India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not that wide of the mark when he says that he has been denied the honeymoon period that most leaders get upon
coming to office.
Analysts say that support for Mr Singh hinges on his clean image
A hundred days into office, the economist-turned-technocrat-turned-politician
is already facing some daunting challenges.
The controversy over tainted ministers in his cabinet (five of them are
facing criminal charges), rising inflation, unrest in the north-eastern
state of Manipur, and a contentious water dispute involving a Congress-ruled
state has left Mr Singh with very little breathing space.
On the international front, an excruciatingly drawn-out hostage crisis
involving three Indian lorry drivers in Iraq has also not helped matters.
Then there is the delicate business of placating carping Communist allies
who see red when the government decides to woo foreign investment and slash
provident fund interest rates in a country where there is virtually no
social security net.
A recalcitrant main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party
(BJP) has not made things easier for Mr Singh by boycotting parliament on
the issue of tainted ministers, and forcing the government to pass the
budget without any discussion.
Clearly, it has been a baptism of fire for the prime minister, best-known as the architect of India's economic reform programme in the
early 1990s while serving as the finance minister in a Congress government.
The soft-spoken, self-effacing Mr Singh was catapulted into India's hottest
seat after Congress President Sonia Gandhi gave up her claim for the
premier's post and chose Mr Singh after a surprise win in the general
Critics say that Mr Singh is hobbled by the "two centres of power running the country."
Indian hostages in Iraq have been one of Mr Singh's worries
They say Congress President Sonia Gandhi wields more power than the prime
minister in many matters, and some ministers and leaders within the governing coalition are known to directly approach her with requests.
Prime ministerial aides, who ask not to be to be named, admit it is a unique
They say the chain of command can get a bit blurred when party veterans, senior leaders and ageing loyalists have to be accommodated on different government boards or appointed as state governors.
"There is come creative tension here between Mrs Gandhi and Mr Singh," said an aide who asked not to be named.
"Both could have a strong view on these appointments."
Aides point out that the 71-year-old Oxford-educated Mr Singh remains focused on his pet obsessions of reforming India's creaky and corrupt public institutions and rejuvenating poverty-stricken rural India.
Hard working premier
He is said to be extremely concerned over the country's yawning fiscal
deficit and the perilous finances of virtually bankrupt states.
Analysts feel that his greatest triumph until now has been resisting pressure
to rethink a recent free trade deal with Thailand - not a popular issue but
one that had his stamp all over it.
Mr Singh is also very different from his predecessors.
Unrest in Manipur is another problem facing the prime minister
Often putting in 16 to 18 hour days, he is the most hardworking premier
in recent times.
He shies away from publicity, and does not want his pictures to be
splashed in traditionally wasteful government self-promotion
Analysts say that the fact that Mr Singh is not a regular Indian politician
is his greatest strength - and his biggest weakness.
"He weakens the government by constantly reminding the people of the gap between his principles and political reality," says political scientist
Pratap Bhanu Mehta.
"He will have to do more than simply remind people of the gap.
"He is not a private citizen and cannot define himself through a politics of lament."
Analysts point out that Mr Singh's real problems could eventually be with the
way the Congress party itself works.
They say that many senior Congress ministers and chief ministers do not seem
to be following the prime minister's authority, and talk in different
The other, more serious problem, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, is the
"old failing" of the Congress Party.
"It's a kind of casualness about issues," he said.
"There seems to be still no sense of urgency about issues like unrest in the
north-east and the water dispute.
"This casualness needs to be overcome," he
Mr Singh's aides say that his support among Indians hinges on his squeaky clean reputation.
That is practically impossible to find among the country's politicians, and will almost certainly be translated into popular votes for his party when and if the prime minister proves that his actions speak louder than words.