India's Arab Spring?

The massive protest movement that has erupted throughout India in sympathy with a fast against political corruption conducted by an elderly social activist has all the earmarks of a new democratic uprising in the subcontinent. Like the Arab spring protests that toppled dictatorships in Tunisa and Egypt and sparked continuing protests in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, this movement is spontaneous and urban, organized through social networks on cyberspace, and has evoked the support of tens of thousands of largely young middle-class workers and professionals throughout India's major cities.

A man named Anna, a 74-year-old social activist, is at the center of the movement. Anna Hazare is a former soldier who for several decades led a series of anti-corruption protests in his home state of Maharashtra, in some cases resulting in the resignation of political leaders. Influenced by the writings and example of Mohandas Gandhi, Hazare has used the technique of undertaking personal but highly-publicized fasts to draw the public's attention to the corruption and demand results.

The current fast of Hazare has taken his familiar technique to a national stage, by aiming at the whole political system, and conducting his fast in the nation's capital. The government's heavy-handed attempts to arrest Hazare and stop the protests have simply thrown fuel to the protestors' fire.

Though some observers argue that Hazare's demands -- to have effective anti-corruption legislation passed by the parliament -- are much too limited to compare with the revolutionary demands of Arab Spring, it may be too early to say whether that will be the case. Already the movement has expanded beyond Hazare and his limited concerns to embrace a host of complaints against government policies and practices.

The current anti-corruption movement is reminiscent of a similar movement in 1974 led by the Gandhian leader, Jayaprakash Narayan. It also began as a simple request to clean house and punish corrupt politicians. But it soon grew into something more, and Narayan dubbed the expanded movement one of "Total Revolution." This movement so threatened the central government that then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended parliament and ruled the country directly for over a year through the constitutional provision of President's Rule. When democracy was restored, she was promptly voted out of office.

Hazare's protests are also becoming more widespread, and potentially far more significant than a few changes in legislation. They have sparked an outpouring of support that seemed poised to happen. Anti-corruption protests have been occurring sporadically around the country in recent years, and a popular website has been created on which individuals can list the names of public officials who have demanded bribes. Linked to this complaint about official misconduct is a sense that government has lost its moral bearings.

The movement has tapped into a broad sense of disenfranchisement by the middle and lower-middle urban classes in India. Similar to the protests in the Middle East during Arab Spring, the street protests in Tel Aviv, and the riots in London in recent months, the India uprisings contain a cry of despair from working and professional classes that feel marginalized from public power.