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This article is written by Sushmita Choudhary from New Law College, Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University. It talks about the roles and functions of pressure groups and political parties and also makes a comparative study between both of them.

Introduction

One might think that casting a vote might make them a responsible citizen. However, this is only partly true because healthy democracies rely on voters who regularly question their government and express views on its policies or become involved in pressure groups or political parties.

Pressure groups and political parties are co-dependent for achieving their goals. Pressure groups consider the parties to be an important method of gaining access to those in power and political parties need the support of groups of people who share one or more interests and influence each other to get elected and maintain themselves in power. The nature of the federal system fosters a chain of a continuous relationship between the two bodies.

Pressure Groups 

In your daily life, you might have come across news like “RSS’s statement on Tablighi Jamaat” or “FICCI’s call for government support in the Aviation industry”. Maybe, you would have wondered like me about what these associations actually are, what are they trying to do, why the media is covering them, etc.! So, these associations which have a group of people with a common interest that try to secure their interests by influencing the formulation and working of public policies can be understood as examples of Pressure Groups. Pressure Groups always have people with the same ideology. Pressure Groups are also known as Interest Groups

The term ‘Pressure Groups’ originated in the USA which means a group of people who are organised actively for promoting and defending their own interest. Their activism influences public policy. In India, the pressure groups have been active even during the colonial period. The All India Trade Union Congress was the first pressure group of India.

Role

The role of the pressure groups is very important for the administrative, legislative, executive, bureaucratic, and political system. They are like a living public behind the parties. Their role is indirect yet effective. The various roles of pressure groups are as follows:

  1. They try to introduce their candidates into the legislature. They help political parties to win an election by preparing manifestos and mobilizing voters.
  2. Pressure Groups try to fill high executive posts with men who can fulfill their interest i.e. selection of cabinet and selection of PM in a coalition government, etc. which affects the policy implementation process.
  3. Bureaucrats are politically neutral and hence, the pressure groups try to bend them in their manner by putting good remarks on them. Bureaucrats have a long tenure of service and therefore, they oblige to them.
  4. Pressure groups play as a vital link between the government and the governed. They keep governments more inclined towards their interest.
  5. Pressure groups help in expressing the views and needs of the minority communities who otherwise may remain unheard.
  6. Pressure groups provide expertise to the government with various information which might be applicable to issues such as indigenous reconciliation.
  7. Pressure groups promote opportunities for political participation without joining a political party.
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Advantages

  • Promotion of authentic freedom of expression-

By joining an interest group as an individual, you can add your ideas to the collective expression of everyone who shares the same opinion. It is like joining a workers union. This advantage gives you an opportunity to make changes that will impact your life in some way.

  • Exploration of new perspectives-

Interest groups give all of us the chance to look at new thoughts and perspectives which makes it easier for us to see beyond our echo chambers. When legislation goes through the preparation process, the drafters look at the impact on any specific and identifiable group. Then, there is the consideration of what will happen with the population as a whole. When you are a part of this process, you get to see what others think about these specific subjects.

  • Balancing the impact of governance-

By coming together to speak with a collective voice, you get the chance to hold the powerful few in the positions of authority to be accountable for their actions. The interest groups serve a system of checks and balances. You get the chance to limit their governance by speaking to them about issues and even vote them out of office if they aren’t satisfactory enough.

  • Usable platforms that facilitate change-

Joining a group can make you be the change that you want to see. You along with the like-minded people around you can create opportunities to put enough pressure in the decision-makers in society to do something in your interest. Policies, rules, regulations can be moulded if a group of voices speak about it because it is pretty challenging to ignore a group of voices with the same voice rather than a single person who is trying hard to be heard.

  • Emphasis on fairness at the local level-

Fairness can be seen as a difficult concept to balance an on-ground reality. There are chronic problems of poverty, illness, food scarcity, corruption and many more which affect people seriously. This deprives them of having a chance at all the opportunities fairly. By the time they can do something about it, their chances are long gone.

Interest groups work toward equalizing income opportunities in society. They support each member to create a platform where everyone can start working towards a similar goal.

  • Creates opportunities for becoming community leaders-

Interest groups promote leadership in a community by influencing people to become part of an organized movement that can communicate the need for specific changes required. In modern times, you don’t have to get out of your home and contribute to it. Sharing information on social media and making a few phone calls can also do the work.

  • Access to more information-

When you join an interest group, then you have access to their resources which might lead you to get a chance to speak with your elected officials directly instead of sending them a letter. 

  • Lobbying for new legislation anytime

Interest groups play an important role in spreading information. With all the data, they make efforts to turn it into usable laws, rules, or regulations. Every interest group tries to influence elected officials to move toward desired legislative changes. 

