New Delhi: Maldives’ unrelenting defiance of India could only mean that its Chinese masters have not given up on their plans to encircle and contain India. This would surprise no one except those who lead the government who believe appeasement will win over the Chinese. So Air India has changed Taiwan to Chinese Taipei on its website which has got the Taiwanese furious and the Indian ministry of external affairs on the defensive. If India does not have a One-China Policy as the ministry claims, why was Air India not permitted to continue with Taiwan? The question to ask is this: Why is India genuflecting so much to China when it has been cornered by Donald Trump’s trade blows?

Is Narendra Modi, in his quest for the “holy grail” of a Nuclear Suppliers’ Group membership, prepared to go to any length to placate China? Should that be the case, the alarm should be sounded loud and early. Almost no trade-off with China is worth an NSG membership. A membership will provide India with nothing that it already does not have, and there is really no loss of prestige if the country remains outside the club. Narendra Modi may be fixated about clubs, but the rest of the country needn’t join his fixation. China is fully seized of Modi’s NSG obsession and is slowly but surely raising the price with no guarantee of delivery. Should the country stand by while China hoodwinks the most empty-headed Indian government in decades?

The only goal in the nuclear realm worth pursuing is a reliable thermonuclear deterrent since India does not have one. The Pokhran II test in 1998 lost its sheen because the centrepiece thermonuclear bomb failed to detonate as designed. The explosion produced by the fission trigger device was sought to be passed off as the real deal but nobody was fooled. In the tricky and zero-tolerance world of deterrence, credibility is everything. If a test does not produce credible yields, the deterrent loses its power by the same degree to deter. India has platforms to deliver warheads to distances that would have a significant deterrence effect on China. But what are the warheads made of? Fission or fusion devices? After the Pokhran II test failed, the late K. Subrahmanyam advanced a post-facto justification that fission devices were adequate for India’s minimum deterrence posture. But is India’s deterrence posture minimum any longer? We do not have an operational triad but we are headed there. How does a triad conform to a minimum deterrence posture? We are also undeniably in a nuclear arms race with Pakistan and to an extent with China. And since China is India’s principal adversary, deterring it with fission devices makes no sense when it has mega thermonuclear devices in its arsenal, great numbers of them indeed, and possesses far more numerous and accurate platforms to deliver them. There is a deterrence gap with China which the Narendra Modi government neither has the intelligence nor the inclination to examine and resolve. Instead, Modi is pursuing the chimera of NSG. India needs reliable thermonuclear devices and warheads. The NSG is a civilian nuclear group. How does that help? Why, indeed, is Modi so keen on NSG that he is willing to appease China for it?

The regime’s unpersuasive argument is that an NSG membership would give a fillip to India’s nuclear reactor exports and add weight to the Make-in-India programme. As commerce, the reactor business has no future. Risks have increased exponentially and with those liability costs. The last thing India would want is a nuclear accident in one of its reactors built abroad. Nuclear- and military-industrial complexes do not always pay for themselves. America prospers in one of them and Russia does passably in the other but the gap between their economies has all the same yawned since the early Cold War. India, on the other hand, is still climbing the steps of full-spectrum industrialization. It is not strong on innovation; indeed, it is rather weak. NSG does not provide a magic wand. More pressingly, India needs a credible thermonuclear deterrent. Narendra Modi’s genuflection to China won’t cut much ice there.