India's railway king

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Lalu Prasad Yadav, the demagogic yokel who has headed Indian Railways since 2004, unveiled a preliminary 2009-2010 budget last week. It smells of roses: $19.3 billion in gross receipts -- a jump of 13 percent -- plus a massive expansion of services in the coming year. His opponents, who ran the Railways deep in the red for a decade before Lalu took over, say it's easy to make huge profits running a railroad, if you overload the wagons and risk train wrecks. (As if on cue, a train derailed and killed 12 in Orissa just hours after Lalu presented in the Lok Sabha.)

How has a crooked, semiliterate hillbilly succeeded in managing the world's second-largest employer to profitability? Over at The American, I have a profile of Lalu, and an exploration of how started as a national laughingstock and ended as India's most improbably successful bureaucrat (but still a national laughingstock).

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Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.

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