The United States President Donald Trump mentioned India twice during the first presidential debate against his Democratic opponent Joe Biden on Tuesday evening, but not with the intent that his supporters in the country would have expected. Trump defended the United States’ performance in managing the coronavirus pandemic by comparing the number of deaths in the country to allegedly dubious figures put out by China, Russia, and India.

“When you talk about numbers, you don’t know how many people died in China, you don’t know how many people died in Russia, you don’t know how many people died in India. They don’t exactly give you (a) straight count,” Trump said, countering Biden’s accusations that the pandemic was ill-managed in the US.

The US is currently the worst-affected country in the world with the maximum number of Covid-19 cases, while India stands at number two, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

Trump also brought up India when asked about climate change, throwing the country under the bus along with China and Russia. “China sends up real dirt into the air. Russia does. India does. They all do,” he said, defending the US’s 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump is of the view that the restrictions under the Paris Accord were unfair to the US and would have resulted in large-scale job loss for the country.

This was not the first instance when President Donald Trump blamed India for polluting the air with harmful emissions. In July 2020 too, the President had said that India, China, and Russia “don’t take care of their air”, news agency PTI had reported. “They want us to take care of our air, but China doesn’t take care of its air. In all fairness, India doesn’t take care of its air. Russia doesn’t take care of its air. But we do. Not on my watch, it’s not going to happen — I can tell you that. Because as long as I’m President, we will always put America first. It’s very simple,” President Trump was quoted as saying.

Trump’s remarks on India are in contention with his image of being a close ally of the country and of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two have often been pictured together, hand-in-hand. In February 2020, President Trump had visited Ahmedabad and called Modi his “special friend”. “Melania and I travelled 8,000 miles around the world to deliver the message America loves India, America respects India and America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump had said.

You can watch the full debate between Trump and Biden here.