NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's political survival may depend on finding a strong response to the attacks in Mumbai as Indians clamour for answers and action.
But if the track record of the "prime minister by accident" is anything to go by, the Congress-led government may find it hard to both appease voters ahead of next year's general election and persuade Pakistan to act against militants. Strategic affairs expert K Subrahmanyam said: "We have a figurehead prime minister.
"There is an impression that the government is weak and not able to deal with terrorism."
Many Indian voters want some kind of clear response to the attack that killed 183 people, from identifying and punishing the masterminds to trade sanctions against Pakistan, or passing harsh anti-terrorism laws. At stake is not only whether the Congress Party, already unpopular due to high inflation, gets beaten in early 2009 against an alliance led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Also on the line is whether an India with perceived weak leadership will have the clout to pressure the international community and Pakistan into clamping down on militants that New Delhi blames for the attacks.
Siddharth Varadarajan, diplomatic editor of the Hindu newspaper, said: "The government must find the right calibration of response. If it over-reacts it will please the domestic audience, but alienate the international community. If it under-reacts it will alienate the voter.
"My fear is they could resort to the past," Varadarajan said, referring to India's massing of troops along the border in 2002 after an attack by militants on its parliament.
The Economic Times, citing unnamed sources, reported yesterday that Singh, an economist, had offered to resign, but Sonia Gandhi, head of Congress, rejected it. - Reuters