffe,” the New York Times reported at the time, citing the clip as evidence that “putting on an ‘Indian accent,’ or making fun of one, is not seen in the United States or other English-speaking nations as offensive as it would be to mock many other accents.”

Modi, who boasts a friendly relationship with President Donald Trump, congratulated Biden on his media appointment as prospective president-elect on Saturday.

“Congratulations [Joe Biden] on your spectacular victory! As the VP, your contribution to strengthening Indo-US relations was critical and invaluable,” Modi wrote. “I look forward to working closely together once again to take India-US relations to greater heights.”

Modi also congratulated Harris.

Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership,” Modi wrote.

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