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FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

India at a Crossroads

Aired December 29, 2013 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Welcome to this GPS special report. I am Fareed Zakaria. 2014 will be a year of surprises, events that no one can predict, but there will be one great spectacle in the spring, an event that never fails to move me deeply. India will hold its national elections, the largest democratic process in human history. More than 700 million people at 800,000 voting booths, using 1.3 million machines, will cast their ballots. Aside from the extraordinary affirmation of democracy, this election is turning into a pivotal contest. A clash between a rising controversial figure and a scion of an old dynasty.

The issues at stake are crucial not just for India, but the entire world. Will India push forward to become the next China, the next big global growth engine or will it relapse into its old, confused ways?

India has been growing impressively for 15 years. It's a different place from the stagnant country I grew up in in the 1970s. But the numbers don't look so good anymore. Democracy has led to dead-lock, delay and dysfunction.

Were a billion dreams misplaced? Can India right itself. Will a democracy make the hard choices. This hour, one-sixth of humanity at a crossroads, why it matters for America and the World.

We'll show you what some have called the country's Arab Spring, a grassroots movement against corruption.

We'll visit an Indian state that is growing faster than China. The man who runs that state is gunning for a bigger job, prime minister.

Then, to Bollywood, where you'll meet India's Tom Cruise. But this guy is now using his celebrity to solve India's toughest problems.

First, you think Washington is gridlocked? You haven't seen New Delhi. Let's get started.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHABANA AZMI, ACTRESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: India is a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: India, as Bollywood star Shabana Azmi points out, is a country of profound contradictions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AZMI: In India, people, at any given time and place, encapsulate all the contradictions that come from being a multi-religious, multi- class, multilingual, multicultural society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: So with all those contradictions, how on Earth is the country moving forward?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: When foreigners come to India, they see the visible manifestations of the state, the infrastructure and such, as being terrible. And, yet, the economy, by and large, continues to do well. How does that happen?

GURCHARAN DAS, FORMER CEO FOR PROCTER & GAMBLE IN INDIA: Well, India grows at night when the government sleeps. Liberty, equality ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Gurcharan Das, a renowned author and the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble India, says that India has grown despite its broken government. Broken, because if you think that the United States Congress is chaotic and dysfunctional, take a look at India's Parliament.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY PANDA, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FROM THE INDIAN STATE OF ODISHA: The government is not obliged to implement a law passed by parliament which sounds ridiculous. There was one expectation ten years ago ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Jay Panda is a member of the lower house of parliament. Panda maintains that democracy has been good for India, but says there have been too many log-jams in recent years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PANDA: In the U.S., the Congress and the Senate have rules for how you set agendas. Now, our rules go back to before independence and there are no rules. It just says that the agenda is set by consensus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: If you think consensus is hard to reach in America with two political parties, imagine how elusive it can be in India's lower house of parliament which has 37 parties.

In 2011, parliament was adjourned 102 times and it was only in session for about 15 weeks out of the year.

So the work of governance often happens at the local level. For Jay Panda, that means regularly opening his home to constituents from his state of Odisha. People like these lecturers who are threatening a hunger strike over pay disparities at state-run colleges.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): Equal pay for equal work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Then, about 14 days a month, Panda travels to see those who can't make it to the capital and he actually flies himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PANDA: Flying is actually a little bit like some people would consider yoga or meditation. It relaxes me and it also helps save a lot of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: When he lands, he's greeting with campaign slogans and fanfare. Panda gets on a motorcycle to make his way through the village, stopping to talk to people like this handicapped man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PANDA: The government provides tricycles to those who are not quadriplegic, but only -- whose hands are still operational so that he can be mobile. So he has not yet got one of those.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Panda will help him navigate the bureaucracy and cut through the red tape to claim his government benefit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: When you campaign in your state, do you feel that what's going to work is if you offer free power, rice or do you feel as thought what's going to work is if you explain how you're going to get policies put in place that will create growth?

PANDA: The candid answer is both. If you only do populist policies, you may be able to get by one election or so, but then the chickens come home to roost and the numbers don't add up.

