India at Crossroads on Path to Superpower Status

This realization has prompted others in the village to join the Naxalites. The Maoist insurgent groups, who use violence to combat large landowners and big industry, are currently active in about a third of India's more than 600 districts. In its July report, the organization Human Rights Watch accuses both the government and the Naxalites of violating human rights.

In the "red corridor" extending from the north all the way to Andhra Pradesh, insurgents repeatedly attack police officers and engage in firefights with the authorities. More than 600 people died in these conflicts last year. It is an irony of history that, in the 21st century, Mao Zedong could very well have more supporters in democratic India than in communist China.

At War against Corruption As we leave Hasakothur, a group of men from the village wave goodbye. They are about a dozen emaciated figures standing at an old railroad crossing, their heads wrapped in plastic bags to ward off a sudden downpour. They are the losers of India's frenzied progress.

India has splendid programs for the poorest of the poor, but they exist only on paper. The government guarantees every economically disadvantaged rural household 100 paid working days. Rural schools are supposed to distribute free lunches to students. Just a few weeks ago, the prime minister promised that every Indian household would have electricity within the next five years.

But these are mostly theoretical promises. On the long road between greedy politicians in New Delhi and corrupt local officials, the money tends to disappear before it reaches the poor. Neither Maoism nor the constant danger of terrorism from neighboring Pakistan is the greatest internal threat to the subcontinent. Instead, it is poverty and, more than anything, corruption.

One man has declared war on this scourge. He is determined to win at whatever cost, even if it means risking his life. Kisan Baburao Hazare, 75, is India's most influential political provocateur. He is hated by some, admired by many and, most of all, seen as a force for change. Through his hunger strikes, the social activist with the honorific "Anna" ("big brother") is even likened to Mahatma Gandhi -- the ultimate honor.

Hazare's village is in an arid region of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Bumpy paths lead past filthy tearooms that help to explain an angry outburst by Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh, one of India's few plain-talking politicians, in November 2011. He complained that India remains "the dirtiest and filthiest country" in the world, adding that it was paradoxical that women were demanding cell phones rather than toilets.

But as soon as the car turns into Ralegan Siddhi, everything looks different. The place is striking for its clean-swept streets, its immaculate white school with a computer room, and its irrigation project. Hazare, the social activist, is the unofficial mayor of Ralegan Siddhi, and he is proud of what he has achieved there. "My village should be a model; I want it to be copied 100 times in India," he says with the self-confidence of a victorious warrior. He is standing in front of a bust of Gandhi at the temple where he lives in a modest back room, with a snow-white Gandhi cap placed carefully on his head.

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