Pressure Groups in India - An Overview

The study of pressure groups (also known as the interest, organized and catalytic groups) within a conceptual framework constitutes an interesting as well as an important subject of Indian polity. This article covers the functions and roles of pressure groups, their classification, and some details about institutional pressure groups.
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Pressure Groups highlights those underlying forces and processes through which political power is marshalled and applied in organized societies, specifically in democracies. It, however, does not imply their total non-existence in a society having an authoritarian system for the simple reason that even in a totalitarian order such groups exist though they are highly circumscribed and thereby “serve merely as instruments of the state for securing ends which are state-determined, or they may become part of the facade of government for legitimizing decisions.

Pressure Groups – Functions

A line of demarcation possibly subsists in the degree of involvement. A pluralistic society, with a democratic order, recognizes the existence of pressure groups. It ensures the widest possible participation to the extent of making them the principal avenues of activity out of the ‘official administration’. A totalitarian order, on the other hand, encourages and permits them to work in a particular direction congenial to its own interest.

  1. In every society, whether democratic or totalitarian, interest groups seek to influence public policy in the desired direction without being ready to accept the responsibility of public office as well as by declining to hold direct responsibility for ruling the country.
  2. Pressure groups seek favourable policy decisions and administrative dispositions. They tend to adjust the form of their activities. This is influenced not by the formal constitutional structure of governments as to the distribution of effective power within a governmental apparatus. Thus, the form of group politics is determined by the interplay of governmental structures, activities, and attitudes vis-a-vis the scope or intensity of their interest. In other words, the form and nature of group policies are conditioned by the structure and administrative agencies, activities of the political organization, and attitudes of governmental agencies towards them.
  3. As regards governmental structure, it may be pointed out that one should look to the type of a political system. For instance, a pressure group may assume a very important, powerful, and well-organised position even at the national level if the work of policy-making and its implementation is assigned to the central branch of administration.
  4. In a country with a unitary system of government, groups have their highest units in the national capital. But in a country with a federal system of government (where authority is decentralised and localised), many groups have their units at the local and regional levels too.

Pressure Groups – Influencing Politics

The following points are pertinent when studying the influence of pressure groups in India.

  1. The politics of pressure groups are conditioned by the channels of governmental activity. One should look at the place where decisions are actually taken. It is owing to this that groups concentrate their attention on legislature and executive. Serious efforts are made to form public opinion and huge amounts of money are spent to secure victory for ‘favoured’ candidates at the polls.
  2. When the agencies of parliament and cabinet transmit their authority to bureaucracy and other minor branches of administration, pressure groups tend to penetrate their influence to the extent that even the neutral character of the Civil Services is seriously affected.
  3. The attitudes of administrative agencies towards pressure groups also play an important part. That is, if popular ministers and elected representatives occupying legislative seats are very responsive to the demands of these groups, they feel a sense of favoured access to the government. Conversely, when the leadership is of an authoritarian or of a traditional or conservative type working to the disadvantage of a particular clique in a single dominant political party or a military junta, the groups have a feeling of dissatisfaction and start operating through more inconspicuous channels.

Pressure Groups – Classification

The study of pressure groups is beset with the task of precise nomenclature and other problems of a procedural and substantive character. All groups are not the same, though they are distinguished as such. For instance, some represent vested interests or interests of a particular social or economic group having some sort of objective characteristics common to each other; others represent and safeguard the interests of a particular point, regardless of their objective characteristics.

These groups are of different types –

  1. Self-seeking and altruistic from the viewpoint of purpose;
  2. Ephemeral and long-term keeping in view the point of tenure; and with the formal or informal bureaucratic organization taking in view the fact of power position.

Likewise, these groups are different from each other as regards their concentration of efforts either on the legislative bodies or on the voters as a whole. Differences are also visible when we examine the functional impact of pressure politics upon a particular policy and, that is why some groups frequently achieve their goals while others fail to do so.

Pressure Groups – Roles

On the whole, pressure groups have a very important role in a modern political system where the state is irrevocably wedded to the ideals of representative democracy and social welfare. One thing needs to be pointed out here.

  1. Organised interest groups are active in every political community, more so in a representative government committed to the realisation of the’ ideal of a social service state. But a degree of difference exists in that they are more varied and active in a rich and prosperous society, as distinguished from a poor and backward country.
  2. But in spite of this degree of differentiation, it is certain that in the political process of western democracy their significance is enhanced by the factor of modernisation which acts as a lubricant in the machine of functional differentiation. The multiversal character of society in the shape of the division of labour and functional specialisation fragments it into a very large number of interests, thus making possible a social organisation made up of groups.
  3. When the state is committed to the idea of a welfare state, it assigns to social groups a greater stake in politics and thereby mobilises them to a much greater extent. At the same time, when the state adopts a policy of a positive role in the sphere of planning and social service, it makes itself increasingly dependent upon the aid and advice of such groups.

This, however, does not imply that these groups are thoroughly non-existent in a totalitarian country. They seem to be relatively great in a highly pluralistic structure of society with a democratic form of government recognising the principle of decentralisation of authority and small in a highly monolithic system where the dictator at the top identifies himself with the state.