But if you only talk about investments that will pay off in 10 years, you ain't going to get elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Odisha has a long way to go, but what was once considered a basket case of India has grown, on average, about 8 percent every year for a decade and it's not just Odisha.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Isn't it extraordinary with all the problems, the bureaucracy, the bad politics, if you take average growth over the last 10 years, it's 7 percent.

DAS: Yes.

ZAKARIA: So does that mean that if a few things were fixed, you could be 10 percent?

DAS: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Is it the price of democracy?

DAS: Well, yes, to some extent it is a price of democracy, but democracies have reformed, have fixed themselves. Look at Chicago in the 1920s, look at Chicago today. Look at England, England in the early 19th century was a corrupt society. You could buy any job in the government, but, then, they did the hard work of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Montek Singh Ahluwalia, one of the most powerful people in India's government, thinks India can reform and even become the next China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONTEK SINGH AHLUWALIA, DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, INDIA'S PLANNING COMMISSION: I feel that we're just behind China by 10 to 15 years and we're a democracy and there's rule of law and the courts are independent.

Of course, we have to do a lot to improve it further, but the fundamentals are very sound, in my view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: If the economic fundamentals are sound, India's politics does need work.

Up next, one major hurdle in India's path, corruption. But there's good news there as well. India might just have a homegrown solution.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: Regardless of how dysfunctional American politics might be, it would be hard to imagine 30 percent of America's legislators with criminal charges pending against them. That we precisely true for India's lower house of parliament following India's last elections in 2009.

Charges ranged from rape and murder to corruption, but something here is changing. The usually apathetic Indian middle class is making demands of its government and from this anger, a movement has emerged, call it the Indian Spring.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAS: The problem that hits 99 percent of Indians is every day I go for a birth certificate and I'm asked for a bribe. I go for a completion certificate for my house, I'm asked for a bribe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Gurcharan Das, the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble in India, argues that corruption is endemic across the country even in small, every day transactions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAS: When I die, my children will have to bribe somebody to get a death certificate. Now that birth to death corruption is the bane of the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Arvind Kejriwal goes a step further. He says living honestly is just not possibly in India. Kejriwal is a trained engineer who once worked in India's version of the IRS. He was so outraged by what he saw in government, he became an anti-corruption activist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARVIND KEJRIWAL, INDIAN POLITICIAN AND ANTI-CORRUPTION ACTIVIST: The people of India are the best people in the world with the worst government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Kejriwal's inspiration is frail, 74-year-old man named Anna Hazare, the face of India's anti-corruption movement.

In August 2011, thousands rallied around Hazare when, inspired by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, he went on a hunger strike to end corruption.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEJRIWAL: It was being led by a person who was a (inaudible). No one could raise a finger at him and now he lives in a temple. He brought the spirituality to the entire movement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Hazare's 12-day fast ended with a success of sorts. Parliament agreed to consider a bill for a strong, independent, anti- corruption agency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Do you think you were successful in getting the government to respond and adjust?

KEJRIWAL: The people wanted a strong anti-corruption law, the government did not do that. Most of the people sitting in the government, most of the ministers have indulged in corruption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: And since Kejriwal couldn't get politicians to listen to him, he became one of them. If you can't beat them, join them, right? He formed the Aam Aadmi Party, the party of the common man and that common touch has found quite some success.

In December, Kejriwal's party one 28 of the 70 seats in the New Delhi State Assembly. But not everyone thinks Kejriwal is the new kind of leader India needs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAS: Kejriwal is a populist demagogue. He's illiberal. He's a socialist and he's out of sync. People still think of the constitution as something that came from above.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Gurcharan Das met Kejriwal while he was writing his latest book, "India Grows at Night." Das says Kejriwal has his sights set on the wrong target. What Kejriwal rails against is the type of crony capitalism that in one case alone cost India as much as $40 billion when high officials were alleged to have sold off big portions of India's mobile airwaves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAS: But that's a problem which really hits about one percent of Indians. Instead of worrying about this corruption ...

ZAKARIA: At the highest level.

