C Rajagopalachari turned into an economic policy commentator as he reinvented himself as the most prominent agitator for a conservative opposition party to the Congress. This transformation took place in conversation with various interlocutors in Swarajya who reflected on changes in society and economy in its pages. The content of these discussions spread to the Tamil-speaking public thanks to Kalki, known primarily as a culture magazine.

Swarajya’s close connection with Kalki was a function of their editors’ strong relationship to Rajagopalachari. That connection strengthened further when Kalki took over the finances and distribution of Swarajya in 1959. Both magazines catered to consuming classes and featured eminent authors. They were also both run by Brahmins. The defence of large landholding and patrilineal inheritance that took place in their pages points to how a new economic conservatism emerged from a socially and culturally conservative milieu.

Enmeshed in the connected cluster of English-language periodicals and associations in which free economy developed and diffused, Swarajya boasted an appreciable circulation of 16,456 by 1960. Like others in this cluster, its editor and major contributors first came to know each other during the freedom movement. Swarajya commented mainly on economic and political affairs and aimed at a national audience. Its pages featured quotations in small boxes from the likes of Edmund Burke, Macaulay, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Jefferson nested in the margins of article columns. Indicative of its Anglophile tenor, Swarajya once published the historian Percival Spear’s article on “Life at Cambridge Today.” Articles focused on foreign policy, law and the courts, and economic affairs. Culture complemented current affairs. The magazine also featured articles on Hinduism, reviews of books and Carnatic music concerts, and the occasional short story.

Founded by R “Kalki” Krishnamurthi, the former editor of Rajagopalachari’s ashram temperance magazine Vimōcaṇam, Kalki fed into the linguistic and cultural renaissance being experienced in the Tamil-speaking region. It primarily featured illustrated short stories, segments of serialised novels, and short essays. Temporally, many of its fictional offerings were set in the ancient past. Covers usually featured a scene from these stories, giving Kalki a classic, timeless appearance. The magazine also shared the name of the prophesied tenth incarnation of the god Vishnu, who first appeared in the Mahabharata.

The politics section of Kalki that ran from 1954 typically covered economic affairs in at least one of its subsections – the unsigned main editorial, shorter subeditorials, or cartoons. Kalki’s basic orientation strongly resembled the line taken in Swarajya. Its special symposia published over multiple weeks allowed eminent men of affairs to explain economic and political affairs in a more didactic vein. Pieces were around 500 words in length. Between 1957 and 1958, Kalki carried the 20-part Poruḷātāramum Potumakkaḷum (The Economy and the Public); the 11-part Celvamum Svatantramum (Wealth and Freedom); an 18-part Ārāyacci Araṅkam (Research Forum) on Bhāratin Iṉṟaiya Poruḻ Nilai (The Economic Condition of India Today); and a 17-part Ceṅkōlum Jaṉanāyakamum (Justice and Democracy). The publication and content of these symposia reflected Rajagopalachari and his associates’ commitment to peer education and the cultivation of public consciousness.

Kalki helped cement Rajagopalachari’s enduring political force as both a symbol and purveyor of ideas. It published his renditions of the Mahabharata (1944-46) and the Ramayana (1954-55), and his annotated commentaries on the first book of the Kural (1957-59). Every year on his birthday, the magazine also carried Rajagopalachari’s likeness on its cover and filled the issue with photographs and short hagiographical essays about him. One such article dubbed him “iraṇṭāvatu Cokraṭār” (second Socrates). Kalki’s offerings could be read easily, as they were written in a style resembling spoken Tamil.

By 1960, it became the second most widely sold Tamil weekly, with a circulation exceeding 100,000. Kalki and Swarajya occupied distinct but connected roles in India’s “structurally bilingual public sphere” of regional Indian-language local publics and an elite English national public. Intermediators like Rajagopalachari wielded important power because of their prominence to both kinds of publics. They fleshed out their economic ideas in dedicated associations across urban centres or periodicals where the medium of communication was English.

These intermediators would then selectively communicate these ideas in Indian languages in the print cultures of their regions. They took on a more prescriptive tone as “peer educators” or pedagogues in their Indian-language writings. When they addressed political rallies, it was more as proselytsers rather than debaters. Swarajya and Kalki overlapped to the greatest extent in the amount of coverage they gave to Rajagopalachari’s writings and movements.

Swarajya and Kalki appeared during a period when the state was becoming increasingly assertive over regional economic life and the agrarian economy grew more industrialised. As agricultural output declined in the early 20th century, the state had taken on a more active role in the management of food-grains procurement and distribution. To the chagrin of mercantile interests, it instituted a bureaucracy for this purpose. New industries came into being and towns grew. Textile businesses that profited handsomely during World War II but saw demand collapse shortly thereafter diversified into new businesses: trucking fleets, cinema halls, printing presses, urban property, and consumer goods.

Complementing this trend was the steady expansion of non-factory businesses specialising in tanning, carpet-making, beedi-rolling, and metalwork. These businesses benefited from urban migration related to agrarian distress. Finally, the personnel of the state increased in size and asserted greater control over economic resources. They clustered in the capital of Madras or in large towns. The pages of both magazines carried advertisements for these new consumer products. They catered especially to urban readers. Magazine contributions responded to national economic policy and ideology during the Second Five-Year Plan (1956-61).

Excerpted with permission from Toward a Free Economy: Swatantra and Opposition Politics in Democratic India, Aditya Balasubramanian, Princeton University Press.