This talk shows how ideas of “free economy” in opposition to the so-called “socialist planned economy” of Nehruvian India emerged from communities in southern and western India as they embraced new forms of entrepreneurial activity. Although diverse, these articulations all connoted anticommunism, unfettered private economic activity, decentralized development, and the defense of private property.
“Free economy” became the rallying cry for the Swatantra (“Freedom”) Party, which rose and fell in 1960s India. Its project of opposition politics sought to create a viable conservative alternative to the dominant Indian National Congress and push India toward a two-party system. Central to this approach was the use of print and visual culture and popular mobilization attempts like anti-inflation days, and the use of the judiciary and parliamentary procedure to check the power of the dominant party.
This talk provides a perspective on the changing relationship between the state and markets and the evolution of democracy in India. But it also links this history to the study of democracy, anticommunism, and the debate on the role of states and markets in the economy that have defined the 20th century globally. And it prompts us to revise our assumptions about the anti-democratic character and spread of neoliberalism.