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Manmohan is Merkel’s wise man of East

world Updated: Apr 11, 2013 01:59 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel was heading into the first eurozone crisis meeting to discuss the Greek crisis, she asked her aides to get Manmohan Singh on the line.

She didn’t want to talk issues of state, Merkel only wanted to pick his brain for advice on the crisis. The Germans initially asked for an hour — a long time for an unscheduled phone conversation at that level — and eventually the two spoke for 45 minutes, said Indian officials.

Merkel and US President Barack Obama are among those who admire Singh for his clarity on macroeconomics, an all-important field in a world obsessed with terms like quantitative easing and austerity.

Chemistry between Merkel and Singh, say Indian officials, arises from their common origins in academia: she is a nuclear physicist, he an economist. They enjoy rational arguments, straight talk and a business-like approach.

Says Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s former media advisor, “The PM once spoke to us of how he liked to talk with Merkel, that he appreciated her honesty.”

They don’t always agree. Singh’s economic instincts are Keynesian, he believes in the use of government spending to promote growth and stability. “He is reported to have given her a bit of lecture when she adopted austerity to handle the eurozone crisis,” Baru said.

Singh’s aides say the prime minister has since moderated his views. German diplomats have said her personal appreciation of Singh was one reason she was particularly troubled at the Mumbai 26/11 strike. On his present visit to Germany, Merkel specifically asked for a Wednesday dinner with Singh, minus the ministers he brought with him. The expectation is that macroeconomy will be part of the menu.