(Polity) Pressure Groups

Pressure Groups

  • A Pressure Group or Interest Group or Advocacy Group is an organised group that seeks to influence government (public) policy or protect or advance a particular cause or interest. Groups may promote a specific issue and raise it up the political agenda or they may have more general political and ideological objectives in mind when they campaign. Some of pressure groups are devoted to ideals, some to profit or group advantage.

  • Pressure Groups are organised interest groups which active in the social and political life of the people of state.
  • A pressure group does not put up candidates for election, but seeks to influence government policy or legislation. They can also be described as ‘interest groups’, ‘lobby groups’ or ‘protest groups’.
  • Pressure groups operate at  Local, Sub National (Regional), National and International level.

Methods and Functions of Pressure Groups:

  • Pressure groups are a vital part of a healthy democracy. Indeed the sustained and rapid expansion of pressure group activity and involvement in the political process is often heralded as a sign of growing political involvement among many thousands of people.
  • Pressure groups play a vital role. They seek to promote, discuss, debate and mobilize 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, organize 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 pressurize the legislators, the executive officials, the decision-makers. Often, they resort to boycott.


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

Pressure Groups in India:

  • A large number of pressure groups exist in India. But, they are not developed to the same extent as in the US or the western countries like Britain, France, Germany and so on.
  • The pressure groups in India can be classified as:

1. Business Groups:

  • The business groups include a large number of industrial and commercial bodies. They are the most sophisticated, the most powerful and the largest of all pressure groups. They include:
  1. Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).  It broadly represents major industrial and trading interests.
  2. Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM). ASSOCHAM represents foreign British capital.
  3. Federation of All India Food grain Dealers Association (FAIFDA). FAIFDA is the sole representative of the grain dealers.
  4. All-India Manufacturers Organisation (AIMO). AIMO raises the concerns of the medium-sized industry.

2. Trade Unions

  • The trade unions voice the demands of the industrial workers. They are also known as labour groups. Trade unions in India are generally associated either directly or indirectly with different political parties. They include:
  1. All-India Trade UnionCongress (AITUC)—affiliated to CPI;
  2. IndianNational Trade Union Congress (INTUC)—affiliated to the Congress
  3. Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS)—affiliated to the Socialists;
  4. Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU)—affiliated to the CPM
  5. Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh(BMS)—affiliated to the BJP;
  6. All India Central Council of Trade Unions (Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation);
  7. All India United Trade Union Centre (Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist)
  8. Labour Progressive Federation (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)
  9. Anna Thozhil Sanga Peravai (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam)
  10. Bharatiya Kamgar Sena (Shiv Sena);
  11. Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat (Janata Dal (United));
  12. Telugu NaduTrade Union Council (Telugu Desam Party).
  • First Trade Union in India: All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) was founded in 1920 with Lala Lajpat Rai as its first president. Upto 1945, Congressmen, Socialists and Communists worked in the AITUC which was the central trade union organisation of workers of India. Subsequently, the trade union movement got split on political lines.

3. Agrarian Groups

  • The agrarian groups represent the farmers and the agricultural labour class. They include:
  • Bhartiya Kisan Union (under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Tikait, in the wheat belt of North India)
  1. All India Kisan Sabha (the oldest and the largest agrarian group)
  2. Revolutionary Peasants Convention (organised by the CPM in 1967 which gave birth to the Naxalbari Movement)
  3. Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (Gujarat)
  4. United Kisan Sabha (controlled by the CPM)

4. Professional Associations

  • These are associations that raise the concerns and demands of doctors, lawyers, journalists and teachers. Despite various restrictions, these associations pressurise the government by various methods including agitations for the improvement of their service conditions. They include: Indian Medical Association (IMA), Bar Council of India (BCI), Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ)

5. Student Organisations

  • Various unions have been formed to represent the student community. However, these unions, like the trade unions, are also affiliated to various political parties. These are: Akhila Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) (affiliated to BJP), All India Students Federation(AISF) (affiliated to CPI), National Students Union of India (NSUI) (affiliated to Congress), Progressive Students Union(PSU) (affiliated to CPM)

6. Religious Organisations

  • The organisations based on religion have come to play an important role in Indian politics. They represent the narrow communal interest. They include: Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh(RSS), Jamaat-e-Islami, Associations of the Roman Catholics

7. Caste Groups

  • The competitive politics in many states of the Indian Union is the politics of caste rivalries: Brahmin versus Non-Brahmin in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, Rajput versus Jat in Rajasthan, Kamma versus Reddy in Andhra, Ahir versus Jat in Haryana, Baniya Brahmin versus Patidar in Gujarat. Kayastha versus Rajput in Bihar, Nair versus Ezhava in Kerala and Lingayat versus Okkaliga in Karnataka.
  • Some of the caste-based organisations are: Marwari Association, HarijanSevakSangh

8. Tribal Organisations

  • The tribal organisations are active in MP, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and the North Eastern States of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and so on. Their demands range from reforms to that of secession from India and some of them are involved in insurgency activities.
  • The tribal organisations include: National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN, Tribal Sanghof Assam, United Mizo Federal Organisation

