Asha continues to try to rise above Annawadi, but none of her new schemes work in the first months of 2009. One of the policemen she sleeps with finds a new mistress, and even her connection to Corporator Subhash Sawant goes sour once Subhash is dismissed from his post when a judge finds him guilty of low-caste fraud. Despite the excitement and duties of the upcoming parliamentary election, Asha just wants to stay in her house and cry.
All of Asha’s immoral ambition seems to come back to bite her, hinting that corruption will not actually lead to long-term success for India and Indian citizens. The same systems for helping the oppressed in India (such as those born low-caste) can only be exploited for so long before the rich are held accountable for their actions. In writing about Asha’s life, Boo helps expose some of this fraud.
Manju is saddened to see her mother depressed, and she tries to cheer Asha, but Asha can’t let go of her long list of disappointments and she broods over the smallest slights. Asha’s competitive spirit had told her that she was winning because other people like the Husains were failing, but now Asha sees that she has not actually made much forward progress. She still lives in a small hut with an alcoholic husband in a neighborhood where people are starting to dislike her.
The competitive nature of Annawadi, in which success meant watching other people fail, is exposed as an unsustainable approach to true progress. In order to improve her life, Asha must do something other than take advantage of other people. Watching other people live worse lives can only satisfy Asha for so long as her life does not improve.
All of Annawadi starts to actively hate Asha when Asha tries to make a profit from the widespread fear that Annawadi will soon be destroyed by the airport officials. City officials in Mumbai are more focused on clearing the Annawadi slum than ever. Slum relocation efforts in other parts of the city have not relieved the problem, simply pushing slum residents onto other slums and reinforcing the issues of over-crowding. Mumbai needs Annawadi to be a success story to show that the city really is addressing urban poverty. Asha is angry that the slums are seen as a sign of backwards India, but she decides to see this sad news as a money-making opportunity.
Annawadi begins to reward community minded behavior more than individual beneficial behavior as their community itself is threatened. All of Annawadi has to come together to protect against the encroaching power of the city government to wipe Annawadi off the map, or the risk being part of the huge population displaced from their homes in the name of progress. Asha again places these emotions below the chance to make money.
Asha helps Annawadians sell their homes here to middle class Indians who think these houses will soon be valuable to the city government. Anyone who can show that they have been an Annawadi resident since 2000 is entitled to a tiny apartment with the prize of running water, which means that plenty of middle class Indians try to falsify papers to say they are Annawadians in order to take advantage of this luxury. Asha helps politicians buy her neighbors’ huts, until one young mother decides she doesn’t want to leave. The hut’s new buyer sends a gang of men to force the woman and her children from the house and all Annawadi watches as Asha does nothing to help this poor slum resident. Asha gains a reputation for ruthlessness and greed.
While the Annawadians originally respected Asha’s single-minded determination to make money, Boo shows there is a breaking point to the glorification of profit above all else. With everyone in Annawadi uncertain about their future, Asha’s exploitation of vulnerable families is seen as the monstrous act it is – not a clever scheme to get ahead. While the middle-class Indians might not care about the Annawadians they are abusing, the Annawadians have finally gained a community consciousness.
Asha becomes more cautious in her economic schemes, but she still gets involved in a government program that publicly claims it will educate all the poor laborer children of Mumbai and privately hopes to line investors’ pockets with government funds. Asha already has a properly registered non-profit license from a previous corrupt endeavor, so she is chosen to receive the government checks for this education fraud and distribute the money to the proper people. When the first government check clears, Asha feels that all her corrupt dealings have been for the greater good of her family.
Despite the points that Boo has been making about the ultimate damage that corruption does to Indian communities, Asha’s corruption finally gains her personal profit. Rendering the government’s efforts to help poor Indians futile, Asha takes part in fraud like that happening all over India. Corrupt deals such as this one keep entire communities, like Annawadi, from thriving as individuals get rich.
Asha tells Manju not to worry about getting a job after her studies anymore, now that the small empire of fake schools will fund them for life. Manju is uncomfortable with this, but gives in when Asha uses some of their new money to get a computer and an Internet connection. Asha completely shuts down the Annawadi slum school Manju had been running, and Manju can’t help but feel that their punishment for this sin is coming—she has just read about the ultimate reckoning of Dr. Faustus for her English class.
Even Manju, who had once been so committed to helping the poor girls of Annawadi, give up some of her moral high ground in return for the personal profit of a computer. Yet Manju’s reference to Dr. Faustus – a man who sold his soul to the devil for money – subtly hints that Asha may have gained economically but has not become truly successful.
Nearly half a billion people register to vote in the parliamentary elections that will choose the representatives – who then decide on India’s new prime minister. Annawadi’s representative will almost certainly be a woman named Priya Dutt, since she has a double advantage: she is not only from a Bollywood family, but her father held the seat she’s running for before her. Priya’s political party gifts Annawadi with new sewer covers to ensure their vote, then takes them back when they need more support in a larger Mumbai slum. The Annawadians laugh at this blatant corruption.
Despite the national fervor for this year’s elections, Boo points out that political dealings in India are still based on concerns other than policy. Elections most often go to those with fame and connections, rather than those who will truly help Indian citizens. The Annawadians see that Priya Dutt does not care about them personally, but still accept that corruption is the only way that Indian politics can be.
Voting rights are scattered and often withheld from the poorest minorities in India, such as Zehrunisa and Karam who have tried to register for seven years and been denied. Slum dwellers who desperately want to get on the rolls and prove that they are a legitimate part of a state that despises them go to Asha for help. Asha ignores them, having decided that being slumlord is far too much work for far too little profit. Asha’s corrupt school empire makes her a member of the middle class in India, at least in her imagination, and she does not have to pay attention to underlings in the slum.
Voting rights, the one way in which Annawadians consider themselves equal to all other Indian citizens, are not even universal. The poor, who are already disadvantaged, are also disenfranchised so that their voice will not be heard in the elections that decide the future of their country. With no representation in the Indian government, it seems clear that the discriminated groups will remain in their lowly states. People such as Asha, who were once part of that group, exacerbate the problem by ignoring their roots rather than lifting up their communities.