DAS: At the highest level, worry about the corruption in your neighborhood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: One of the men at the highest levels of Indian government, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, agrees that corruption is a daily phenomenon, but he says the government is responding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Lots of people look at India and say the corruption is terrible at every level. What would you say to them?

AHLUWALIA: The notion that India is the only emerging market that is corrupt is complete nonsense. What is true is that worry about corruption and, indeed, the politicization of corruption in India is immense.

To my mind, that's actually to a credit of India.

ZAKARIA: Meaning?

AHLUWALIA: Meaning that government recognizes -- and we've said this at the highest level. Government recognizes (A) that this is a concern and (B) that it's a legitimate concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: The government has adopted a few transparency measures and that anti-corruption bill that New Delhi introduced following Hazare's hunger strikes, it just passed, more than two years later.

In the end, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Arvind Kejriwal do agree on one thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Do you think that the India that your son will live in is going to be less corrupt, richer, with a government that is more responsive than the one we currently have?

AHLUWALIA: Absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Five years from now, will India be less corrupt than it is today?

KEJRIWAL: Of course. India will be less corrupt, there will be less illiteracy, there will be less poverty. I am very upbeat about the future of this country.

ZAKARIA: You are even though you say there are so many things wrong with it?

KEJRIWAL: That is because the hope is from the people of this country. The people are coming together. The people are protesting. Now, they're not sitting back. They're not cynics anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Ironically, some people allege that Kejriwal's anti- corruption party has been corrupted itself. It's a charge he denies vigorously.

But his anti-corruption platform is increasingly being adopted, at least rhetorically, by other opposition parties who all believe that the upcoming national elections will be a protest against corruption for the first time ever. It's a sign that voters are maturing and demanding better government.

Up next, can India grow like China? Well, there is one part of India that seems to out-China the Chinese and the guy who helped them do that wants to go national.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: When we think of China, we imagine an authoritarian land were things work, a place where freedom is sacrificed, but in return you get strong economic growth.

When we think of India, we think of a messy democracy, of organized chaos, a place where growth is sacrificed for freedom. Now, imagine a place in India where both are true, where there is democracy, but also strong economic growth.

Well, the top official of this state might well be leading India after the 2014 national elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUKESH AMBANI, CHAIRMAN AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, RELIANCE INDUSTRIES LIMITED: If you look at the growth in Gujarat, it has been better than China if you think about Gujarat as a country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Mukesh Ambani is not only the richest man from the state of Gujarat, he's also the richest man in India.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMBANI: What Gujarat has demonstrated is that over decades you can attract investment and with sensible governance, you can really improve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: You may think that sensible governance is lacking in America, but India has a way of making us look like a model of efficiency. Just listen to Ratan Tata.

In 2008, when he was still running India's largest conglomerate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATAN TATA, CHAIRMAN EMERITUS, THE TATA GROUP: This has been referred to as one man's dream.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Tata unveiled the world's cheapest car. Initially, Tata built the factory for the $2,500 Nano in West Bengal, then a communist-governed state. When the plant was 80 percent complete, a local politician accused The Tata Group of usurping farmer's land, a false allegation Tata says. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TATA: Our walls got breached, materials got stolen. How could we run a plant in such a hostile environment?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: So Tata decided to move the Nano operation to Gujarat where the top official in the state, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, now a candidate for prime minister, provided a business-friendly home instantly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TATA: In effect, he delivered, in three days, what other states which were also trying to woo us could only offer their best endeavors to do. No side deals, no quid pro quos ...

ZAKARIA: No bribes.

TATA: None whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: First generation entrepreneur, Jayesh Desai, embodies the possibilities of Gujarat. He was born in a small village where his father was a grain merchant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAYESH DESAI, CO-FOUNDER, RAJHANS GROUP: One day my father told me now you have to do something, you have to go big city.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Armed with the ambition to help his family overcome what he calls their helpless financial condition, Desai drove a scooter to school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DESAI: I ride very rough scooter, old scooter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Now, in the big city, the second largest in Gujarat, he drives a Ferrari and not just any Ferrari, one that used to belong to the Formula One racing legend Michael Schumacher.

