Grand Tamasha

The Hidden History of Conservative Economics in Post-1947 India

Episode Summary

Historian Aditya Balasubramanian discusses his new book, Toward a Free Economy: Swantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India, with Milan Vaishnav.

Episode Notes

Toward a Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India is a new book on the Swatantra Party, a leading opposition party that emerged after Indian independence to contest the entrenched dominance of the Congress Party. The leaders of Swatantra imagined a conservative alternative to the left-of-center Congress, one that embraced libertarian principles and promoted the idea of a “free economy.” This new book, written by the historian Aditya Balasubramanian, holds many lessons for how we understand democracy, neoliberalism, and India’s own economic evolution today.

This week Milan sits down with Balasubramanian, a lecturer in economic history at the Australian National University, to talk more about his new work and the history of conservative economic thought in India. The two discuss why and how Swatantra leaders parted ways with Gandhi and other leading lights of the nationalist movement, the meaning of a “free economy,” and the ordinary Indians who powered the party’s sudden rise in the late 1960s. Plus, the two discuss the legacy of the Swatantra Party several decades after the party’s collapse and the death of its key figures—and what lessons it might hold for India’s opposition.

Episode Notes:

Aditya Balasubramanian, “Toward a Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India,” Lecture at King’s India Institute, July 5, 2023.

Aditya Balasubramanian, “Some lessons for INDIA from the Swatantra Party,” Hindustan Times, August 31, 2023.