9. Linguistic Groups

  • Language has been so important factor in Indian politics that it became the main basis for the reorganisation of states. The language along with caste, religion and tribe have been responsible for the emergence of political parties as well as pressure groups.
  • Some of the linguistic groups are: Andhra Maha Sabha, Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha

10. Ideology Based Groups

  • The pressure groups which are formed to pursue a particular ideology, i.e., a cause, a principle or a programme.
  • These groups include: Environmental protection groups like Narmada Bachao Andolan, and Chipko Movement, Democratic rights organisations , Civil liberties associations , Womanrights organisations

11. Anomic Groups

  • By anomic pressure groups we mean more or less a spontaneous breakthrough into the political system from the society such as riots, demonstrations, assassinations and the like.
  • Some of the anomic pressure groups are: Naxalite Groups. Jammuand Kashmir LiberationFront (JKLF). All Assam Student’s Union. United LiberationFront of Assam(ULFA)

Comparison Between Pressure Groups and Political Parties:

  • Interest/Pressure Groups and Political Parties are studied together because of their occasional interlocking behaviour – the political parties always act to secure power in the state and the interest groups always act to influence the struggle for power among the political parties in such a way as can help them to secure their interests. Both are informal and extra-constitutional agencies that provide a good deal of propulsion for the formal constitutional systems.

Similarities between Pressure Groups and political Parties:

  1. Both are voluntarily organised groups of people
  2. Both are involved in the process of politics; and
  3. Both are involved in interest articulation, interest aggregation, political socialisation, political communication and leadership requirement.
  4. Both play an important role in the social and political life of the people.

Differences between Pressure Groups and political Parties:

  • However, political parties and pressure groups differ in respect of their organisations, functions roles and objectives.

(1) Difference in Size:

  • A political party is generally a very large organisation of people. It is spread over to all the different sections or segments or area of society. As against it, a pressure group is relatively a small group of people with some specific common interest or interests.

(2) Different Basis of Organisation:

  • A political party is organised by a group of people with a similar political ideology or broad agreement over a group of related political ideas. Ideological unity is a source of unity and cohesion in a political party.
  • The members of a political party always base their policies, programmes and activities on the principles of ideologies they accept and support. As against this, a pressure group is an interest group. A specific interest is usually the basis of the formation of a pressure group. It is organised by the people for the promotion of common interests, which can be promoted by the members through mutual cooperation and joint efforts.

(3) Difference in Respect of Functions:

  • A political party is an organisation primarily concerned with the selection of candidates and their election to office, as well as with the running of government after electing those candidates, and only secondarily with the determination of issues or programmes on the basis of which the government may be run.
  • Pressure Groups, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with achieving the programmes they desire by having them adopted as policies of government, and secondarily with the selection of public officials.
  • Political parties are concerned with policies, but only so far as these help them to achieve electoral victories and to remain in office in the government, interest groups are interested in candidate selection, but largely in terms of achieving the policy goals which are their primary aims.
  • The scope of the functions of Political Parties is much broader than the scope of functions of those of the Pressure Groups. Activation, mobilisation, recruitment, socialisation and communication functions are performed by political parties in very large areas and on a very large scale. The Pressure Groups perform these functions certainly on a limited scale and in a restricted circle.

(4) Difference in Respect of the Final Objective:

  • The final aim of a political party is to capture political power in the state by capturing majority of seats in the elections. It is always governed by this objective and all its policies and actions are directed towards this end. It always directs its efforts towards the creation of a favourable environment for itself in which the voters can be favourably influenced to vote it to power.
  • The pressure groups on the other hand do not try to get power but they try that power holders should help them in securing their interests. They simply aim to favourably influence the exercise of power by the government .
  • A pressure group/interest group seeks to influence the public policy­ making process but without attempting to take over directly the control and conduct of government. Political parties, on the other hand, are primarily directing themselves at the “ruler’s role”; to win a legislative majority support and run the government.”

(5) Difference in Respect of Methods:

  • The political parties are committed to use peaceful and constitutional means for securing power. They fight the battle of ballot and not of bullets and violence. The interest/pressure groups, on the other hand, use means of mutual cooperation and also of direct action (like strikes, gheraos, bandhs, boycotts) for securing their interests. They use elections as opportunities for securing the several advantages from the party in power and the parties seeking to replace the ruling party.
  • However, the political parties too, now-a-days, particularly in developing political systems, are increasingly using the direct action means for securing their objectives-chiefly for catching the attention and winning the sympathy of the voters. The parties, very often, help the pressure groups involved in direct action with a view to win their support for them.
  • Fundamentally, pressure groups are the representation of homogeneous interests seeking influence. The interest group is strong and effective when it has a directed specific purpose. Political parties, on the other hand, seek office, are directed towards policy- decisions and combine heterogeneous groups.

