India will get tougher on territorial disputes with China and in its old rivalry with Pakistan if opposition leader Narendra Modi becomes the prime minister in May after a general election, two of his aides said.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist who is the front-runner to win the five-week election starting on April 7, has taken an aggressive tone against the two neighbouring nations. On the campaign trail, he has warned Beijing to shed its "mindset of expansionism" and in the past he has railed against Pakistan, an Islamic state, for attacks by Muslim militants in India.
"I swear in the name of the soil that I will protect this country," Modi said at a rally in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh last month, a region claimed by China.
India, China and Pakistan are all nuclear powers. They are also jockeying to take positions in Afghanistan as Western troops start to withdraw from the war-torn nation after a 12-year insurgency.
India has fought three wars with Pakistan and had a 1962 border skirmish with China. It came close to a fourth war with Pakistan in 2001 but since then, its foreign policy has been mostly benign.
Modi has painted the ruling Congress party, which has been in power for more than 50 of the 67 years since India became independent, as weak on national security. However, the country is one of the top buyers worldwide of military hardware, purchasing about $12.7 billion in arms during 2007-2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, everything from basic military goods to an aircraft carrier.
Modi's two advisers said that while his foreign policy would be muscular, it would also aim to keep a lid on regional tensions to allow a focus on reviving the economy.
"Ours will be an economy-driven foreign policy and the whole idea is to build India's economy so solidly that you can deal with other countries on our own terms," said a strategist involved in formulating the manifesto of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As leader of the economic-powerhouse state of Gujarat for more than a decade, Modi has courted investment from China. As prime minister, the advisers say, he would seek to steer a course between defending India's security interests and growing business links with the world's second-biggest economy.
Modi has never clearly spelled out his foreign policy vision, but he has praised former BJP prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee - who ordered a series