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Lagarde takes IMF campaign to emerging economies

The French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde dashed to India yesterday as she sought to secure the backing of the Asian country for her candidacy to head the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Ms Lagarde held meetings with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, along with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the head of the country's planning commission and the man who would have been India's pick for the job were he not three years past the mandatory-retirement age of 65. Ms Lagarde said if she were elected, part of her would become Indian.

She said she had received no assurances from the politicians, but they had agreed that the successful candidate should be selected on merit rather than nationality.

Ms Lagarde is at the centre of a dispute over who should next head the IMF, after the arrest of its former managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who is accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York.

According to an unwritten tradition that has existed since the end of the Second World War, the IMF has always been headed by a European while the World Bank has had an American at the helm.

Ms Lagarde has the backing of the UK and Europe, but some of the world's leading developing nations have expressed concern over the job again going to a European.

Last month, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the self-styled Brics nations – said: "We are concerned with public statements made recently by high-level European officials to the effect that the position of managing director should continue to be occupied by a European. The recent financial crisis which erupted in developed countries underscored the urgency of reforming international financial institutions so as to reflect the growing role of developing countries in the world economy."

Most people believe Ms Lagarde to be the clear favourite for the post, partly because the developing nations have failed to get around an alternative candidate.

Agustin Carstens, the governor of the Bank of Mexico, is seen as the only other strong option. Mr Carstens, who is to visit India later this week to press his case, has accused the European nations of not playing fairly. But Ms Lagarde appears not to be taking anything for certain. At a press conference at the French Embassy in Delhi, where red French hens pecked away on a closely cropped lawn, she said: "I did not seek assurance. It would be premature and it would be arrogant on my part to expect assurance or reassurance. I was here to present my candidacy and listen to the concerns of an emerging-market economy as important as India."

Speaking to The Independent earlier this year, Ms Lagarde said there were too many men in the world of finance and a surfeit of testosterone.

Asked how she might tackle that should she be elected, she yesterday said: "If I was elected as managing director I would stand on my own two feet as a woman, not necessarily in a pair of trousers, and with a level of testosterone lower than some of those in this room." Mr Mukherjee yesterday said India had not yet given its support to any candidate.

"No assurance," he said. "We are working together with the Brics countries. It is difficult to say at right this moment because there is a divergence of views in respect of different candidates." As part of her ongoing effort to try to secure the support of developing nations for her candidacy for the position ahead of the closing date for applicants on 10 June, Ms Lagarde she will be in Beijing today, followed by a meeting of African nations in Lisbon, Jeddah and then Cairo.

She said she would then have 24 hours in Paris.