After barely two months in office, Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral has learned that his best strategy for surviving as the head of a shaky 14-party minority government is to steer clear of controversy. However, time is running out for the 77-year-old veteran politician to take decisive steps on a series of crucial policy matters. They include a long-overdue rise in petrol prices and what to do about Laloo Prasad Yadav, the corruption-tainted president of his own party, the Janata Dal. Although Mr Gujral's ascendancy to the prime ministership in April was widely welcomed, the vulnerability of a leader with no status in his own party and without any electoral appeal is making itself felt more quickly than most people expected. Mr Gujral's main concern since landing India's top job has been foreign affairs. A landmark summit with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and a visit to Nepal won him praise in intellectual circles. However, his handling of a row over the alleged placement of missiles on the Pakistani border has been widely criticised. The country's leading weekly magazine, India Today, described Mr Gujral's defensiveness over claims in the Washington Post that nuclear-capable missiles had been deployed on the border as 'regrettable' and 'shameful'. On the economic front, Mr Gujral has taken a more hands-off approach than his predecessor, H. D. Deve Gowda. Three times in the past two months he has bowed to pressure from left-wing parties in his coalition Government and avoided raising highly subsidised petrol prices. Despite official warnings that domestic oil supplies might be threatened, the decision was deferred once again this week to give the Government more time to consider how the price rise should be implemented. The imminent prosecution of Mr Yadav, the recalcitrant Chief Minister of Bihar at the centre of a massive corruption case, will also test Mr Gujral's skills. Mr Yadav yesterday applied for ''anticipatory bail' to prevent his detention once charged. Given the public's clamour for accountability, he can ill afford to go soft on Mr Yadav. But forcing his resignation would split the Janata Dal, making the Government even more vulnerable. Despite the problems within his own Government, the greatest threat to Mr Gujral is likely to come from Sita Ram Kesri, who won this month's election for the post of president of the Congress (I) Party. Almost immediately, Mr Kesri reminded Mr Gujral that his United Front Government could not take Congress support for granted. It was Mr Kesri's withdrawal of Congress support in March which briefly toppled the United Front and led to Mr Deve Gowda's resignation. Mr Kesri said yesterday Congress would set up a 'coordination committee' with the United Front this week.