Hence, the role of interest groups is evident even where centralism and regimentation of justice inform all institutions of social and political control with the result that diverse groups are not allowed to germinate and progress freely to establish special relationships with politicians, statesmen, and other leaders of the country. On the whole, the point of difference is that whereas in a democratic system dominant direction of flow is from the groups to the government, in a totalitarian system it is just the other way round. From the above, it follows that a democratic state, with a pluralistic society, offers far greater opportunities for access to the process and activity of decision-making and effective participation of the organised interest groups in it. Such a condition of life encourages even weaker interests to participate in politics along with other interests. It thus politicizes the character of every grouping to some extent, big or small. The result is the politicisation of the entire group structure of society. As Roman Kolkowicz says: “In pluralistic systems, we have come to accept the idea and reality of interest groups as central to the political and social processes. They are presumed to be a vital faction in the political process and social transaction in which the political leads, manipulate, or accommodate various interest groups’ demands. In a totalitarian authoritarian political system, however, a single party claims hegemony in respect to political and social authority, the concept interest group needs some clarification, the single party denies the very existence of such particularistic entities and views possibilities of their emergence as anathema.

Institutional Pressure Groups

In a country with a parliamentary form of government, the pressure is mainly concentrated on the executive branch for the simple reason that parliament lives like a tool in the hands of ministers who, in turn, are like a tool in the hands of their permanent officials.

  1. The nature of contemporary social and economic policies has become so technical that a ‘lay’ parliament is no match to an ‘expert’ bureaucracy placed behind the cloak of ministerial offices. Hence, the proper place where decisions are actually taken is not the ‘open parliament’ but the ‘closed department’ and, as such, pressure groups concentrate their attention on the ‘closed’ branch of administration.
  2. It, however, does not preclude the possibility of exercising an influence upon policy-making through members of the legislature who can use their political influence by means of asking questions, putting adjournment motions, making private representations, and also utilizing the source of their prestigious contacts. Moreover, many groups maintain a clandestine connection with a political party either by paying donations or rendering other kinds of assistance at the time of electoral contests. They just pose a form of political neutrality in order to save themselves from the dangers of the oscillation of power from one political party to another.
  3. In this way, interest groups strive to have their prosecutors first in the party and through it in the parliament and, as the powers of a parliament have been usurped by the executive in every form of government, they seek to exercise their influence upon the ministers and civil servants for the sake of having a share in the effective power of policy-making.

This study has recently gained much importance in the realm of Indian polity because, over the last few years, political science has lost much of its connection with history and ethics; it has moved closer to the disciplines of psychology and sociology. A new meaning of ‘politics’ has come into use whereby it is regarded as a process by which social values are authentically allocated. Such a study regards politics not merely as a science of state and government in the traditional sense of the term, it implies the process of decision-making. Since these decisions are often made as a result of group conflict, it stretches its scope of the study to all such groups which are involved in the process of decision-making. This new approach amounts to the formulation of a ‘ descriptive’, if not ‘explanatory’ theory, and belongs to what is sometimes called ‘informal’ politics. Naturally, it has added material to the stock of literature on comparative politics, and, though the approach is not appreciated by many ‘frontier-minded’ writers, the whole study, more appropriately called a study of ‘political sociology’, “will continue to play a very important role in comparative politics research. In other words, this study revolves around the pivot of a new man, called the Political Man, distinguished from the Economic Man or the Moral Man. It considers man not as an ‘isolated atom’ but as ‘a creature of groups’. The problem is thus not ‘man versus the state’ as designated by Herbert Spencer in the vein of an extremely individualistic philosophy; it is, groups versus the state’ as suggested by Ernest Barker in the line of modern interpretation of liberalistic individualism. When men united into groups have their interests and use ‘pressure’ for the sake of their protection and promotion, as Hagan points out, the life in society, in all its phases, can be stated in’ groups of active men’. The allocation of social values is done by means of decisions that are taken by diverse activities, each not being quite separate from the other, though the mass of activity, having common tendencies, in regard to such decisions is manifest in the form of groups. Thus, what determines the making of decisions is nothing but a constant struggle between different groups and interests. Viewed in this context, a new definition of politics is furnished by the exponents of this theory. For instance, Eckstein says: “If we say that politics involves the making of decisions, the decisions are made as a result of group conflict, that groups are the same thing as interests, that both groups and interests are mass of activity, then we say merely that politics is activity.” As such, a study of group politics is like a newer wave in the direction of modernization of this subject, and though much more useful theories are yet to come, it is certain that the ice has most decidedly broken.

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FAQ about Formal And Informal Associations And Their Role In The Polity


What is the main objective of pressure group?

The main objective of all pressure groups is to influence the people who have the power to make decisions. Pressure groups do not seek political power , but they influence the decisions made by those who do hold the political power.

What are pressure groups ?

Pressure groups are the organisations that attempt to influence government policies and decisions. They are formed when people with common interests, opinions and aspirations come together in order to achieve a common objective.

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