Disadvantages

  • Loudest voices usually win-

One thing about interest groups is that size doesn’t matter. The ones who are more active usually generate more attention and get to play a part in modern politics. One can say that money speaks loudly in this arena, so there may be advantages to those who are wealthy.

Both sides in Indian politics tend to blame each other for the ills of society. Any group can assimilate a small number of people and sound like the majority which can come under the banner of disadvantage.

  • An easy way of stalking all legislative processes-

The reason why this disadvantage is such a problem is that each group tries to seek what is in their best interest without considering others. There is no desire to find a compromise.

  • Offensive views-

There is a democratic right to freedom of speech and expression. Some pressure groups still have unsecular and offensive views which stir up communal tensions. These groups whether small or large in number, tend to get a disproportionate amount of attention from the media. E.g. RSS, Bajrang Dal, etc.

  • Opposition-

There can be direct opposition between pressure groups which can probably lead to some serious civil disruptions. An example can be taken from the incident of clashes between ABVP and JNU Students Union.

  • Disobedience-

Pressure groups can sometimes become aggressive and get involved in militancy to get their demands heard. They can pull out publicity stunts and protests for attention which can disrupt public life and property.

E.g. JKLF and ULFA 

  • Governing systems can change-

When an interest group grows large enough, then their activities can alter the way a nation governs itself. This disadvantage is problematic because it forces everyone outside that core group to either conform to the “new normal” or risk the consequences of being on the outside. The BJP party backed by the RSS in India has got the chance to run the government. Their islamophobic and radical sentiments which are found in the parent wing RSS is hurting the secularism and integrity of this nation. This is an indication as to how quickly they can become adverse.

  • Unstable-

Pressure groups lack stability and commitment. This might result in their loyalties changing according to changing political situations.

  • Non-legitimate power-

Leaders of pressure-groups are not elected like conventional politicians, therefore they can’t be held publicly accountable. The influence they exert is not democratically legitimate. Very few pressure groups work on the basis of internal democracy. There has been a trend for pressure groups to be dominated by a small number of senior professionals.

Famous Pressure Groups in India

There are pressure groups in every country with India being no exception. They influence decision making in the order of their interest. India has a number of pressure groups who carry different aims and objectives.

Professional Pressure Groups

This category includes pressure groups which are formed by the employees of a particular occupation for the protection of their interests. Big business houses always have the most organized and powerful pressure groups at their command. This has to do with their vast outlay of resources, personnel, close links with elite groups in government, media, administration and opposition parties.

FICCI is the largest and the most influential organization of private capital in India by representing more than 40,000 firms. It has such a large business corporate world with it that political parties are dependent on it for funds. The government keeps seeking advice from this group on major policy issues of commercial and economical nature. Business groups like ASSOCHAM, Confederation of Indian Industries, the Tatas, Birlas, DCM and Hindustan Unilever, etc. are professional pressure groups which try to influence the industrial policies of the government. This type of pressure group includes Trade Unions, Peasant Organizations, Teacher and Students Organizations, etc. The history of Trade unions and Peasant groups date back to colonial times. All India Trade Union Congress was formed in 1920.  Farmer’s organizations like Bhartiya Kisan Union in Haryana, U.P. and Punjab, Karnataka, etc., influence the policies of the government in the agricultural sector. In the educational field, the teachers, the students, and non-vocational staff have their own unions to protect their interests and influence the government. E.g. National Students Union of India, All India Teachers Association, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, Delhi University Students Union etc.

Socio-Cultural Pressure Groups

These pressure groups are concerned with community service and the promotion of interests of the community including language and religion. Examples of this type of community are Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Marathi Sangh, Ramakrishna Mission, etc.

Institutional Pressure Groups

These types of pressure groups influence the government without directly getting involved in the political system, yet they remain active. E.g. Civil Services Association, Police Welfare Association, Army Officers Association, Red Cross Society, Gazetted Officers Association, Defence Personnel Association, etc. These groups mainly influence matters such as transfer-leave rules, allocation of duties, etc.

Ad hoc pressure groups

Some pressure groups are short-termed which come into existence only for the fulfilment of some particular demand. Their objective is to pressurize the government for specific demand. E.g. Orissa Relief Organisation, Kaveri Water Distribution Association, Gujrat Relief Association, etc.

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Political Parties

India has more than 2300 political parties, being the largest democracy in the world. The presence of so many political parties signifies a healthy ruling system for the nation. It gives people a choice to make a more effective and rational decision. 

