Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brushed aside on Tuesday a new threat from his communist allies to force early elections over a controversial nuclear deal with the United States.
In the government's first reaction to a call by the leader of the largest left-wing party for talks on the deal to be stopped, Singh said he would stick to a plan conditionally approved by the communists earlier to push the landmark pact.
"The process is under way, we will take a step ahead," Singh told a news conference in Ahmedabad, adding that the government was negotiating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after the communists had approved it.
Asked about communist leader Prakash Karat's threat to prepare for elections if the negotiations were not stopped, Singh said: "We will cross the bridge when we are there."
Karat, general-secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), told a party meeting on Saturday that the government would be asked to stop negotiations with the IAEA. He said the issue had to be closed by the end of December.
"If they go ahead then we will have to prepare for elections," Karat said.
The India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement aims to allow New Delhi to access American nuclear fuel and reactors by overturning a three-decade ban imposed after India conducted a nuclear test while staying out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It is seen as the centrepiece of a new, strategic relationship between Washington and New Delhi. The government hopes it will help India meet its soaring energy needs.
But Singh's communist allies have rejected the pact, saying it compromises India's sovereignty and draws it into the geostrategic influence of the United States.
The stand-off almost brought down the coalition government in October, prompting the cabinet to put the deal on hold.
Last month, the communists softened their opposition amid hectic negotiations and allowed conditional talks with the IAEA to conclude a safeguards agreement needed to clinch the deal.
Those talks are expected to be wrapped up this month and the government had agreed to go back to the communists with a draft IAEA safeguards pact for their approval before pushing the deal forward.
In addition to an IAEA pact, the nuclear deal must win the approval of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group and the U.S. Congress, preferably before the US legislative calendar is cramped by presidential polls next year.