Pressure Groups and Their Role in the Polity

  • Pressure group is a group of people who are organised actively for promoting or defending their common interest. The term ‘pressure group’ is used as the group of people attempting to bring a change in the public policy by exerting pressure on the government.
  • Pressure Groups are also known as Interest Groups or Vested Groups. There is large number of formal /informal groups that influence the polity of acountry, right from the formation of government itself to day-to-day governance issues.
  • Superficially all the formal & informal associations collectively could be termed ‘Interest Groups’ as all of them have certain vested interests related to the general governance of the country.
  • Interest groups are numerous and of many kinds but whenever they become active in order to achieve their interests by their attempts of influencing the public affairs at administrative or legislative level they are termed Pressure groups.
  • Pressure groups are sometimes referred to as ‘Anonymous Empire’ & ‘legislation behind legislature’ due to their strong presence and influence in the polity. One of the characteristic features of any pressure group is that they try to manipulate governmental affairs without any intention to have any direct control over itwhich is one thing that differentiates it from a political party.

Techniques Used by Pressure Groups

  • Electioneering: Implanting a public office person (a minister in government) who favour their interests.
  • Example -The Neera radia tapes demonstrates how Radia attempted to use some media persons to influence the decision to appoint A. Raja as telecom minister in government.
  • Lobbying: Persuading public officers/bureaucrats to adopt and enforce policies of their interest.
  • Propagandizing: Influencing the public opinion by mass propaganda.

Pressure groups may sometimes make use of media for dispersing their views in public and winning support. They may publish statistics in favour of their claims. However, sometimes they may even resort to illegitimate and illegal methods like strikes, violence or even bribes.

Role of Pressure Groups in India

  • The capacity of pressure groups is determined by leadership, organizational abilities, mass media, economic power base, and mobilization techniques.
  • Beside this, they use lobbying method, strike, bandh, demonstration, funding political parties, party platform, etc. Even though the role of pressure group is indirect, it facilitates many vital activities in administration. The various roles of pressure groups is as follows-
    • Role in legislature – Pressure group tries to introduce their chosen person into the legislature. They help political parties on the eve of an election and prepares election manifesto.
    • Role in executive – Pressure group tries to fill high executive posts with men of their own choice i.e. selection of cabinet, distribution of portfolios and P.M selection due to the prevalence of coalition government and influences policy implementation process.
    • Role in Bureaucracy – Bureaucrats are politically neutral and hence pressure group tries to oblige them by putting good remarks that protect their interests. Bureaucrats have long tenure and so they are in contact with them to oblige.
    • Role in judiciary – appointment of judges is a political affair and here pressure groups play important role in that high judicial offices are occupied by them.

Procedures Used by Pressure Groups:

  • Electioneering: Placing in public office persons who favour their interests.
  • Lobbying: Persuading public officers to adopt and enforce policies of their interest.
  • Propagandizing: Influencing the public opinion.
  • Pressure groups may take help of media to transmit their views in public and win support. They may publish statistics in favour of their claims. However, sometimes they may even resort to unlawful and illegal methods like strikes, violence or even bribes.
  • When elaborating techniques of Pressure groups in India, it can be said that they make use of conventional procedures like invoking caste, region or religion-based loyalties in key persons keeping in view their background based on these parameters. Modern techniques of pressure groups include lobbying, funding political parties and supporting favourable person in legislature in addition to key administrative posts.

Pressure Groups in India

  • After independence there was dominance of single political party over government for long time and role of pressure groups was limited & perceived negative but today their role is taken to be constructive and democratic.
  • Conventional Pressure Groups (PGs) based on caste, community, religion-based & regional groupings play decisive role in Indian polity.
  • Most political parties do not have any clear nationalist ideology & they remain backed by certain groups especially religious and minority communities.
  • There are also news about the presence of foreign lobbies in parliament (e.g. lobbying by US companies in case of FDI). Institutional PGs like FICCI, CII etc. also influence policy decisions.
  • PGs remain more concerned on administration rather than policy decisions, much of their efforts are directed towards influencing general administration.
  • PGs make use of party platform to put forward their concerns but they lack alignment with any specific political party for long.
  • There are some groups which are sponsored by political parties themselves e.g. Youth Congress, ABVP, SFI etc.
  • Regarding techniques of PGs in India, they make use of traditional means like invoking caste, region or religion-based loyalties in key persons keeping in view their background based on these parameters. Among modern means, they resort to lobbying, funding political parties and supporting favourable person in legislature as well as in key administrative posts.
  • There are some groups that keep on emerging & dissolving as per circumstances or for specific purpose. e.g. anti-dowry, anti-sati etc.
  • PGs in India are more dependent on means of direct action like hunger strike, demonstrations, chakkajaams etc.