Desai proudly drives it around Surat, the city where he co- founded the Rajhans Group, a textile, entertainment and real estate company. His dream is for each of his employs to drive a Mercedes, a BMW or an Audi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DESAI: Surat has a lot of (inaudible), very hard work people here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: He chose Surat because it's one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The city produces 40 percent of India's textiles and eight out of ten diamonds in the world are cut or polished here.

Municipal commissioner, M.K. Das runs Surat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M.K. DAS, MUNICIPAL COMMISSIONER, SURAT, INDIA: The per capita income is the highest in the country. There's a different vibrancy here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: There's even an Empire State Building and a World Trade Center. Every 10 years, the city of 4.5 million adds 2 million new people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAS: And that is continuing today because of almost zero unemployment rate, good infrastructure, nice weather, availability of water (inaudible), everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: But not everyone has been a part of the growth. Imam Amin Khan lives in the Muslim slum in Surat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IMAM AMIN KHAN, RESIDENT, MUSLIM SLUM, SURAT (via translator): If you go out, you'll see number one facilities for everything, but if you visit our slums, all you'll find is waste and drains. Modi is working, but he's getting rid of us poor and building palaces, building bridges.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: He's talking about Gujarat's controversial elected and popular Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARAN THAPAR, JOURNALIST, DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, CNN-IBN: On one hand, industrialists see him as a superb administrator who has delivered for 9 or 10 years very high levels of growth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THAPAR: Why can't you say that you regret the killings that happened? Why can't you say ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: On the other hand, journalist Karan Thapar, who has interviewed Modi says that the chief minister is reviled for failing to stop the 2002 riots, a massacre in which upwards of 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THAPAR: Modi is also perceived as a villain, as a man who presided over the killings of 1,500 Muslims by either deliberating failing to stop the rioters. By some accounts, he actually gave instructions to the police to permit the rioting so that the anger could be quelled after a certain amount of blood had been shed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Modi straddles these two realities. The United States has denied him a visa to visit citing his complicity in the riots. Modi denies any wrongdoing. And he is the leading opposition candidate for prime minister in the 2014 national elections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MODI: Yes we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Has Gujarat got it right and can its project go national? Indians head to the polls in 2014. They're angry with the ruling Congress Party for its mismanagement of the economy and Modi has been dynamic and effective on the campaign trail.

If he and his allies gain a majority, Narendra Modi will be India's next prime minister, a prospect that delights many, but scares many others.

Up next, how in the world do you keep track of 1.2 billion people? India has a high-tech solution.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: There's been an explosion at a rail station in southern Russia, which has killed more than a dozen people. Authorities tell CNN they believe a suicide bomber caused the blast. Joining me now from Moscow is CNN's Diana Magnay with the latest. Diana?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Candy. Well, we are hearing it was a female suicide bomber, who walked into that rail station in Volgograd around midday local time. Bear in mind, this is key holiday season. New year is the main Russian holiday, so this was a time when the train station was packed.

This comes of course weeks ahead of the Olympic Games in Sochi, they are in just a few weeks' time. And in July, the main terrorist leader, if you will, in the North Caucuses region, which is quite close to Volgograd, issued a threat saying that he would use all maximum force possible to try and disrupt the Sochi games. So within that context, you can see why this suicide bombing might have taken place. In Volgograd also in October, there was another attack by a female suicide bomber, this time on a bus, where three people -- six people, sorry -- were killed.

Officials are trying as hard as they can to make sure that Sochi itself is extremely secure, of course, but this kind of thing, which saws fear into the minds of people who might be traveling to Sochi, is of course a concern also, spoiling for President Putin these Olympic Games that he has poured billions of dollars into, $50 billion, Candy, more than any other leader has ever spent on any games. Candy?

CROWLEY: What can you tell me about the group itself that's suspected of doing this?

MAGNAY: No one has claimed responsibility. But we know it's a female suicide bomber. And these so-called black widows are typical, really a signature, a hallmark of the kind of militant fighting that you see in the troubled North Caucuses region. They have been involved since 2000 in a number of terror attacks here. The Beslan siege, the Moscow theater siege, and some of them act as lone individuals or as part of a group, and often in revenge for the deaths, for example, of a father or a son or a husband. So we are waiting for the authorities to give us more details about this particular woman. Often they carry I.D.s with them, because they want to publicize their cause.