A political party is an association of people having a common perspective, principles and aims, concerning the political system. The party members work together to win elections and form the ruling government, by getting their candidates elected in the assembly. In order to do so, they nominate candidates before the election and campaign for them to win the election. India has a multi-party system, where there are three or more parties which have the capacity to form government separately or in a coalition. 

Role

  1. The motive of political parties is to add people who hold similar points of view about the government. Even though many people are associated with the same party, they don’t exactly share the same beliefs but the core beliefs about how the government should run remain the same.
  2. The parties hold true to a core set of beliefs which enables the voters to understand the basic beliefs of one of the nominated candidates.
  3. Opposition parties are responsible for keeping an eye on the activities of the government. They spend much of their time investigating the ruling party’s policies and activities which help us, citizens, to be informed of both sides of an issue. Although voters tend to get tired of the debates and arguments, it helps to present balanced information.
  4. People in the same political party remain connected with each other through their party. A party can link its members at different levels of government- local, state or national. This plays a uniting role for all the members.
  5. Parties even offer access to government machinery and welfare schemes. Local party leaders act as a string between the citizens and government officials.
  6. Political parties shape public opinion. With the help of the government, they get to understand the ongoing issues in the nation.

Advantages

  • An average person can make a change-

It might be difficult for a single person to create change. By having political parties, individuals get to work together with people who share the same opinion about specific issues. This gives rise to a collective voice rather than an individual one, which makes it easier to convey to people what is being offered. 

  • Growth of personal and professional networks-

People are subconsciously attracted to others who have similar values, beliefs and perspectives. When someone joins a political party, they may discover many people who share the same perspective. This process can form many new friendships and hence form a meaningful and potentially profitable network of people who can make the world a better place.

  • Makes the process faster-

Political parties help to shape the conversations around governing because they group the conversations into various categories that are appropriate. If you ask 100 different people their opinion, there is a possibility that they come up with the same answer if their political views are the same. 

When this group process is simplified, the governing process can operate quickly and efficiently. 

  • Encourages political participation-

As a democratic nation, India allows its citizens to freely express their opinions and to support the political party that shares their interest and opinion. Unlike China, India supports the public to participate and cast their votes at the polls. Hence, citizens can contribute toward making important changes that will benefit everyone.

  • Ensures distribution of information-

The presence of political parties ensures that the necessary information about governance is available to those who want it. 

  • Encourages people to become politically active-

Everyone has the capability of casting a vote. It takes no special skill to cast a vote but a political party works hard to ensure that people are informed about the ongoing issues and can make empowered decisions about the future of their society and government.

  • Helps decisions be made quicker-

When people can come together in a party and debate over the ideas and policies, they can create legislation faster than if they were to do it alone. This seems to be an advantage if the party is managed properly.

  • Creates checks and balances-

In India, with multiple parties, the parliamentary system is designed so as to bring politicians from major political parties to negotiate over legislation and policies. The goal of multiple party systems is to create a balance of power.

Disadvantages

  • Might have selfish propaganda-

Political parties might carry vested interests and self-centred propagandas that benefit only a few and are not in the interest of the whole nation. This damages the country’s political, social and economic infrastructure. When a certain group pays heed to its members rather than the entire country, it disturbs the nation’s peace and order.

  • Could create factionalism-

A country with multiple party systems could create a difference of ideologies. It could create animosity between parties, encourage jealousy and develop occasional riots which would lead the public to form factions as it would be hard for all of them to agree on certain levels.

  • Could ruin individuality-

Parties may expect its members to support and share their views blindly without questioning the decision-makers. They might not allow them to criticize their opinions or decisions. So, this would prohibit the members from forming individual opinions on certain issues because they are expected to follow what their party is telling them.

  • Could encourage corruption-

It is often seen that parties distribute money to the electorate to secure votes for their candidates during elections. Aside from that, their candidate may be making abundant promises about delivering food, electricity, shelter and all the necessities only to persuade the voting population into electing them. But once they are elected into office, they might never deliver to their promises. They might also place those who supported them during the election, in higher positions in exchange for their votes. 

  • Can become abusive-

Every country may not be a democracy. Communism and dictatorships also have political parties. The purpose of these parties is usually only about enforcement of laws and expectations without taking the public’s consent into consideration or being politically active from an individualized perspective. If a political party has too much strength or leverage, they can become abusive.

  • May prioritize themselves-

Indian political parties and candidates spent nearly $8.65 billion in India’s 2019 general election according to a report by the Centre for Media Studies, making it the most expensive election ever, anywhere. The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party was the biggest spender, accounting for 45-50% of the total expenditure. This figure is almost twice the amount estimated by the Centre for Media Studies for the last general polls in 2014. Just one election in India at those figures is enough to solve its hunger issues for an entire year. This depicts that the goal of most political parties is to prioritize themselves so that they can be in power. For them, these costs are investments.

Famous Political Parties

India has a multi-party system where political parties can be classified as national, state or unrecognized parties. The Election Commission accords the status of the parties and keeps on reviewing it from time to time. All the parties have to be registered with the Election Commission. A special and unique election symbol is allocated to every registered party by the Election Commission.

National Parties

There are currently 8 National Parties in India. A registered party is recognised as a national party if it fulfils any one of three given conditions-

  1. If a party wins 2% of seats in the Lok Sabha from at least 3 different States, or
  2. At a general election to Lok Sabha, the party polls 6% of votes in four States along with 4 additional Lok Sabha seats, or
  3. A party is recognised as a State Party in at least four States.

Currently, the national parties are Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India(Marxist), Communist Party of India, Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party, All India Trinamool Congress and National People’s Party.

State Parties

Owing to rich cultural diversity, India’s political fabric has seen the necessity of state parties which can cater to the interests of their particular states, and are often critical to make or break alliances in the Lok Sabha elections. 

A political party in order to become a state party should fulfil at least one of the following criteria:

  1. A party should win at least 1 seat in the Lok Sabha for every 25 states or any fraction thereof allocated to that State by the Election Commission or
  2. A party should win at least 3% of the total number of seats or at least 3 seats in the Legislative Assembly or
  3. The party should win at least 6% of the total number of valid votes that are polled in the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly, in addition to 1 Lok Sabha seat and 2 Legislative Assembly seats or
  4. If the party fails to win any seat in the State general elections to the Legislative Assembly of the State or the Lok Sabha, the party will still be eligible for recognition if it secures at least 8% of the total valid votes polled in the State.

Currently, there are 53 State parties in India. Some of the famous state-level political parties are Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, All India Forward Bloc, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Aam Aadmi Party.

Unrecognized parties

An unrecognized party is one which does not have the privilege of contesting elections on a symbol of its own. This party has to choose one symbol out of the list of ‘free symbols’ issued by the poll panel during an election. There are more than hundred unrecognized political parties in India.

Example- Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, Amra Bangali, Hindustani Awam Morcha, Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party, Jana Sena Party, etc.

Difference between pressure groups and political parties

Political parties and pressure groups both are very important for making various policies and exist in every nation. However, there is a vast difference between them. The major differences between pressure groups and political parties are as follows-

  • Outside and inside concept-

Pressure groups are the public bodies acting behind the political parties. Whereas, political parties constitute the government. Pressure groups work as an influencing force behind the formulation of policies. So, pressure groups are indirectly involved in governing whereas political parties are directly involved.

  • In terms of pressure-

Pressure groups pressurize the executive and legislature departments to achieve its aims whereas political parties have to coordinate in the working of executive and legislature.

  • Methods used-

Pressure groups use both conventional as well as non-conventional methods. Conventional methods include lobbying, letter writing, marches, petitioning, collecting information for parliamentarians, consultation and giving evidence. Non-conventional methods may be used by groups who are antagonistic in their attitudes towards the state. Direct action can include a number of strategies such as blockading or occupying an area, holding illegal marches, holding talks to raise public awareness and staging theatrical events. Whereas, political parties use only conventional and constitutional methods to execute their duties and functions.

  • Interest-

Pressure groups operate for the interest of their own members. They emerge and dissolve as per the need of certain groups. Whereas, political parties work for national interest and not just for any particular objective. They are held accountable for the welfare of people.

  • Political ideology-

Pressure groups do not necessarily have any particular political ideology. They may be just interested in meeting their demands. However, political parties are always wedded to their ideologies. For example, the Congress party follows the ideology of secularism, socialism and democracy. The communists look after the interests of labourers, peasants and other weaker sections of the society.

  • Contesting elections-

Pressure groups never contest elections. They just attempt to influence the decision of Government or public policy. Whereas, political parties seek to create change by being on the forefront by trying to get elected to public office.

Conclusion

From the above-given information, what we understand is that pressure groups and political parties are indispensable for a healthy democracy. The loose party structure and the nature of the federal system invoke a chain of the continuous relationship between the two. There is some attempt on the part of both to infiltrate each other though an interest group has rarely been able to gain full control over a political party.

The pressure groups help to educate the parties about the interests of its members and provide some cross-fertilization of ideas and manpower assistance. Political parties, in turn, have a prime function of meeting their demands. Though they are not the same, their relationship is markedly close and clear.


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