Major Pressure Groups in India

  • Business Groups – FICCI, CII, ASSOCHAM, AIMO, FAIFDA etc. (institutional groups).
  • Trade Unions – AITUC, INTUC, HMS, CITU, BMS etc.
  • Agrarian Groups- All India Kisan Sabha, BharatiyaKisan Union etc.
  • Student’s Organisations- ABVP, AISF, NSUI etc.
  • Religious Groups – RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Jamaat-e-Islami etc.
  • Caste Groups – Harijan Sevak Sangh, Nadar Caste Association etc
  • Linguistic Groups – Tamil Sangh, Andhra Maha Sabha etc
  • Tribal Groups – NSCN, TNU, United Mizo federal org, Tribal League of Assam etc.
  • Professional Groups – IMA, BCI, IFWJ, AIFUCT etc
  • Ideology based Groups – Narmada BachaoAndolan, Chipko Movement, Women Rights Organisation, India Against Corruption etc.
  • Anomic Groups* – ULFA, Maoists, JKLF, All-India Sikh Student’s Federation etc.

Nature of the pressure group

Pressure groups differ vastly in size, composition, knowledge and status:

  1. Size – in general, the bigger and more representative the group, the more influence it is likely to have.
  2. Social composition – those groups with membership drawn from those with public school and Oxbridge backgrounds are likely to have very good contacts within the decision making elite.
  3. Knowledge – those groups with a great deal of information who can advise and inform decision makers are more likely to attain insider status.
  4. Status: the more important a group is in society – for example, those with high professional standing – the more likely the government is to take notice of its opinions.

Characteristics of Pressure Groups

  • Level of Operation: Pressure groups may operate at local, regional, national or even international level, depending upon the cause and notice.
  • Objective: All interest groups share a desire to affect government policy to benefit themselves or their causes.
  • Type of Organization: They are usually non-profit and volunteer organization
  • Method of Working:They seek to influence political or corporate decision makers to achieve a declared objective.
  • Common Grounds:Pressure groups are collections of individuals who hold a similar set of values and beliefs on the basis of ethnicity, religion, political philosophy, or a common goal.
  • Common Dissatisfaction:Pressure groups often represent viewpoints of people who are dissatisfied with the current conditions in society.
  • Formation:These are a natural outgrowth of the communities of interest that exist in all societies.
  • Focus:Pressure groups may be better able to focus on specialized issues, whereas political parties tend to address a wide range of issues.
  • Role in Democracy:Pressure groups are widely recognized as an important part of the democratic process.

Types of pressure groups

  • Cause or ‘promotional’ groups:These have open membership from the public. They promote a cause, such as Friends of the Earth, which is concerned with protecting the environment.
  • Interest or ‘sectional’ groups:These groups are open only to certain persons, like the members of a trade union, e.g. the National Union of Journalists.
  • Insider groups:Such groups have strong links with the government. They will give advice and will be consulted prior to legislation which may affect that group, such as the British Medical Association will be consulted on matters relating to health.
  • Outsider groups:These groups often take action of which the government disapproves. Organisations like Greenpeace often involve in civil disobedience or direct action in order to reinforce their point. Some outsider groups are also wealthy and use a great deal of publicity to attract people to promote their cause.

Functions of Pressure groups

Promote discussion and debate and mobilise public opinion on key issues

  1. Perform a role in educating citizens about specific issues.
  2. Groups can enhance democratic participation, pluralism and diversity.
  3. Groups raise and articulate issues that political parties perhaps won’t touch because of their sensitivity.
  4. They offer an important access point for those seeking redress of grievance.
  5. They represent minorities who cannot represent themselves.
  6. Groups can be an important source of specialist information / expertise for an overloaded legislature and civil service.
  7. Many groups play vital role in implementing changes to public policy.
  8. Pressure groups encourage a decentralisation of power within the political system.
  9. They act as a check and balance to the power of executive government.

Types of Pressure Groups in India

  • A large number of pressure group exists in India but unfortunately, they are not developed as compared to the Western Countries like England, France and USA. It can be classified into following categories.

A) Business Groups

  • The Business group is one of the most important, influential and organised pressure groups in India. Examples of business groups- Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and industry (FICCI), Associated Chamber of Commerce (ASSOCHAM) – major constituents are the Bengal Chamber of Commerce Calcutta and Central commercial organisation of Delhi.

B) Trade Unions

  • Trade unions cater to the demand of workers and labours of the industries. Alternatively, they are also known as labour groups. In India, different trade unions represent different political parties. Examples- The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), All India Trade Union Congress (Communist Party of India)

C) Agrarian Groups

  • These groups represent the farmer community of India and works for their well-being. Example- Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Hind Kisan Panchayat (control of socialist).

