Christine Lagarde in India

Christine Lagarde in India

India has refused to offer public support to the candidacy of Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister who was in New Delhi this week to drum up support for her campaign to become the next managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has restricted himself to vague statements about the need to build a consensus, perhaps to avoid being caught bang in the middle of a high-profile face-off between the developed and developing countries.

The government has done well to not show its hand. The top IMF job is now likely to go to a European once again, but the very fact that Lagarde had to set off on a global roadshow is an indication that countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa can no longer be taken for granted when important vacancies in multilateral institutions have to be filled. The optimistic noise about getting someone from this part of the world to head IMF has died down, but it seems to have created enough pressure for the Europeans to at least put up a show of global consultation. That is a small but significant advance.

What matters now is what the Indian government does next. One option is to fall back on the old habit to speak on behalf of the erstwhile Third World. Garrulous dramatics makes for good press copy but, more often than not, bad national strategy. This has happened both at global trade and climate talks, especially the latter. India holds up the banner of revolt. China encourages us to do so—and then strikes some backroom deals with the Western nations that advance its national interests.

The discretion being shown this time around is thus welcome. IMF deputy managing director John Lipsky is also due to leave the organization soon, though for less scandalous reasons than Dominique Strauss-Kahn. India should keep its chips in the game, by offering conditional support for Lagarde in return for later support to an Indian into one of the key IMF jobs. A quiet deal is the best way to do this. It is highly probable that the Chinese have the same idea in mind.

Useless third-worldism or cool strategizing: What should India do on the IMF leadership issue? Tell us at