CROWLEY: Diana Magnay, thank you. CNN of course will follow the story throughout the day. Now back to "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

ZAKARIA: Imagine trying to identify every single person in a nation of more than 1.2 billion people. If you cataloged one person every second, the effort would take 38 years. Sounds crazy. Well, in 2010, India's government began such an effort, hoping to create the largest personal database in human history.

In the waning hours of a hot afternoon in northeast India, Nurshad Aktar (ph) waits patiently in a dimly lit room full of laptop computers. He's here with his three sons to get their fingerprints recorded, their eyes scanned, and their photos taken. His hope is that all of this high-tech gadgetry will give his boys something they've never had before: An official identity. Today millions of Indians like Aktar have trouble proving who they are. That means they are shut out of the basics of modern life, like bank loans and government services. So the government is aiming to give every one of its 1.2 billion residents a 12-digit number, similar to the American Social Security number, but high-tech and more tamper-proof since it will be linked to his or her fingerprints and iris scan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANDAN NILEKANI, CO-FOUNDER, INFOSYS: It's a great example of using the most sophisticated technology to solve the challenges of the people who are the most left out. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: Nandan Nilekani is the brains behind this operation. He's the co-founder of Infosys, a technology company he started in 1981 with $250. Now it's worth billions, with a sprawling campus in Bangalore that is three times larger than Google's headquarters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: You were one of the founders of Infosys, one of the most successful technology companies in India. Why would you leave all that to get involved in trying to create this huge and complex and bureaucratic system in India?

NILEKANI: The prime minister invited me to lead this project. I realized that this project had the kind of project management challenges and technological challenges that I was familiar with. So I could execute on something like this.

ZAKARIA: Nilekani gathered some of the best bind minds in India's tech sector, asking them to take a pay cut, and contribute to India's version of the moonshot.

It was a daunting challenge even for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a religious person, but I started going to temple, basically.

What about, Harup (ph), response time?

ZAKARIA: Shrikan Nadamuni (ph), a veteran of Silicon Valley, who helped start WebMD, was one of the chief architects of the project.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The system had to run in 22 languages and it had to deal with a billion people. Running tens of thousands of enrollment centers across the country. It is the most complex project I have ever been associated with.

ZAKARIA: To make sure that multiple I.D. numbers aren't issued to the same person by accident, Nilekani and his dream team built a tech center in Bangalore that checks every new number against the millions that already exist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the largest such system in the world.

ZAKARIA: New enrollments are monitored in real time. The morning we visited, more than 100,000 I.D.s had been created that day. All told, they've already turned out more than 500 million I.D.s covering about half the Indian population. The national I.D. is sort of a technological version of the great infrastructure projects in the 19th century in the west.

NILEKANI: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Do you think it will have the same kind of impact as roads tying in the entire country in the United States or railroads or things like that?

NILEKANI: Absolutely. In fact, because we are creating an online I.D., we think overtime, lots and lots of innovative applications will come on this platform.

ZAKARIA: The I.D. is already being used in a number of different ways.

Betan Bedia (ph) and his wife Suvasu Devi (ph) live in a small village in the northeastern state of Jarkant (ph). Bedia has a job thanks to a government program guaranteeing work in rural areas, but actually getting his wages for that work at the far-off post office was a job in itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We wouldn't get the money on our first or second visit. It would take two or three days, and sometimes a week, to get the work done.

ZAKARIA: But since he got his identity card, Bedia says things have changed dramatically. He opened a bank account thanks to his I.D., and just down the road, there's now a mobile ATM device that uses a thumb print for identification. Now instead of haggling with a bunch of bureaucrats, Bedia has his hard-earned cash right at his fingerprints.

NILEKANI: The government spends billions of dollars on entitlements and subsidies. If you look at entitlements like scholarships, pensions, maternity benefits.

ZAKARIA: So in using the I.D., you can get those benefits to the right person directly without any intermediaries and without any fraud.