D) Professional Association

  • Such association, raise the concern of working professional in India ranging from lawyers and doctors, journalists and teachers. Examples include Association of Engineers, Bar Council of India (BCI), and Dental Council of India.

E) Student Organisations

  • There are various organisations present to represent the causes and grievances of students in India. Examples are National Students Union of India (Congress), All Assam Students Union (Asom Gan Parishad), ChhatraYuva Sangharsh Samiti (Aam Admi Party).

F) Religious Organisations

  • The organisations based on religion have come to play an important role in Indian Politics. They represent the narrow perspective and are often termed as anti-secular. Examples of these organisations are RashtriyaSwyam Sevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Brahmo Samaj.

G) Caste Groups

  • Caste has been one of the salient features of Indian Society. However, it has always been one of the ideologies discouraging the aspiration of people and constitution of India. The caste factor is always prevalent in elections of India. Examples of caste groups are Marwari Association, Harijan Sewak Sangh.

H) Tribal Organisation

  • Tribal in India are prominent in Central India and North East India, and are also active in Central Indian Tribal belt and in north east India. These organisations include National Socialist Council of Nagaland, All-India Jharkhand, and Tribal Sangh of Assam

I) Linguistic Groups

  • There are 22 scheduled languages in India. However, there have been many groups and movements working for the welfare of languages in India. For example- Hindi Sahitya Sammelan and Tamil Sangh etc.

J) Ideology Based Group

  • Ideology based groups have been recently formed. Some examples of these groups include Environment Protection Groups like Narmada Bachao Andolan and Chipko movement, Democratic rights organisation, Gandhi Peace Foundation, Woman rights organisation, Civil liberties associations.

K) Anomic Groups

  • Anomic pressure groups refer to those spontaneous groups which are formed with a collective response through riots, demonstrations, assassinations, etc. The Indian government and bureaucratic elite overwhelmed by the problem of economic development and scarcity of resources available to them, inevitably acquires a technocratic and anti-political frame of mind, particularistic demands of whatever kinds are denied legitimacy.
  • As a consequence, pressure groups are alienated from the political system. Some of the anomic pressure groups are- Naxalite groups, United Liberation Front of Assam, All Assam Student’s Union, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front.

Growing influence of Pressure Groups

  • Positive aspect:  For a successful democracy it is important to generate a public opinion, so that policy in question may be supported or condemned. PGs help to educate people, compile data and provide specific information to policy makers;thus, they work as an informal source of information. Active constructive participation of numerous groups in polity helps to reconcile general interest with individual group interests.
  • Negative aspect:  Sometimes they have biased interests limited to few members. Most PGs except business groups & big community groups do not have autonomous existence; they are unstable and lack commitment, their loyalties shift with political situations which threatens general welfare. They many a times resort to un-constitutional means like violence; Naxalite movement started in 1967 in West Bengal is one such example. And since pressure groups are not elected, it is not fair that they decide crucial policy decisions in a democracy.

How do pressure groups promote democracy?

  • In the pluralist model of democracy, pressure groups play an essential role. Political parties cannot provide adequate representation for the full range of diverse interests and opinions in a modern democracy because their key function is to aggregate interests into a coherent political entity capable of governing the country.
  • Pressure groups enable particular interests and causes to be heard and to exert influence in public decision and decision-making.
  • Pressure groups overcome the democratic deficit that builds up as most people’s political participation is to cast a vote every five years, this leading to people having little or no influence over decisions made between elections, and minority views not being represented.
  • Pressure groups increase participation and access to the political system, thereby enhancing the quality of democracy.
  • They complement and supplement electoral democracy in two main ways:
    • First, by providing an important mechanism by which citizens can influence government between elections; and
    • Second by enabling opinions to be weighed as well as counted.
  • Pressure groups improve the quality of government. Consultation with affected groups is the rational way to make decisions in a free society. It makes government more efficient by enhancing the quality of the decision makingprocess – the information and advice provided by groups helps to improve the quality of government policy and legislation.
  • Pressure groups are a product of freedom of association, which is a fundamental principle of liberal democracy. Freely operating pressure groups are essential to the effective functioning of liberal democracy in three main ways:
    • They serve as vital intermediary institutions between government and society;
    • They assist in the dispersal of political power; and
    • They provide important counterweights to balance the concentration of power.Pressure groups enable new concerns and issues to reach the political agenda, thereby facilitating social progress and preventing social stagnation. For example, the women’s and environmentalist movements.
  • Pressure groups increase social cohesion and political stability by providing a ‘safety-valve’ outlet for individual and collective grievances and demands.
  • Pressure groups assist the surveillance of the government by exposing information it would rather keep secret, thereby reinforcing and complementing work of opposition through political parties. Pressure groups thereby improve the accountability of decision makers to electorates.
  • Pressure groups improve participation, but in an unequal way, benefiting the well organised but disadvantaging the weakly organised. In this sense, they work against – not in favour of – the public interest.

