Leo Varadkar’s Indian relatives express pride at his election

Family gather to watch son of an Indian immigrant become Fine Gael leader

Members of the Varadkar household in Mumbai were elated on Saturday after Leo Varadkar was elected the leader of Ireland's governing Fine Gael party. Video: Reuters

 

There was jubilation in the Varadkar family in India when it was announced that Leo Varadkar will be the next Fine Gael leader and taoiseach-in-waiting.

Some 55 members of the family gathered at their house in Borivali, a suburb of Mumbai to watch the count on the internet.

It was a proud day in particular for Mr Varadkar’s uncle Manohar Varadkar (93) who commissioned a large cake to be distributed once the announcement was confirmed. Also present was another uncle Avinash Varadkar (79) along with many of the new Fine Gael leader’s first and second cousins.

Leo Varadkar’s father Ashok (77) is the youngest of nine siblings.

Manohar’s daughter Shubhada Varadkar (54), a famous classical dancer in India, said the family were “delighted and proud” that her first cousin will be the next Taoiseach.

“I don’t have words to express myself properly. It is amazing to see what he has achieved. He has worked hard since he was a child for this. It’s a very proud day for all the Varadkars.”

Ms Varadkar said her first cousin in Ireland came from a long line of “freedom fighters, leaders and social reformers in India”.

She praised his decision to come out as a gay man in 2015 as “bold and honest” and added “whatever decision Leo makes, we are proud of him.”

Irish visit

She visited Ireland last year during a dance tour and was given a tour of Leinster House.

On Friday night, the family was nervously refreshing news websites for updates on the count. “India is going to make history tonight,” Avinash Varadkar predicted in advance of the vote.

“I met Leo in the village in India in 1998, when I suppose he was 21,” he said. “He was very interested in Indian politics. It was then that I thought Leo would bring fame to our family.

“He was always smart, right from childhood. His parents would tell us: he was different from every other family member and now he might be the youngest prime minister in the world.”

At the party in Borivali, the family prepared aam ka panna, a non-alcoholic celebratory drink in India and katu katri, a traditional dessert. They distributed sweets among their neighbours as is traditional in India after good news.

“I am extremely proud of Leo. My nephew is doing so well and has made the family name famous across the world,” proclaimed Manohar.

Mr Varadkar’s status as taoiseach-in-waiting is getting a lot of coverage in the Indian media and he was trending on Twitter in India after the announcement was made.

Most of that coverage is focusing on his youth, his sexuality and the fact that he is the son of an Indian immigrant.

The Times of India noted that Mr Varadkar will become the “ once-staunchly Catholic country’s first openly gay premier and the youngest person ever to hold the office.

The paper added: “His election marks another chapter in the social change that has swept through the country of 4.6 million people that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 but became the first country to adopt gay marriage via a popular vote in 2015.

“It also shows another face of modern-day Ireland. Varadkar’s father Ashok, who like his son is a doctor, was born in Mumbai in India. He met his wife Miriam, an Irish nurse, in England in the 1970s before moving to Ireland where Varadkar was born.”