NILEKANI: The entire thing in-between is electronic.

ZAKARIA: Nilekani's I.D. project could revolutionize the way India does business. But it has also been a lightning rod for controversy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything is being linked up. So you're a database citizen.

ZAKARIA: Husha Ramanatan (ph), an advocate for the poor, is one of the project's many critics. She points out that Indians could be denied government services thanks to the I.D., because some welfare programs want to require an I.D. to gain access.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If for any reason you don't (inaudible) to be a citizen, your fingerprints don't work or whatever, then you get excluded altogether.

ZAKARIA: India's supreme court entered the fray declaring that no one should be denied benefits for lacking an I.D. And a case questioning the ID project's legality is pending.

Critics of the I.D. also worry about the government having so much access to personal information.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A number of institutions and agencies have been started up, like the National Intelligence Group. They say that they are going to keep tabs on all suspected terrorists, their friends, their families and their supporters. We'll track all of them. How are they going to track them? This I.D. is a tool.

ZAKARIA: You know people have concerns about privacy. Should people be worried?

NILEKANI: Obviously, we should have a very clear privacy architecture, but privacy is about trading some privacy for convenience. You are getting access to all of these benefits and services. So that is a very easy tradeoff to make.

ZAKARIA: Betan Bedia with his I.D.-enabled bank account, would agree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Life has changed a lot. Now we know we have some savings in our hand.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAKARIA: Next up, another intriguing case of the private sector finding solutions for India's public problems. This time from the country's huge film industry known as Bollywood.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: In 2012, a television talk show in India drew 90 million viewers. Numbers rivaling any Super Bowl. One of India's biggest film stars decided to use his fame to start a remarkable program. Part journalism, part entertainment, that has shaken up this country of more than a billion people.

Meet Ahmed Khan, the Tom Cruise of India. He's one of the biggest stars in Bollywood, India's wildly successful song and dance film industry. India actually produces about twice as many movies per year as Hollywood. Khan is a big draw at the box office. His 2009 film "Three Idiots" was one of the highest grossing Hindi movies of all-time. His latest film, in theaters now, "Doom 3," is another big hit.

But Khan took a big risk with another recent career move. He wanted to host and produce a television show. One that would explore some of India's most taboo subjects, including its caste system, domestic violence, and abortion.

(on camera): You realize how strange this is. This is like Tom Cruise hosting and researching "60 Minutes." Did you think--

AHMED KHAN, ACTOR/TV SHOW HOST: It is unusual. No, it is unusual, I agree it's unusual. But I guess it's something that has been troubling me. It's something I felt like doing.

ZAKARIA: The show was called "Sattyame Vagiate (ph)," which translates to "Truth Alone Prevails." That's also India's official national motto.

KHAN: Domestic violence--

ZAKARIA: Khan's goal, a vivid, in-depth discussion of some of India's biggest problems, in the hope of sparking a national conversation about the direction of the country. Each 90-minute episode would focus on a different topic.

KHAN: We do a lot of research on each of the topics, and then once we have gathered that material, we try and tell it to you in a way that it hits home.

ZAKARIA: The first episode examined one of the nation's most troubling social ills: Female fetuside. The practice of aborting a fetus because it's female. Thanks in part to the practice, men outnumber women in India by over 45 million. The problem is so bad that the government actually banned doctors from telling expectant parents the gender of their own fetus.

KHAN: When the ratio of girls against boys falls (ph) dramatically, then you are going to have huge sociological problems across the country.

ZAKARIA: Some families are so eager to have a boy rather than a girl, they'll do almost anything. One woman told Khan that she had been forced to get an abortion by members of her own family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

ZAKARIA: The woman told Khan she was forced to abort five more daughters in the next eight years. Entire communities have been affected. In a satellite interview, Khan asked a group of men to raise their hands if they were of marrying age. When he asked them who was married, they all put their hands down.

KHAN: We discovered that there are villages where there are only male children. They can't find anyone to get married to, because there are no women in their area. It's absurd. It's reached absurd levels.

