NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s ruling Congress party said its government would not collapse over a nuclear deal with the United States, despite warnings by its communist allies of “serious consequences” if it did not put the pact on hold.
Left parties, which provide the Congress-led coalition with parliamentary support, have opposed the civilian nuclear deal, triggering Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s worst political crisis since he took office in 2004.
But Congress cabinet minister and senior leader Kapil Sibal said the government would not fall due to opposition to the pact.
“This is a non-issue,” Sibal told NDTV television, in reply to a question whether the government would quit rather than go back on the landmark nuclear deal.
“I don’t think any government will fall. I don’t think anybody will take that position once the issue is debated in parliament,” said Sibal, minister for science and technology.
The nuclear deal was finalised in July after months of negotiations, although it still needs approval by several global institutions and a final vote by the U.S. Congress.
It will give an energy-hungry India access to American reactors and fuel for the first time in three decades, despite New Delhi having tested atomic weapons and not having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The left has argued the deal undermines India’s sovereign nuclear and foreign policy and draws it into a U.S. strategic alliance, aimed at containing China.
Sibal’s comments aired on TV on Saturday come a day after Sitaram Yechury, a top leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M), sought to calm worries that support from the left could be withdrawn.
He said the left was asking the government to press the “pause button” on the pact, and “not eject or stop”.
CPI-M has 43 of 60 leftist MPs in the 545-member lower house of parliament.
On Saturday the head of the Communist Party of India (CPI), a smaller left party with 10 lower house MPs, said it wanted the government not to proceed with the deal.
“If the government is ready to fall, then who can stop it?,” said A.B. Bardhan, CPI general secretary, told NDTV India news channel, speaking on the nuclear deal.
“If it has to be scrapped, then scrap it. Right now we are just telling the government to stop and not take the next step.”
Analysts say the CPI is highly unlikely to act without the more influential CPI-M’s consent.
Sibal said the government would address the communist concerns on the deal in parliament next week.
An opinion poll of 6,500 voters showed 47 percent wanted the government to resist communist pressure to put the deal on hold, even if meant a new election.
One of India’s most powerful business leaders said the fast-growing economy would suffer if a fresh election was called because of the political crisis over the deal.
“I fear the uncertainty in the political environment will certainly cause India to stumble, will cause the momentum of growth, which we have enjoyed, to pause, if not reverse,” said Ratan Tata of the conglomerate Tata Group.
He was speaking to CNN-IBN TV in an interview to be aired on Sunday and Monday, excerpts of which were made available to Reuters.