Along with the large middle income countries Brazil, China and South Africa, India has been put under increasing pressure to shoulder parts of the mitigation burden and commit to national emission reduction targets. India, however, refers to its limited capacity and wide-spread energy poverty. Is India hiding behind its poor? While others examined the distribution of emissions within the country to answer this question, we study domestic policy making at the examples of energy subsidies and access to clean energy. Evidence from a combination of interviews and secondary sources suggests that domestic policy making is not generally inconsistent with the pro-poor arguments advanced at the international level. Given their large number and the country’s democratic system, the poor do have some weight in Indian politics. However, inconsistencies can be identified within India’s international discourse that simultaneously tries to project an image of a strong emerging economy, and of a poor developing country in need of special treatment. We show that this branding strategy is problematic both for the progress of international climate negotiations and for India’s poor.