Difference between Lobbyists and Pressure Groups:

  • Pressure groups and lobbying is not one and the same thing. Lobbying takes place when a few members of pressure groups loiter in the lobbies of the legislatures with a view to securing an opportunity to interact with legislators and to influence the decisions of the legislators. Parity cannot be drawn between lobbying and pressure groups even though the lobbyists are the representatives of particular interest groups. Lobbying is a communication process used for persuasion;it cannot be treated as an organisation. Lobbying is used in governmental decision- making and it aims at influencing the policy process. It acts as an instrument that links citizens and decision-makers. Lobbying is different from pressure groups in the sensethatpressuregroups are organised groups and they perform various functions including lobbying.
  • A special interest group i.e Pressure Group is a group of people that want to get their view across (examples pro-life, anti-abortionist, pro war groups). Some of these groups are devoted to ideals, some to profit or group advantage. A lobbyist is a paid employee of one of these groups who tries to advance his employers point of view to a lawmakers.
  • Advocacy (Pressure) is a broader term while lobbying is a type of advocacy.

Note: What is Lobbying?

  • Lobbying is the act of attempting to influence decisions made by officials in the government, most often legislators or members of regulatory agencies. Lobbying is done by many types of people, associations and organized groups, including individuals in the private sector, corporations, fellow legislators or government officials, or advocacy groups (interest groups).
  • The ethics and morality of lobbying are dual-edged. Lobbying is often spoken of with contempt, when the implication is that people with inordinate socioeconomic power are corrupting the law (twisting it away from fairness) in order to serve their own interests. When people who have a duty to act on behalf of others, such as elected officials with a duty to serve their constituents’ interests or more broadly the public good, stand to benefit by shaping the law to serve the interests of some private parties a conflict of interest exists.
  • In contrast, another side of lobbying is making sure that others’ interests are duly defended against others’ corruption, or even simply making sure that minority interests are fairly defended against mere tyranny of the majority. For example, a medical association may lobby a legislature about increasing the restrictions in smoking prevention laws, and tobacco companies lobby to reduce them: the first regarding smoking as injurious to health and the second arguing it is part of the freedom of choice.
  • In many countries like USA, lobbying is legal and regulated. All expenditures on lobbying need to be accounted. One the other hand, there is no clarity or law in India regarding lobbying. Unlike USA,  spending money on lobbying (like expenditure on lawmakers for tours while lobbying ) in India can be considered as bribery. Lobbying in the United States describes paid activity in which special interests hire well-connected professional advocates, often lawyers, to argue for specific legislation in decision-making bodies such as the United States Congress.

Critical Analysis of Pressure Groups:

  • For some, pressure groups are a fundamental part of democracy. To others, pressure groups undermine the whole principle of democracy. Democracy is a system of government where decisions are arrived at by majoritarian principles with representatives elected at periodic elections where political equality and political freedom allow the voter an effective choice between competing candidates in a secret ballot. How do pressure groups fit in with this concept? 

Positive Points:

  • 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. Yet it is precisely the representation of specialist interests and of single issues which may give cause for concern, both in terms of the methods used to achieve objectives and of the undue power and influence which particular lobbies can exert.
  • Pluralists believe that 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 making process – 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.

Negative Points:

  • Critics have argued that  the role played by Pressure Groups may not be the one suggested by the pluralist model.
  • 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.
  • Pressure groups themselves may not be representative of their members. Their officers are not usually elected. Few groups have procedures for consulting their members. As a result, the views expressed by group officials may not be shared by the group’s members.
  • Although the views of pressure groups may sometimes be considered, they are likely to be ignored if they do not confirm with the ideology or agenda of the decision makers.
  • Pressure group activity gives people hope that they can make a difference. This hope is a distraction. The ruling class would rather that people put their energies into pressure group activities, which do not question the fundamentals of the system than into political activity, which seriously challenges the right of the elite to govern.
  • The closeness of these lobbyists to the politicians and bureaucrats sometimes results in Conflict of Interest which can endanger greater public interest. They also sometimes uses unethical practices like bribery.
  • Some pressure groups are much more powerful and more successful than others. Successful pressure groups are almost always well financed, cohesive and stable, and their leaders, many of whom are former politicians, tend to represent causes which are favourably regarded by politicians and civil servants.
  • The less successful groups are generally poorly financed, are led by people remote from the elite groups and advocate causes not generally favoured by the leading political parties.
  • Group opposition can slow down or block desirable changes, thereby contributing to social immobilisation.
  • The in-egalitarian way that some groups operate increases social discontent and political instability by intensifying the sense of social frustration and injustice felt by disadvantaged and excluded sections of the population.
  • Large-scale demonstrations mounted by any group may lead to unpleasant clashes without the police, sometimes involving militants with their own agenda. This level of civil disobedience cannot be justified in today’s democratic system.
  • Pressure groups are an essential dimension of any democracy, yet they can endanger democracy if sectional groups undermine the public interest or if the methods they use are corrupt or intimidating.

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