Unravelling unknown tidbits from history

The event saw active participation from students of the Economics department gathered together at Naalandha, the college seminar hall.
Photo: D Sampathkumar
Photo: D Sampathkumar

CHENNAI: As the afternoon drew in, the corridors of MOP Vaishnav College for Women echoed with the profound insights derived from the words of economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, who once quoted, “Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

These words found new resonance during the fourth edition of Author Speak, a literary gathering held at MOP Vaishnav College for Women, in association with The New Indian Express, as author and educationalist Aditya Balasubramanian took to the dais. The event, initiated by Pegasus, the college’s book club dedicated to nurturing the literary endeavours of young writers and readers, had this particular edition surpassing its usual confines. It dove deeper into the intricacies of the nation’s economic development, presenting a fresh perspective that challenged conventional narratives.

As the speaker checked his microphone and began sharing his insights on his recently released book Toward a Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India, the students and the audience were all ears.

The book that probes into the role of opposition parties during India’s early post-independent development journey was the major point of discussion during the course of the gathering, and this was followed by a question-and-answer session between the author and the attendees. Talking about the book, Aditya said, “This book enables the readers to reconsider India’s economy and its development post independence, and it aims to rewrite the history of economic thought.”

Being a lecturer of Economic History at the Australian National University, Aditya spoke about the multitude of topics covered in this book, released as an extension of his PhD work. Focusing on the Swatantra Party’s pivotal role in the narrative of Indian democracy, he explored the personalities shaping it and their ideologies, along with highlighting the genesis of the term “free economy” in India and recounting the Lotvalas’ story from Bombay. Aditya underscored the coinage of “free economy” by industrialist Ranchhoddas Bhuvan Lotvala as a “rhetoric of socialism” and traced its evolution through the works of his daughter, Kusum Lotvala, who later put her father’s moves into action.

Further on, when asked about the significance of the book, he said, “This book helps understand India’s simultaneous skim from colonial economic stagnation and the persistence of democratic form, which was introduced to a largely poor and unlettered people.” Concluding the session, Aditya highlighted the growth of agro-industries during the free market phase and also touched upon the inception of the Amul group.

The event saw active participation from students of the Economics department gathered together at Naalandha, the college seminar hall. Post the session, the students expressed their gratitude to the author for providing an opportunity to engage with enriching new information and for offering a unique perspective on the country’s economic development.

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