Asked if this approach might be considered excessive, Mapari answered, "Alcoholism leads to poverty." Almost 40 years later, he remains a staunch Hazare supporter. The bank he now chairs provides low-interest loans to farmers; any interest collected goes to support the development of the village.
What proved most transformative for Ralegan Siddhi and the surrounding countryside, however, was Hazare's leadership in a watershed restoration project that made the arid hillsides bloom. He persuaded his neighbors to work together, building 31 small dams of cement or soil called bunds that eventually raised the groundwater level from an average depth of 100 feet to less than 50. "Water should not be seen on the surface," Hazare would say; "it should be caught, held and kept below."
Hazare's critics note that Ralegan Siddhi hasn't had an election for its local council in over 25 years. His defenders say this is part of his genius, that he has relied instead on Gram Sabha (village assembly) meetings of all adult residents in which decisions are made by consensus. The operational arm of the assembly, the panchyat or village council, is composed of nine members -- all of them women, at Hazare's urging, on the theory that this would promote their active role in village life.
In the early 1990s, Maharashtra gave Anna control over funds for replicating his model in 300 villages across the state. In recent years, he has more often tangled with the state, most notably through a series of hunger fasts and public protests aimed at spurring enactment of a Right to Information law. He won that battle in 2003 with a state law that became a model for national legislation a few years later. This law helped expose government corruption in ways that set the stage for this year's battle.
The consensus approach in Ralegan Siddhi accounts for the success of policies, largely self-enforced, that range from a ban on tree-felling and free-range grazing to the alcohol ban and the commitment to birth control and smaller families.
Nearly every house in the region now has both a water tap and a toilet -- in a country where four in 10 still practice open defecation. The wastewater flows not to the road, but into soak-pits. At Hazare's urging, again, the government agreed to help poorer families by paying 50 percent of the cost of these improvements. Villagers say that Hazare also led by example: Whenever he saw someone defecate in the open, he would clean it up. Many people felt guilty and changed their ways.
Hazare led by example in challenging traditional caste structures too -- reaching out to Dalits, the so-called Untouchables, and insisting that they be admitted for temple worship and in village life. They are included in another Hazare innovation, community weddings aimed at scaling back the lavish marriage feasts that had traditionally left village families indebted for years.