Pressure Groups and Interest Groups

There are large number of organised groups which, directly or indirectly influence politics and government. The members of such organised groups are united in respect of some specific interests that they tend to advance. For example, the workers of a factory are organised in what is called the trade union to promote their interests. Similarly, there are other organised groups. These are called pressure groups or interest groups.

The Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) is an organisation that can be described both as a pressure group and an interest group. Generally, interest groups and pressure groups are considered synonyms, but they are actually not. Interest groups are organised groups of people which seek to promote their specific interests. Their characteristics are: (a) they are well-organised, (b) they have certain common interests, (c) the interest that unites the members is specific and particular, (d) the members of such organized groups seek to attain, protect and promote their interests for which they are united.

A pressure group, on the other hand, is an interest group which exerts pressure on the government or the decision-makers for the fulfilment of their interests. Interest groups may exist without even exerting pressure on the government or the decision-makers. A group that does not exert pressure to influence or pressurise the authorities in order to achieve the desired objects, is not called a pressure group. An interest group that exerts pressure on the government to achieve its goals is called a pressure group. All pressure groups are interest groups while all interest groups may not be pressure groups.

Role and Techniques

In the democratic functioning of a polity, pressure groups play a vital role. They seek to promote, discuss, debate and mobilise public opinion on major public issues. In this process, they educate people and widen their vision, enhance their democratic participation and raise and articulate various issues. These groups try to bring changes in public policy.

To achieve their objectives and goals, the pressure groups employ various techniques and methods. These include appeals, petitions, demonstrations, picketing, lobbying, and processions. They also write in the media, distribute pamphlets, issue press releases, organise discussions and debates, put up posters and chant slogans.

They may carry out satyagraha, that is, a non-violent protest. At times, pressure groups resort to strikes in order to pressurise the legislators, the executive officials, the decision-makers. Often, they resort to boycott.

Political Parties and Pressure Groups

Political parties and pressure groups are not same. However, both of them play an important role in a democracy. Therefore, their relationship is markedly close and clear. For example, the trade unions help their respective political parties by providing them workers during elections. On the other, it is the political parties which advocate legislation in respect of the interests of the workers. Some pressure groups are linked to particular political parties, there are many which have no linkage to any political party.

  • Pressure groups are not primarily political in nature. For example, although Rashtriya Swayamak Sangh (RSS) supports the Bharatiya Janata Party, it is, by and large, a cultural organisation. The political parties are basically political.
  • Pressure groups do not seek direct power; they only influence those who are in power for moulding decisions in their favour. The political parties seek power to form the government.
  • Pressure groups do not contest elections; they only support political parties of their choice. Political parties nominate candidates, contest elections, and participate in election campaigns.
  • Pressure groups do not necessarily have political ideologies. Political parties are always wedded to their ideologies. For example, the Congress party is wedded to the ideologies of socialism, secularism and democracy; the Communists advocate the interests of workers, peasants and other weaker sections.
  • The interests of the pressure groups are usually specific and particular, whereas the political parties have policies and programmes with national and international ramifications.

Pressure Groups in India

Like in other democratic countries, in India too there are many interest and pressure groups. These are of various kinds. There are pressure groups based on traditional social structure. There are groups like Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, Sanathan Dharma Sabha, Parsee Anjuman, and Anglo-Indian Christian Association. Then, there are the caste groups such as the Brahmin Sabha, the Nair society, and the language groups (such as the Tamil Sangh, the Anjuman-e-Terraqi-e-Urdu).

There are other types of interest groups which may include bodies such as the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) or those related to workers and peasants like All India Trade Union Congress, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Kisan Sabha, etc. There are the institutional groups such as the Civil Services Association or the Non-Gazetted Officers’ Union.

Civil Society Organisations

India has a very large number of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), that is, organisations established by citizens of the country, to pursue certain interests. Many of these organisations act as pressure groups on the government, to promote implementation of policies in their areas of concerns. These organisations are run by ordinary persons who feel strongly committed to certain issues. Many ordinary persons come together informally or formally to share their feelings about different issues and prevailing social injustice.

Civil Society is an interface between the state and individual. Civil Society Organisations broadly refer to the active participation and engagement of men and women in groups - associations, organisations, voluntary agencies on the issues of common concern like environmental protection, price rise, prevention of corruption, etc.

The 21st century witnessed the active involvement of people through civil society organisations which could be seen in number of protest movements across country. People take up issues of gender discrimination, child labour, street children and so on, and contribute through individual and collective action. Such organisations are able to mobilise public opinion because these issues are relevant to many people in society.

Some of the Civil Society Organisations include Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS, Rajasthan), People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), National Alliance of Women’s Organizations (NAWO), Medico Friends Circle (MFC), and many others. Such organisations put pressure on the government for changing policies on many important issues such as corruption, human rights, livelihood of different people, environmental protection, women empowerment, educational and health issues.

Civil Society Organisations help to reach out to many people. They provide a channel for people to express their grievances and also work constructively for the change. They point out when the government is not fulfilling its promises to the nation. They attract idealistic and committed young people, even acting as a space for teaching and learning ‘good citizenship’.

Good citizens are vigilant and alert. Civil Society Organisations are formed by such vigilant citizens. Many of them struggle for the larger social good, often sacrificing their own comfort, time and energy. Some important leaders of Civil Society Organisations in recent times include Aruna Roy (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan), Ela Bhatt (Self Employed Women’s Association), Medha Patkar (Narmada Bachao Andolan) and Anna Hazare (India Against Corruption). All these organisations involve a large number of people who struggle to bring about changes in State policies. Many of the organisations and groups believe in following non-violent methods.

Pressure Tactics

As pressure groups are concerned with influencing the government, they use various tactics for the same. These are primarily constitutional and peaceful. In India one of the commonly used pressure tactics is Satyagraha, a non-violent protest. It is Gandhi who introduced the idea of Satyagraha and is known all over the world for the same.

Although he used these methods in the context of foreign rule, the methods are still relevant. The methods have been successfully used. For instance, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) has influenced the government to improve its policies on the rights of women workers. Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan led the people’s movement which got the government to bring about the law on ‘Right to Information’. In the North-Eastern State of Manipur, many groups including ‘Just Peace’, Apunba Lup (students’ organisation) and Meira Paibis (women’s groups) are trying to influence the government to listen to people’s genuine grievances.

Pressure groups also use tactics of holding demonstrations, sitting on dharnas, going on strikes, organising public meetings, presenting memorandums to legislative committees, promoting their causes through use of media and creation of public opinion.