In recent years, the economic development of China and India and their border confrontations have intensified bilateral strategic competition. This study used the State of Democracy in South Asia survey to identify dual mindsets of competition and contingency that drive how Indians perceive China’s influence in Asia. These two mindsets are based on a cognitive schema characterized by a political predisposition against China. However, this negative orientation is moderated as more information is acquired regarding the impact of China on India. The competition mindset does not always manifest itself, and is only cognitively activated when a change is perceived in India’s power status. On the other hand, the contingent principle appears whenever competition seems to have abated, or disadvantage seems unavoidable. The mindsets of competition and contingency are not only relevant to the evolution of Sino–Indian relations, but also explain how Indian policymakers behave and respond in international society.