Neoliberalism is routinely characterized as an antidemocratic, expert-driven project aimed at insulating markets from politics, devised in the North Atlantic and projected on the rest of the world. Revising this understanding, Toward a Free Economy shows how economic conservatism emerged and was disseminated in a postcolonial society consistent with the logic of democracy.
Twelve years after the British left India, a Swatantra (“Freedom”) Party came to life. It encouraged Indians to break with the Indian National Congress Party, which spearheaded the anticolonial nationalist movement and now dominated Indian democracy. Rejecting Congress’s heavy-industrial developmental state and the accompanying rhetoric of socialism, Swatantra promised “free economy” through its project of opposition politics.
As it circulated across various genres, “free economy” took on meanings that varied by region and language, caste and class, and won diverse advocates. These articulations, informed by but distinct from neoliberalism, came chiefly from communities in southern and western India as they embraced new forms of entrepreneurial activity. At their core, they connoted anticommunism, unfettered private economic activity, decentralized development, and the defense of private property.
Opposition politics encompassed ideas and practice. Swatantra’s leaders imagined a conservative alternative to a progressive dominant party in a two-party system. They communicated ideas and mobilized people around such issues as inflation, taxation, and property. And they made creative use of India’s institutions to bring checks and balances to the political system.
Democracy’s persistence in India is uncommon among postcolonial societies. By excavating a perspective of how Indians made and understood their own democracy and economy, Aditya Balasubramanian broadens our picture of neoliberalism, democracy, and the postcolonial world.
About the author
Aditya Balasubramanian is a Lecturer in Economic History at Australian National University whose research focuses on various aspects of the history of modern South Asia. Aditya completed his PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge as a British Marshall Scholar and a Cambridge Trust Scholar. His dissertation won the Ellen McArthur Prize in Economic History and was shortlisted for the Prince Consort and Thirlwall Prize for best dissertation in the Faculty of History.
About the chair
Professor Louise Tillin
Professor Louise Tillin is Director, King’s India Institute and Professor of Politics. Louise’s research interests span federalism, democracy and territorial politics in India, and the history and politics of social policy design and implementation. Louise is a regular commentator on Indian politics in UK, Indian and international media. She is an editor of the journal Regional and Federal Studies, and an editorial board member of Pacific Affairs.