Role of Pressure Groups in Indian Democracy

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Role of Pressure Groups in Indian Democracy


The presence and role of specific Pressure Groups augment and supplement the role and purposes of the political parties. They are part of the wider political process.

The pressure groups do not themselves want to form the Government, but they try to influence the decisions of the Government. Thus, every pressure group has three elements:

  1. An organized group of people,
  2. The common interests and
  3. Exercise influence on the decisions of the Government.

In short, the pressure groups cause the legislators, or ministers or bureaucrats to act in a particular way by offering arguments or employing other techniques as the case may be.

It may be pointed out that the ‘pressure group” is a term applied to those interest groups (e.g., Trade Unions like the I.N.T.U.C. and the C.I.T.U.) who use different pressure tactics including extra-Constitutional methods (dharna and gherao) to pursue their goals. All pressure groups are interest groups, but all interest groups) e.g., the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry of FICCI) need not be pressure groups. The term ‘interest group” is a neutral designation, but the term ‘pressure group” implies coercion, putting weight to persuade and possible abuse of influence. The pressure group has a derogatory flavor.

From the above, the nature of pressure groups becomes quite clear. In brief, their characteristics are as follows:

  1.  The objectives of the pressure groups are very limited. That is, every pressure group has one special interest which it seeks to promote. For example, the Bank Unions fight for their rights, whereas the Kishan Sabhas safeguard the interests of the farmers.
  2. In India, the political institutions determine and shape the activities of pressure groups and their main targets. In our parliamentary democracy, since the Union Cabinet and Civil Service are more effective, it is useful to get access to them. Therefore, the ministers, the bureaucrats and certain party leaders are more important for effective pressurizing.
  3. The Indian party system greatly influences the pressure groups activities. In our multiparty system, the coalition Governments at the Centre are unstable ‘because they are formed by an alliance between various parties. In such a situation the pressure groups do well. The powerful industrial organizations and trade unions make a bargain with the leaders of the various parties. For example—the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) is close to the Congress Party and the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) has strong ties with the Communist Party of India. Again, in India’s multi-party system, due to lack of party discipline and ideological commitment, the pressure groups have worked more effectively among the elected representatives—the legislators. And this has been the experience in the Indian Parliament and in State Legislatures as well.
  4. In India, the work of the pressure groups is determined by the political culture of the country. It means the approach, attitudes, beliefs and orientation of the citizens to political actions and towards the political system. For example, India, by its traditional pattern of toleration of different groups and approaches and in pursuance of its open society approach, allows all types of pressure groups (associational, institutional and ad-hoc) to work, including non-democratic groups.
  5. The nature of the issue or problem which a pressure group is projecting also conditions its method of work. For instance, in Indian political system, if the Teachers Association is asking for a revision of grades, its method of influencing and its target group would be different from that of a trade union fighting for higher wages, or from a Chamber of Commerce trying to get concessions on foreign exchange etc.
  6. The activities of the pressure groups depend upon the economic system as well. In our mixed economic system, the Chambers of Commerce and the Manufacturer Organizations operate in a number of different ways to exert pressure on the Union and State Governments in Indian federalism.
  7. In our democratic system, every pressure group by its own nature and characteristic employs different approaches, methods and tactics. Big business pressure groups like the Chambers of Commerce and Industry sometimes make out as if what they are seeking to do is in national interest. They are pursued more discretely and secretly. Trade Unions (CITU, AITUC, INTUC, etc.) are more militant, organize gheraos and dharnas; students and youth organizations (SFI) tend to get violent. Service organizations (civil servants, scientific personnel etc.) establish useful contacts with the bureaucracy.

The characteristics of the pressure groups reveal that the influence that a pressure group can exercise depends on several factors. The most important factor is its own organizational strength (for instance, the FICCI representing over one lakhs firms, or the All India Manufacturers Organization representing a large number of smaller industries etc.), and discipline and perseverance of its members in pursuing an issue. Among other factors are its capacity to elicit people’s sympathy and support for its cause, its access to decision-making bodies and its financial resources etc. Thus the pressure groups provide a necessary link in the functioning of our democratic political system and in extending the concept of representative responsible Government.

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