PRESSURE GROUPS: AN INDIAN STORY
The term ‘pressure group’ is used to define a specific group of people with a particular motive, who are looking to influence the public policy to favor their interests. They fall under the umbrella term of ‘advocacy groups’, and essentially act as megaphones for the voices of the masses.
These groups, formed out of the sheer will of the people, have various rationales. They can be moral, commercial, political, religious and everything in between. Their purpose is to mobilize the popular opinion of the masses in their favor in order to change the law or legislation. They have contributed immensely towards the social, political and economic development of democracies, especially that of India, whose democracy started off with social divisions, defections and detentions.
Now, bluntly put, what’s essentially happening here is that people are being brought together to voice their concerns to the all-powerful government. They are looking for a change through association. This can be heavily analogized with the concept of Unionization pondered upon by Marx and Hegel in their Communist Manifesto.
Coming back to the influence of such groups in the Indian society, in recent times it’s seen that only demands of those reach the right ears who have what the government is looking for, votes. The more the members of a group a party is backing, the more potential voters it adds to its name. This brings us to our main concern: the representation of people. What’s being seen in the Indian context is that only those pressure groups which are backed by the powerful actually get their voices heard. These are generally those which work in the interest of big corporates and political parties. They have the backing, the brawn, and the bucks. On the other hand, we have sections of the society which are relatively underrepresented. This problem of proportion is what is at the core of the politics that revolves around these pressure groups. What has therefore essentially happened is that the very concept of pressure groups, people, and appeal in India has turned upside-down.
An atypical instance of the same is the LGBTQ community of India. It has relatively low depiction in the demography of India, thus the strength in numbers of the pressure groups backing the claims and interests of the same are even lower, which leads to their needs not being highlighted in the mainstream media and thus, neither in the eyes of the legislature.
On the other hand, you have issues which the big and the powerful use to mobilize the masses. These generally incline more towards religion, proving thus that perhaps it is the opium of the masses. We have dedicated pressure and interest groups regarding cow slaughter. There are discussion panels airing during prime time on the media. Developments on Babri Masjid and Gaurakshaks dominate the newspaper columns while marital rapes, juvenile crimes and even the plights of the victims of the Chennai Floods go unreported. The former class of issues has an appeal that can be exploited, the latter, just an appeal from the exploited.
At the end of the day, the world today has become so that these groups themselves look for profit. Basic psychology suggests that individuals must be enticed with some type of incentive into joining an interest group. Some look for power through joining such groups, some go for the monetary and material benefits offered by them, while others simply wait for others to take a stand. Selflessness today has become a virtue to be found only in Amar Chitra Katha.
We have immensely powerful pressure groups backing the interests of cows and bulls while next to none, backing those of humans and human rights.
Giving credit where it’s due, we do have groups which are paragons in terms of what a pressure should be and should do. People like Mr. Bezwada Wilson, a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award 2016, with his Safai Karamchari Andolan, are upholding the essence of pressure groups in a democracy. However, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that, subtle nuances aside, the pressure group of today’s India is not formed out of the will of the people but the will of the State.
As a classic case of the ‘theatre of absurd’, I present to you today’s India, its citizens, and its pressure groups.