Indias Prime Minister Manmohan Singh faces the fight of his life, with his Mr Clean image threatened by corruption scandals in his ruling coalition and soaring food and living costs raising the prospect of unrest. While no political opponents are questioning Manmohans integrity, there are perceptions that his Congress party has shielded crooked elements and vested corporate interests among the 10-party ruling bloc that it leads, known as the United Progress Alliance (UPA). Manmohan and his Congress party now face a stark choice of sticking with graft-tainted elements to ensure the UPA makes it through a second successive five-year term, or parting ways with them and possibly losing power at early general elections. So far, the government has denied the extent of the telecoms licensing scam rocking the country. Last year, former telecoms minister A Raja was accused of allocating 2G phone licences on a first-come, first-served basis instead of auctioning them, costing the government some $40 billion in revenues. Until now, Manmohan was seen as loftily detached from the muddy waters of coalition politics. Sensing the shift in public mood, Manmohan held an emergency meeting with key ministers on the morning of January 11 to tackle a rising food price crisis. With food inflation at nearly 17pc, prices have soared on daily staples such as fruits, eggs, and meat. The cost of onions has surged to $1.67 per kilogram, while the average daily wage is just $2.23. Food prices are now a problem and it looks as if the government is not in control, Prasanna Ananthasubramaniam, the Mumbai-based chief economist at ICICI Securities Primary Dealership, told Bloomberg on January 13. As the crisis deepens, senior coalition partner and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, is being accused of fiddling while Rome burns. While the country suffers its worst agriculture-related crisis in decades, Pawar seems more focused on his activities as president of the Dubai-based International Cricket Council, busy with the Cricket World Cup that India is hosting in February. Regional party Dravida Munnetra Kazhlagam (DMK) is seen as another millstone around Manmohans neck. The DMK was in charge of the telecommunications ministry implicated in the 2G-spectrum scandal. For reasons best known to itself, the DMK has insisted on its party members heading the ministry in both UPA terms, including A Raja, who resigned last November. At the centre of the drama is 86-year old Muthuvel Karunanidhi, chief minister of Tamil Nadu, who supported Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi in 2004 when she won the general elections. Raja is a lawyer by training and is known to be close to Karunanidhis favourite daughter, Karunanidh Kanimozhi, a member of the upper house (Rajya Sabha). While the Congress party is no doubt grateful for the DMKs past support, the price of maintaining the relationship - Manmohan being seen losing control over his coalition partners - may be too high. The DMK-Congress relationship began unravelling after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Indias premier investigative agency, began probing the 2G scam, and honed into possible DMK links. Manmohan Singh met Karunanidhi in Chennai on January 3, apparently to appease his coalition partner. The government-directed CBI has been accused of weakly poking around graft scandals with belated raids of suspects that give them time to destroy any incriminating evidence. Critics say it has ignored political heavyweights, instead jailing junior bureaucrats and personal assistants of politicians linked to scams - namely, those who might know too much. Last December, two bureaucrats in New Delhis Tihar Jail, awaiting trial over alleged corruption in preparations for the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in the city, alleged that they had been targeted for assassination, with the connivance of some jail officials. Sensing blood, opposition parties boycotted nearly the entire winter session of parliament, demanding a Joint Parliamentary Probe into the telecoms case. They know that fallout from the investigation could rupture the DMK-Congress alliance, potentially bringing down the government. Critics say that Manmohan and his party need to take a more transparent approach to the list of scandals, lest the population lost patience with the leader, who was nominated rather than elected. Anything less puts at risk the respected partnership that he and Congress party boss Sonia Gandhi, who takes final decisions on key issues, has built. Asia Times