Boris Johnson has personal link with India and Khushwant Singh

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LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a close India connection. His estranged wife Marina Wheeler, whom he married in 1993, is half Indian.

Wheeler is the niece of late editor and writer Khushwant Singh. Before they announced their separation last year after 25 years of marriage, Johnson had travelled several times to India with Marina. They have four children together.

Johnson, who won the race within the Conservative Party to become the country’s next Prime Minister, is expected to rely on his declared personal connect with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliver a “truly special” UK-India relationship.

In his letter to the Indian diaspora, Johnson wrote that during his meeting with Modi, he had stressed upon how India and UK were modern democracies and should work together to promote trade

and prosperity. Johnson told Modi that the two nations should work closely to tackle the challenges that their countries face.

The former mayor of London and former foreign secretary, Johnson (55), has earlier referred to himself as the son-in-law of India. Marina’s mother, Dip Singh, who is still alive, was married to Khushwant Singh’s youngest brother Daljit Singh.

In a column for an English daily, veteran journalist and Khuswant Singh’s son Rahul Singh writes that Johnson visited the Ranthambore tiger reserve along with Marina and three of their children last year. During a family get-together, Rahul Singh got to meet Johnson.

“Though I met him once before in Mumbai some years earlier, this was the first time I got a chance to talk to him one-to-one, at some length. I was surprised that he knew so much about India and its politics. Should he become Britain’s next PM, I think those Indian insights, thanks mainly due to his 25 years of marriage to Marina, however rocky it may have been, and personal visits to this country, should augur well for better Indo-British ties,” wrote Rahul Singh .

However, Johnson is known to have made several gaffes, including some related to India. When he was foreign secretary, Johnson was berated at a gurdwara for talking about whiskey exports to India — despite alcohol being forbidden in the Sikh faith.

With a saffron turban on his head, Johnson said in the Bristol gurdwara in 2017: “Whenever we go to India, to Mumbai or to Delhi, we have to bring ‘clinkie’ in our baggage. We have to bring Johnnie Walker. We have to bring whiskey because as you may know there is duty of 150% in India on imports of Scotch whiskey, so we have to bring it in duty free for our kin. But imagine what we could do if there was a free trade deal with India — which there will be.”

A woman devotee reportedly angrily told Johnson: “How dare you talk about alcohol in a Sikh temple.”

In November 2014, as London mayor, Johnson suggested that countries that “haven’t had the benefit of British rule” are now “less fortunate” – during a discussion on Winston Churchill.

Personal link

Marina, 55, is the daughter of the BBC’s Delhi correspondent during the 1960s, Charles Wheeler, and his second wife, Dip Singh, whose family origins lie in Sarogodha in present-day Pakistan, but moved to India after partition. They married in Delhi in 1961.

Boris Johnson has had a colourful personal life that often made headlines and partly led to separation from his Indian-origin wife, Marina Wheeler.

Marina, 55, is the daughter of the BBC’s Delhi correspondent during the 1960s, Charles Wheeler, and his second wife, Dip Singh, whose family origins lie in Sarogodha in present-day Pakistan, but moved to India after partition. They married in Delhi in 1961.

Johnson’s visits to India since his marriage to Marina included her extended family of descendants and relatives of the legendary builder Shobha Singh. Her mother, Dip Singh, was first married to one of Shobha Singh’s four sons, Daljit (the other three included the iconic writer Khushwant Singh).

Johnson often referred to “my Indian relatives” that include Marina’s extended family of Sikh faith. He got into trouble during the 2017 election when he spoke during a meeting in a Bristol gurdwara about having to carry Scotch whisky for his relatives whenever he visits India.