Dr Aditya Balasubramanian

AB (Harvard College), MPhil, PhD (Trinity College, Cambridge)
Lecturer in Economic History
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: 6125 55114

Research interests

history of modern South Asia; history of economic thought; material histories of consumption and culture; energy and environmental history; international history


Aditya Balasubramanian is Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Economic History. His research stands at the intersection of the economic, political, and intellectual history of 20th century South Asia. His book project, Partisans of the Free Economy (working title), forthcoming from Princeton University Press, is a history of economic ideas about secular conservatism in India. 

He completed his PhD and MPhil degrees at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a British Marshall Scholar and a Cambridge Trust Scholar. His dissertation won the Ellen McArthur Prize in Economic History and has been shortlisted for the Prince Consort and Thirlwall Prize for best dissertation in History. During 2017-8, he was a History of Political Economy Fellow at Duke University. He received his undergraduate degree in history with a minor in economics from Harvard University. Aditya has worked in the private sector, as a Research Associate for the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab in New Delhi, and as Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard International Review. 

Aditya has published or forthcoming articles about the invention of Hindu nationalist economic thought, the emergence of the free market economist as a public intellectual in India, and the history of economic conservatism in India. In addition to revising his dissertation for publication, Aditya is engaged in article-length projects on the history of anti-corruption in India, the Travancore Famine of 1943, and (with Srinath Raghavan) India and the international economic order in the 1970s. His next book-length project concerns the history of energy consumption in modern India.

Aditya is a Research Associate of the Joint Harvard-Cambridge Centre for History and Economics and coordinates its 'Archives of Economic Life in South and Southeast Asia' website.

Researcher's projects

Free Economy and Opposition Politics in India, c. 1940-70

Far from a period of the hegemony of socialist ideas, the Nehruvian era (1947-64) was one of vibrant dissent and contestation in the domain of political and economic thought. This project shows how visions of 'free economy' emanating from landed and mercantile communities transitioning to capitalism in western and southern India became the fulcrum of the challenge to the leading Indian National Congress. Shifting the focus of the history of economic thought away from economists and towards politicians and publicists, it shows how alternative political economies were conceived by Indians informed by overlapping scales of of community, region, and world. These were often ex-Congress politicians and anticolonial publicists now disgruntled with the country’s economic trajectory. They threshed out their ideas in a deep and dense network of associations based in urban centres around India, in conversation with market advocates around the world amidst the backdrop of an intensifying Cold War. Whereas the postcolonial history of India has been focused on the nation-state, this project devotes equal attention to India's regional history, especially the former Bombay and Madras Presidencies, and the conceptions of the nation emanating from these regions. 

By the late 1960s, it was the proponents of ‘free economy,’ practitioners of cooperative milk production and visionaries of World Peasant Union among them, who played the key role in attempting to bring two-party democracy to India. Their Swatantra (‘Freedom’) Party, rather than the Hindu right-wing Jana Sangh Party, would become the largest opposition party in the country. Swatantra’s critique of the Congress’ governance as life under a ‘permit-and-licence raj’ endured and the areas from which it emanated established distinctive regional economies. 

Based on archival research in three continents and published matter ranging from gramophone recordings to comic strips, ‘Free Economy and Opposition Politics’ shows how ideas that came about as a product of local and transnational conversations against the backdrop of the mid-20th century reinvention of economic science infused a new politico-economic imaginary for India. It rescues forgotten thinkers from the faded margins of India’s intellectual history and unearths voices from India’s towns and rural areas to shed new light on Nehruvian India, economic thought in the non-western world, and the deepening of democracy in postcolonial societies. This project also helps illuminate tensions that endure in Indian politics today. 

Available student projects

Aditya is available to supervise undergraduate and graduate projects on the history of Modern South Asia and the economic history of the 20th century. He welcomes inquiries from students. 

Current student projects

Fleur Goldthorpe (ANU), 'British Women of the "Portocracy": The Port Wine Trade, Family Ties and Transnational Identities' (Advisory Panel)

Mark Clayton (CQU): 'The Reconversion of Democracy's Winged Arsenal' (Advisory Panel)

Return to top

Updated:  20 January 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers