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By Paul de Bendern, NEW DELHI / Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:04am EDT.
(Reuters) - An anti-corruption movement led by a feisty 74-year-old social activist is snowballing into one of the biggest challenges in decades for the ruling Congress party and if not contained risks sparking India's own version of an Arab Spring revolt.
While no one is expecting an Egypt-like overthrow in the world's biggest democracy, a galvanized and frustrated middle class and the mushrooming of social networking sites combined with an aggressive private media may be transforming India's political landscape.
Anna Hazare has quickly become a 21st century Mahatma Gandhi inspiration for millions of Indians fed up with rampant corruption, red tape and inadequate services provided by the state despite the country posting near-double digit economic growth for almost a decade.
"Democracy means no voice, however small, must go unheard. The anti-corruption sentiment is not a whisper-it's a scream. Grave error to ignore it," Anand Mahindra, one of India's leading businessmen and managing director of conglomerate Mahindra Group, wrote on Twitter.
Hazare's arrest on Tuesday, only hours ahead of a planned fast until death against graft was the last straw and sparked spontaneous protest across the country of 1.2 billion people.
The young and old, rich and poor, without apparent political affiliations, took to the streets in a rare voice of solidarity -- a potential lethal cocktail for any party in power in India.
Politicians are increasingly being judged on governance rather than old caste and regional ties - as has already happened in states like Bihar - and the new social shift will push national parties to be more responsive to voters' needs.
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