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

economic, social, and political history of modern South Asia; history of economic thought; material histories of consumption and culture; international history; film studies


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 PhD dissertation, 'Free Economy and Opposition Politics in India, c. 1940-70,' is an alternative history of the political Right 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. In 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. He 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. 

In addition to revising his dissertation for publication, Aditya is engaged in article-length projects on World War II and the origins of anti-corruption in India, the invention of Hindu nationalist economic thought, the Travancore Famine of 1943, and the transnational history of eucalyptus planting in India. He is involved in collaborative projects on Asia and the International Economic Order, Publicity, Knowledge and Political Discourse in the 20th Century, and Economic Life in South and Southeast Asia. His next book-length project concerns microhistories of family businesses across South and Southeast Asia in the 20th century. 

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

Researcher's projects

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

This project shows that 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. It 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. The scales of community, region, and world informed the alternative political economies conceived by their leaders. 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.

By the late 1960s, it was the proponents of ‘free economy,’ which included practitioners of cooperative milk production and visionaries of World Peasant Union, who played the major role in trying 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 contemporary tensions that endure in the Right today and raises questions about the future.


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

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Updated:  14 November 2019 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers