US President Donald Trump's remark about "filthy air" in India - made during a presidential debate early Friday morning - has provoked myriad reactions on Twitter, with views ranging from somber acceptance of a pollution problem in the country to digs at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his "great friendship" with American President and last year's "Howdy, Modi!" event.
Mr Trump - who last month hailed his "great friend" Prime Minister Modi and claimed the support of Indian Americans voting in next month's election - referred to "filthy air" in India today as he defended his decision to pull out of the Paris accord - a key global deal to combat climate change by reducing CO2 emission, among other steps.
"Look at India. It's filthy. The air is filthy," news agency Reuters quoted him as saying.
The comment led to both "#FilthyIndia" and "Howdy, Modi" trending online in the country, with many posting photographs of polluted cityscapes to highlight their concerns and using the row sparked by Mr Trump's remarks to renew calls for stricter measures to deal with pollution, specifically air quality.
"It's hurting, but we can't force someone to respect us. Respect earned not demanded. Folded hands. Our next goals should be: 1. Discourage private fossil fuel vehicles. 2. Subsidize public transport. 3. Promote E-vehicles. 4. No vehicle zones. 6. Public transport day," one user tweeted, attaching an aerial shot of a smog-covered Delhi with the national flag flying in the background.
#FilthyIndia ????— Paras Bhardwaj (@officialparasb) October 23, 2020
It's hurting, but we can't force someone to respect us.
Respect earned not demanded. ????????
Our next goals should be:
1. Discourage private fossil fuel vehicles.
2. Subsidize public transport
3. Promote E-vehicles
4. No vehicle zones
6. Public transport day pic.twitter.com/grS9Owh3WV
One user took screenshots from the central government's app to monitor air pollution levels in the national capital and contrasted it with that from a similar app for US capital Washington, DC.
"Delhi's Air Quality Index is 567... Washington DC's Air Quality Index is 25 - Pic 1: Delhi, Pic 2: Washington DC... And, we are to blame. We need to change our ways. Don't give "pollution less" gyaan only on Diwali. Follow that lifestyle all through the year," the tweet read.
Delhi's Air Quality Index is 567— Vaidehi ???????? ????️ (@dharmicverangna) October 23, 2020
Washington DC's Air Quality Index is 25
Pic 1: Delhi
Pic 2: Washington DC
And, we are to blame. We need to change our ways.
Don't give "pollution less" gyaan only on Diwali. Follow that lifestyle all through the year.#FilthyIndiapic.twitter.com/4birxOo5QM
A third user urged the government to spend less money on "mandir, statue, etc." and take steps to fight pollution and climate change.
Why our government not accepting the climate change. Instead of wasting money on mandir, statue etc. Gov should take step to fight with pollution and climate change. Look how much polluted Delhi's air is #FilthyIndia#GoBackModipic.twitter.com/OM8vmhbcVd— IamManvi (@ManviIam) October 23, 2020
Mr Trump has claimed that both China and India produce more CO2 than his country.
However, according to a Washington Post report in June this year, while India is the world's third-largest emitter it is still well behind China and the United States.
That said, air quality in the national capital has begun to come under scrutiny in recent days as stubble burning in nearby states like Punjab and Haryana increases pollution levels.
Around this time last year Delhi was declared the most polluted city by IQ Air Visual, a portal that tracks global air quality levels, and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called the city a "gas chamber".
Congress leader Kapil Sibal was among those tweeting jibes at PM Modi over his "Howdy, Modi!" event. He wrote: "Trump: Fruits of Friendship: 1) Questions India's Covid death toll, 2) Says India sends dirt up into the air... India's air is "filthy", 3) Calls India "tariff king"... The result of "Howdy, Modi!"
Trump : Fruits of Friendship— Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) October 23, 2020
1) Questions India's COVID death toll
2) Says India sends dirt up into the air
India “ air is filthy “
3) Called India “ tariff king “
The result of “Howdy Modi “ !
PM Modi's visit to the US last year (and Mr Trump's in February this year) were touted as proof of a good relationship between the two nations. Mr Trump has frequently praised PM Modi and "incredible" India since, particularly as he persuades Indian American to vote for him.
All of that praise, however, seemed not to be in evidence during the final presidential debate.
Senior researcher and columnist Michael Kugleman asked: "After Trump's multiple unflattering references to India in these debates, will Narendra Modi reconsider the endorsement he appeared to offer to candidate Trump at the "Howdy Modi" shindig some time back?"
After Trump's multiple unflattering references to India in these debates, will Narendra Modi reconsider the endorsement he appeared to offer to candidate Trump at the "Howdy Modi" shindig some time back?— Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) October 23, 2020
One user posted a photograph of PM Modi hugging Mr Trump, with the caption: "After this event (a reference to "Howdy, Modi!") Trump called India "filthy".
Another user also referred to Mr Trump's visit in February - when the government reportedly spent vast sums of money to beautify neighborhoods.
#HowdyModi Our government spent a lot to cover up slums and doing arrangements to his recent visit. Now we and our country looks filthy to him.— SyedG (@ireyann) October 23, 2020
This is the second time Mr Trump has made a critical reference to India during a presidential debate. At the first debate, he questioned the accuracy of India's coronavirus data.
Mr Sibal's third "fruits of friendship" barb was a reference to an October 2018 comment by Mr Trump, when he lashed out at "tariff king" India for imposing "high tariffs" on American products.
The United States presidential election is scheduled for November 3. Around 46 million have already voted in early polls amid fears over COVID-19.
With input from Reuters