Meanwhile in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to electrify rural India, a gargantuan feat only possible at the moment by producing and burning vast amounts of cheap coal. Modi sees electrification as the route to improving the lives of millions of Indians, as well as a way to entrench the political appeal of his Bharatiya Janata Party with voters in rural areas.
The Jharia coalfield, where Raju works, is India’s biggest and most significant, covering some 170 square miles. It has been on fire, calamitously, since 1916; entire villages have collapsed into the smoking ground. Raju’s job is to put out the fire, so that his company can roughly double the mine’s output in the next five years. Whether—and how—he can perform this task will have much more effect on the future of the world than anything, with all due respect, likely to be accomplished by UN-addressing actresses or aging Irish rock stars. In other words, if one were compiling a list of the World’s Most Important People, Raju should be on it.