Dr Aditya Balasubramanian

AB (Harvard College), MPhil, PhD (Trinity College, Cambridge)
Lecturer in Economic History
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: 6125 5114

Research interests

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


Aditya Balasubramanian is a Lecturer in Economic History whose research focuses on various aspects of the history of modern South Asia. His first book, Toward a Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming in 2023), is a history of economic ideas and politics.

Aditya completed his PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge as a British Marshall Scholar and a Cambridge Trust Scholar. At Cambridge, his dissertation won the Ellen McArthur Prize in Economic History and was shortlisted for the Prince Consort and Thirlwall Prize for best dissertation in History.

At ANU, Aditya teaches ECON3056, a third-year interdisciplinary history of economic thought from the ancients to the mid-20th century. He is a Board Member of the South Asia Research Institute, an affiliate of the Center for Economic History, and a member of the Geoeconomics Working Group. During 2022, he is in residence as an Economics, History, and Politics Fellow at the Harvard Center for History and Economics. He also coordinates the Center's "Archives of Economic Life in South and Southeast Asia" website.

Forthcoming Publications:

Toward A Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2023) https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691205243/toward-a-free-economy

"A Forgotten Famine of '43? Travancore's Muffled ‘Cry of Distress’" (in Isabel Huacuja Alonso and Andrew Amstutz eds. "Rethinking WWII in South Asia," special issue of Modern Asian Studies, 2023)

"A More Indian Path to Prosperity? Hindu Nationalism and Development in the mid-20th century, and beyond" (Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics, Winter 2022) 

In the Review Process:

"Of Decolonization and Development: Anticorruption in the Indian Central Government Services, c. 1940-60s" (revise and resubmit at Journal of Asian Studies)

Researcher's projects

Toward a Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India 

Neoliberalism is routinely explained as an anti-democratic, expert-driven project aimed at insulating markets from politics—devised in the North Atlantic and projected on the rest of the world. Turning this dominant understanding on its head, Toward a Free Economy shows how economic conservatism became the platform of a political party in the world’s largest democracy that sought to provide an alternative to the dominant Indian National Congress. This Swatantra (“Freedom”) Party opposed the Congress’ heavy-industrial developmental state and the accompanying rhetoric of socialism, and promised “free economy” through its project of opposition politics.

The keyword “free economy” drew a range of advocates and took on meanings that varied by region and language, caste and class, as it circulated in various genres. Visions of “free economy” mainly emanated from communities in Southern and Western India that embraced new forms of enterpreneurial activity. In these articulations, “free economy” connoted anticommunism, unfettered private economic activity, decentralized development, and defense of private property. Although in certain cases the development of "free economy" involved conversation and engagement with self-identifying neoliberals in the Atlantic world, its history is a distinct one. 

Swatantra's leadership pursued the project of opposition politics in three ways. First, they imagined a conservative alternative to a progressive dominant party in a two-party system. Next, they communicated ideas of and mobilized people around issues like inflation, excess taxation, and the right to property. Finally, they used the institutions and procedures of India’s political institutions to bring checks and balances to the political system.

Democracy’s persistence in India since the end of colonial rule is uncommon among postcolonial societies. Toward a Free Economy contributes a perspective on how Indians made and understood their own democracy and economy, and in the process casts light more broadly on neoliberalism, democracy, and the postcolonial world.

Roads and Road Transportation in Modern South Asia

(in progress)

Family Histories of Commerce between South and Southeast Asia

(in progress)

Available student projects

Aditya welcomes inquiries from students. 

Current student projects

Mark Clayton (CQU): "Problems of Plenty: Airforce Reconversion in the United States and Australia, 1944-49" (Advisory Panel)

Fleur Goldthorpe (ANU): "British Women of the 'Portocracy': Port Wine Dinastias, Family and Transcultural Lives, 1678-1855" (Advisory Panel)

Jacob Wray (ANU): "From the Colony to the Republic: Controlling Population Movement in Revolutionary Indonesia, 1945-1949" (Advisory Panel)

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Updated:  28 November 2022 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers