You might have seen demonstrations, dharnas, and such like activities in your locality, city or State by students, farmers, workers, etc. Some of these activities, you might have observed, are carried by organized groups like Students Union, Farmers Union, Trade Union, Business Association, Teachers’ Associations, etc.
In general, these groups try to press upon the government for the formulation of policies or enactment of laws according to their interests. Yet they themselves do not contest elections. Therefore, you will agree that they are not political parties.
Then what are these? In any country, especially a democratic one, there is a large number of organized groups which, directly or indirectly influence politics and government. The members of such organized groups are united with respect to some specific interests that they tend to advance.
For example, the workers of a factory are organized in what is called the trade union to promote their interests. Similarly, there are other organized groups. These are called pressure groups or interest groups. What are these pressure groups or interest groups? How do they differ from each other? What role do they play in the political system of our country? Let us discuss that.
Pressure groups and Interest groups
You can see below the illustration depicting a rally by the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC). INTUC is an organization 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 organized groups of people who seek to promote their specific interests. Their characteristics are:
- they are well-organized,
- they have certain common interests,
- the interest that unites the members is specific and particular,
- 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 that exerts pressure on the government or the decision-makers for the fulfillment of their interests.
It is important to make a distinction between an interest group and a pressure group. 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 pressurize 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. The following differences between the two groups are significant:
Role and Techniques In the democratic functioning of a polity, 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 boycotting. Have you not seen lawyers, sometimes boycotting the courts, the teachers, their classes? The pressure groups resort to such activities to influence governmental policies.
You have already read that political parties and pressure groups are not the 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 with workers during elections. On the other, it is the political parties that advocate legislation with respect to the interests of the workers.
Do you know that the National Students Union of India (NSUI) provides future leadership to the Congress while the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) does so for the Bharatiya Janata Party? While some pressure groups are linked to particular political parties, there are many which have no linkage to any political party. It is important to understand that the pressure groups are different from political parties. The distinction between the two can be stated as under:
- 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 organization. The political parties are basically political.
- Pressure groups do not seek direct power; they only influence those who are in power for molding decisions in their favor. 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 programs with national and international ramifications.