How do pressure groups threaten democracy?

  • Since such pressure groups can gain too much influence within the government, thus limiting potential for opposing views of less significant outsider groups, which opposes the idea of ‘people rule’.
  • Such notion leads to an acknowledgement of another function of pressure groups which, is that they persuade public to participate and enable people to campaign on behalf of the less privileged.
  • This type of campaigning is demonstrated by sectional cause groups who battle for certain groups within our society with less likeliness to have their views heard to be taken seriously.
  • This could possibly be regarded as promoting democracy since it allows the needs of ‘all’ of society to be taken into account while decision making, since it offers an opportunity for all people’s view to be aired.
    Their methods often tend to be both aggressive and disruptive and the militant action used by groups rise a critique of pressure groups being undemocratic.
  • Although raising public awareness and participation does enhance and promote democracy, if the methods used in the process are too violent or militant which are mostly anti-social it is not difficult to see how the pressure groups are often perceived as a threat to a representative democracy.
  • Moreover, although pressure groups are said to be playing a considerable amount of role enhancing a democratic society in many ways, there are still other features and examples of pressure groups proving detrimental towards forms of democratic government.
  • Representative democracy is the state of government where the nation is governed by ‘the people’ or elite which is elected frequently by the public to govern the people. It is also the equality of every person in society, which extends certain rights, such as the right to be heard politically.
  • This additionally means that on occasions, the ‘unelected’ leaders of a pressure group may lobby for certain legislative changes, under the pretence that all of its members are of the same political inclination, whilst some members of the pressure group may not believe in that particular policy.
  • As a result, although it is clear that pressure groups play a essential role in an open, free democracy, because pressure groups promote ‘people power’ such characteristics of pressure group participation do inhibit ‘true’ democracy.
  • Overall, it can be concluded that although pressure groups and their features do play a coherent role to promote and enhance democracy as they raise the public awareness and provide direct opportunities to participate, pressure groups on the other hand can allow too much influence over the government from unelected extremist minority groups, which in turn could lead to unpopular consequences.
  • The features that many groups and its leaders are elitist, where power and decision-making process are concentrated in the hands of ‘unelected’ few and a recent trend in pressure group activity has been the increase in illegal direct action, such as property damage, often connected with the new ‘social movements’ can definitely work as a threat to representative democracy.
  • In addition, the possibility that some group might have too much influence over government actions due to the social or educational backgrounds of the members while others are not considered as much and also the potential notion that their views are not always right are also the factors that diminish the characteristics of a democracy in modern society.

Media as pressure group

  • Mass media plays a vital role in revealing the various happening of politics and life of common people all around. In countries such as India the mass media –the radio, TV, the cinema and the press are very powerful means of social change and act as a pressure group for the interest of common people and reveals all deeds of the government.
  • Mass media in its full swing of working can openly criticize the government and have the right to place their view on a certain situation. Further mass media help to generate a common platform which tries to focus on core issues of the society and its need.
  • So media’s role is just as important in influencing activities of the political parties, as that of other pressure group working to strive for certain specific goals. In fact, in this contemporary world media acts as an agent of change focusing on the social development of society and hence media role of pressurizing government given it nature of pressure group which is of vital importance.

Difference between Political Party and Pressure Group

Political party and pressure group both very important in decision making of the various policies and exists along with political parties in every nation but there is a vast difference between the two. The major difference between political parties and pressure group are as follows-

  • Pressure group is the public body acting behind the political party(outside political party) whereas political parties constitute government
  • Pressure group act is indirect as well as intermittent. They try to influence and pressurize the government to get their demand fulfilled. They do not intervene directly whereas Political parties act directly, they are legally entitled to frame policies and take decision concerning the country.
  • Pressure groups pressurize executive and legislature to achieve its aim whereas Political parties bring co-ordination in the working of executive and legislature.
  • Pressure group uses both conventional and non-conventional means to demonstrate their demands whereas Political parties use only constitutional means to execute its duties and functions
  • Pressure group works for self-interest, they emerge and dissolve as per the need of certain groups whereas Political party works for national interests and not merely for any certain group or objective.
  • Pressure group emerges and dissolves whereas political parties are recognized by election commission.
  • They never form government or contest election but influence the decision of Government or public policy, unlike political parties. They attempt to influence political parties whereas political parties seek to create change by being elected to public office.
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