ZAKARIA: What's more, the authorities often do very little to enforce the law. A hidden camera sting operation featured on Khan's show caught a slew of doctors allegedly providing illegal sonograms and sex-determined abortions. According to the journalists who had organized the sting, the video evidence has been available for seven years, but they said none of the doctors had been punished in court.

So Khan made a direct appeal to his audience.

KHAN: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

ZAKARIA: And support him they did. The show's website got so much traffic that it crashed. 90 million people watched, and Khan hit the cover of "Time" magazine.

It turned out to be a huge hit. KHAN: Yes. Well, I was hoping it would really be successful. Me and my team believed in it, because we felt that these are issues which are so close to every Indian that every Indian is going to want to watch it. And is going to be affected by it. What surprised me is the reaction of the political and administrative class.

ZAKARIA: The Rajistan (ph) state government set up special courts to more efficiently try female fetuside cases, just as Khan asked.

Just days after another episode aired about child sex abuse, the Indian parliament's lower house passed legislation. And a show about India's caste system was followed by a meeting between Khan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The show's 14 episodes were seen by over 500 million people. And people are still talking.

KHAN: People call in from small villages. I don't even know the names of these places. Telling me what they felt about the show. That dialogue made me realize how people are reacting in different parts of the country.

ZAKARIA: When you look at the anti-corruption protests, the protests against the gang rape in Delhi, even you look at your show and discussion it provokes and the action it provokes, do you think all of this tells you that we're witnessing some kind of a change in India?

KHAN: It does tell me that. Will change happen overnight? Certainly not. But I would like to believe that one day, things will change dramatically.

ZAKARIA: Season two of Khan's show is expected to air early in 2014.

Up next, I'll give you my take on whether India will make it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: The most important global trend of the last 20 years has surely been the rise of China, which has changed economics, culture and geopolitics around the world. Were India to unlock its economy, the country's demographics alone would ensure that its rise would be the defining trend of the next 20 years. That is what is at stake for India and the world in its upcoming national elections. Will India finally live up to its potential?

Many foreign observers, particularly Western business people, look at India today in despair. The country simply cannot reform at the pace needed to fulfill its ambitions. Everything gets mired in political paralysis.

This is true and unfortunate. But the India we showed you in this special report is a moving picture and not a snapshot. I left India 30 years ago, but have visited every year since, and the picture of that country has gotten brighter and more dynamic and more hopeful.

Remember, the country's economy might be sluggish now, but it has grown steadily for the last 15 years, faster than any large economy except China. In states as disparate as Gujarat, Odisha and Bihar, governments are aggressively promoting economic reforms. This is not simply a story about one person, Narendra Modi, the controversial chief minister of Gujarat. The state of 60 million people has grown almost as fast as China for two decades, with seven chief ministers at the helm, not just Modi. Other states are growing fast as well.

Twenty years of economic growth have transformed the country. The Indian middle class now numbers more than 250 million. Technology is giving the new middle class the power to make its voice heard. Nearly three-quarters of the population has mobile phones. Texting and similar methods have now become a routine way to petition government, organize protests, and raise awareness.

India will never be a China, a country where the population is homogeneous, where a ruling elite directs the nation's economic and political development. In China, the great question is whether its new president, Xi Jingping, is a reformer, who will need to order change top-down for that country. In India, the questions are different. Are Indians reformers? Can millions of people mobilize and petition and clamor for change? Can they persist in a way that makes reform inevitable? That's the only way change will come in a big, open, raucous democracy like India. And when that change comes, it is likely to be more integrated into the fabric of the country, and thus more durable.

Were India to succeed, it could have enduring lessons for the world. China is the rare case of an efficient, pro-growth, one-party state. A model that is unusual in history and difficult to emulate. India is a big, messy, diverse democracy. If it can make the hard choices that ensure growth and progress, then many, many countries around the world can find their own paths to success.

Frankly, if India's dysfunctional democracy can deliver, well, there might even be some lessons in there for Washington, D.C.

Go to CNN.com/fareed for more of my views on India, including my essay from the new book "Reimagining India."

Thanks for watching this GPS special. We'll be back next Sunday with our regular program.