Soon after he was elected Ireland’s Prime Minister-in-waiting Friday, Leo Varadkar, the 38-year-old openly gay leader who will be the youngest to hold the office, said “if my election today shows anything, it is that prejudice has no hold in this Republic.” He also mentioned his father who had “travelled 5,000 miles to build a new home”.
In another part of the world, Varadkar’s victory sent a Konkan village into raptures. The otherwise sleepy Varad in Sindhudurg district was up, its inhabitants celebrating, distributing sweets and bursting crackers. Because it was from here that the Varadkar family set out for Mumbai where Leo’s father Ashok was born. The family, say cousins, make it a point to visit Varad each time they travel to India.
The hamlet had the ancestral house of Varadkars. It stood for 150 years before it was taken down and a new house built at the very spot. The registry record of the land — it is called 7/12 extract in government parlance — has Ashok’s name as one of the title holders or inheritors.
When the new house was inaugurated on January 26 in 2015, as many as 150 members of the extended Varadkar family, including Ashok and his wife Miriam, showed up and a scrapbook of the family reunion was prepared.
Vasant Varadkar, Leo’s cousin who owns a small popsicle-making unit near Varad, said: “Ashok uncle’s family moved to Mumbai before he was born. He is the youngest of nine siblings. He and his brothers visited the village during the summer vacations and Ganesh festival. After his medical studies in Mumbai, he moved to the UK where he met Miriam. They have two daughters, Sania and Sophia, and Leo, their son, is the youngest. The family later moved to Ireland from the UK.”
Vasant’s father Pandurang Varadkar, now 70, said: “Whenever Ashok and Miriam visit India, they come to Varad, stay here for a couple days, pay their respects to the village deity and return to Mumbai. Leo and his sisters have not visited the village. But I hope he will after he becomes Prime Minister. All our best wishes are with him.”
When word came in that Leo was contesting, the villagers performed a traditional ritual ‘garhane’ at the Vetoba temple, praying that Leo becomes Prime Minister.
Vasant, who has read news reports on Leo, says, “Every news on the Internet highlights the fact that Leo is openly gay and half-Indian. These things have to be reported, but why make them the main point of the news. What is important for us is that he is honest about who he is. How many Indian politicians are honest? Our leaders have many lessons to learn from this young Varadkar. We are proud of him.”
In the family souvenir scrapbook printed in January 2015, Ashok wrote: “I have been abroad for long now. First in UK and now in Ireland. So when I visited Varad many years ago, after a long gap, I found the magic of my childhood still there.”
A Reuters report from Dublin said Varadkar overcame ministerial colleague Simon Coveney as expected, winning an overwhelming majority among the centre-right party’s lawmakers, who hope the straight-talking Dubliner can lead them to a third successive term for the first time. Bar an unexpected development, Varadkar will be voted in as prime minister when parliament next sits on June 13.