US President Donald Trump with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a joint press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on February 25, 2020
US President Donald Trump with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a joint press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on February 25, 2020
AFP Photo

A controversy erupted in India after reports of US President Donald Trump suggesting that India would face retaliatory action if the country banned the export of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to other countries affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Many brought up February's Namaste Trump event, while others made an earlier video of the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi saying that India, with its population of over a 100 crore would never succumb to international pressure.

For some time, the hashtag 'Doland' also trended on Twitter -- a throwback to Modi's mispronunciation of Trump's first name.

To provide a bit of context, India is the world's largest producer of hydroxychloroquine. In recent times, the country had put a temporary export ban in place to preserve domestic stock amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

But even as many expressed their outrage, the question remains: Did the US President really threaten India?

Well, not exactly. Or at least, taken in conjunction with the question he was asked, it makes more sense. It must be mentioned that Modi and Trump share a cordial relationship, and on many occasions have referred to each other as friends.

Coming back to the original point, Trump was asked if he was " worried about (a) retaliation to your decision to ban (the) export of medical goods like Indian prime minister Modi's decision to not export hydroxychioroquine to (the) United States and other countries".

And while the US President's response did not touch upon whether he was worried, his response seemed to indicate that India's ban was news to him.

"I didn't hear that that was his decision. I know that he stopped it for other countries. I spoke to him yesterday, we had a very good talk and we will see whether or not that's his ... I would be surprised if he would, you know because India's (sic) does very well with the United States," he began.

He added India had been taking advantage of the US when it came to trade "for many years" and so he (Trump) would be "surprised" if that was Modi's decision.

"He'd have to tell me that," the President added.

"I spoke to him Sunday morning, called him, and I said we appreciate your allowing our supply to come out... if he doesn't allow it to come out that would be okay but, of course, there may be retaliation, why wouldn't there be?" Trump wondered.

Now, in all fairness, Donald Trump did say "there may be retaliation", but the context of the reporter's question does indeed add a further dimension to this press briefing.

Later on Tuesday, India's newly appointed MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava was quoted by Reuters as saying that the country was partially easing up on the export ban.

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