Why India Isn't Trying for the IMF Top Post

05/31/2011 12:26 pm ET | Updated Jul 31, 2011

Last week's reports that Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of India, might be too old, as per International Monetary Fund (IMF) policy, for the job as Managing Director of the IMF is no excuse for India to give up the race.

Surely India, with all its famed economists, academics and diplomats can find a candidate fit for the post. And since the President of the World Bank has always been American, and the IMF, European, it's fair to persuade the IMF to now elect a candidate from a developing country that is increasingly influential in the global economy. Also to tip the scales away from a European successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, as The Economist said in a leader titled 'Time for a Change,' the IMF requires an impartial leadership to help European countries fix their own economies; another European such as France's Finance Minister, Christine Lagarde, brings with her the risk of investing more in correcting existing EU structures that should be dispassionately relooked.

All arguments that the world, in all fairness, will agree to.

But ever since Strauss-Kahn's position went available, India has been unexplainably silent on, what seems to be, a fair battle to fight.

So when China, Brazil and South Africa are campaigning for this change, why has India remained so mute so as to not even provide a comment of support from its Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, for Ahluwalia's nomination? It's a question that The Economist, the Wall Street Journal and several other leading publications have asked.

Some have suggested that after an almost embarrassing loss at the hands of our suave, tweet-happy MP, Shashi Tharoor, for the post of UN Secretary General, the Indian government isn't too happy being vocal to back a candidate in a similar fashion.

But this can't weigh too heavily on the government's decision making.

A conspiracy theorist might offer the explanation that India throwing its weight on the "representation-from-the-developing-world" argument will serve to benefit candidates from countries like Brazil, South Africa and Israel, and most importantly, China's extremely achievable bid for the post of Deputy Managing Director of the IMF, which is up for grabs later this year. And looking at India's interests, an IMF Deputy MD from China would probably be worse than a IMF MD from France.

Sadly, however, I doubt our government has thought about the issue in that much detail.

The age restrictions on an IMF MD could not be ambiguous; this oversight on India's part is careless. It seems as if the Indian government hasn't got its act together to identify, nominate and campaign for a worthy Indian as the next IMF chief because it has its hands tied with issues at home and in the neighborhood.

There must be significant intelligence and diplomatic legwork that India is engaged in after Osama bin Laden's killing at the hands of American forces a few weeks ago, and the subsequent attacks in Pakistan. The government's best men like Mukherjee, are often called on by Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi to help firefight with members of the coalition government. And with civil society as well, as the government is engaging in what seems to be a purposely endless game of posturing and negotiating with members of Anna Hazare's joint committee to draft the Lokpal bill. The government is also neck deep in all sorts of corruption scams that has made many heads roll including members of the coalition. The Congress Party has also suffered some significant losses in the state elections this month; evidently, the Government and the ruling party have a lot on their plates.

If this is indeed the reason for the inaction, it speaks poorly of the government and volumes of the inefficiencies of coalition governance. India has a very good shot at the top job post of the IMF and there is no denying that we could use the support with all the infrastructure projects we need funded.
And if successful, it will only further validate India's tireless campaign for a seat in the UN Security Council.

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has performed exceedingly well on the global stage and in the field of foreign policy. He must look in to this issue personally as the next opportunity for a post like this seems far too distant.