Pressure Groups: Definition, Types, Characteristics, Functions, Examples

Pressure groups are defined as organised groups that have a strong influence on the public and the making of government policies. They are different from official government parties as they do not present themselves as electoral candidates. Harry Eckstein has defined this as “…any organized group which attempts to influence government decisions without seeking to exercise the formal powers of government.” Rather they seek to influence the individuals who have been elected to implement changes for a particular cause. Pressure groups exist all around the world and serve different purposes.

What are Pressure Groups?

Pressure groups are also known as ‘interest groups’, ‘lobby groups’ and ‘protest groups’ this is because not a lot of people look at the name pressure groups fondly, it insinuates that there is actual binding pressure exerted to achieve their goals, which is not entirely true. The aim of such groups is to influence people of power and give the general public a platform to fight for the laws they want. In a way, these groups can be seen as the middle man. They work mainly by organising public campaigns, rallies and by lobbying governments to make changes. Such groups are formed when individuals with similar ideologies, opinions or occupations come together in unison to achieve a common objective.

Pressure groups examples

Types and Characteristics

According to Gabriel Almond, pressure groups can be categorized into four broad categories:

1) Associational groups,

2) non-associational groups

3) Institutional groups

4) Anomic groups.

Associational groups are formed for a definitive cause that supports a particular group. They have a distinctive name, headquarters and a political ideology that reflects the beliefs, values and characteristics of the people or cause they represent.

Non-associational groups, on the other hand, lack the formal structure that associational groups follow. Their activity is largely dependent on the social issue at hand- racial, ethnic, linguistic and class issues are a few examples. These groups reflect the largely unvoiced issues related to the sections mentioned above. Institutional groups are primarily formal and comprise individuals from any profession. They perform an important role in the country’s legislative process and exist mainly within the government.

Lastly, anomic groups are groups that usually originate spontaneously from a particular event. These are generally groups that are rooted in the frustration felt by the people and can manifest as protest groups, street riots, student demonstrations, etc. The existence of these groups is to create pressure on the country’s existing political system and act as a voice demanding for rightful change. However, the democratic nature of such groups can be argued against. Certain groups are elite, upper class, privileged individuals, and so the narrative of their issues will reflect the same. They often do not have a system to choose their representatives or leaders, and so the question of who holds power in such groups is important to contemplate.

Although India’s pressure groups are not as well developed as compared to the ones in the U.K or U.S, they do exist in various types and have influence over government policies.

Types of pressure groups

  • Business Groups– In India, business groups are considered to be the most influential, organized and effective pressure groups. These groups are independent and are not affiliated with any political party and agenda. Moreover, they have their own resources, which allow them to fund their existence. Ministries consult members from business pressure groups for advice. Pre-budget meetings are an example of a scenario where such groups are incredibly valuable. Their input is taken into consideration to help in budget formation. Examples include the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and the Industry (FICCI) and the Associated Chamber of Commerce.
  • Trade Unions– Alternatively known as labour groups, trade unions have been present since before Independence and play an important role in policy formulation concerning the working class. They centre their movements around class-based issues and policies and laws regarding the industries. Trade unions have been particularly important in establishing class consciousness within the citizens. Examples include: The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), All India Trade Union Congress (Communist Party of India) Read More: Trade Unions
  • Agrarian Groups– Agrarian or Peasant groups are more present in regional or local unions compared to a nationwide scaled pressure group. They exist to protect the well-being and rights of the farmer community. Therefore, their demands are related to the procurement prices, subsidy related issues, tenancy and territorial issues and so on. Examples include The Bharatiya Kisan Party, Hind Kisan Panchayat and All India Kisan Sabha.
  • Student Organization – Student organizations represent not only the issues and grievances faced by students but also other critical issues. These pressure groups have existed prior to Independence and still continue to influence government policies. A majority of these pressure groups are affiliated with a political party, and so their political agenda is reflective of that. Examples of student organizations include the National Students Union of India, the All India Students Federation and the Students Federation of India.
  • Religious Organizations – Religious pressure groups base their political agenda around their religion and have a narrow perspective that is anti-secular. Example of such groups include organizations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Brahmo Samaj.

Characteristics

Pressure groups centre themselves around specific interests. Each pressure group, as described above, organizes itself based on the views and interests of the people/ cause that they represent. Therefore, all of the members within the group share a common goal and interest. These groups often arise out of increasing pressure and demands on resources because of the frustration felt by the people of the community. It could be because of lack of resources, lack of representation, unfair laws/policies and so on. They exist to bridge the gap formed by political groups due to their negligence and inadequacy.

Pressure groups incorporate both modern and traditional techniques when exerting pressure on government officials. They operate on a scale that corresponds to the cause. Therefore, groups can be built on a local, regional, national and/or international scale. The objective of such groups is to influence political or corporate decisions and affect policies to benefit their cause. It can be argued, therefore, that pressure groups play a vital role in establishing public relations with the government and in order to do so, they keep a close watch on the activities of the government. The most important characteristic of pressure groups is that they are independent of the political system. They do not stand in as representatives during elections; more often than not, these groups are non-profit voluntary organizations.

Pressure groups: Function and Importance

Now that the nature of pressure groups and the various types have been established and discussed, it is important to understand what they do and why they are a crucial element of the political structure. As mentioned earlier, it plays a vital role in establishing a relationship or pathway between the people and the government. The people’s grievances and hardships are brought to their attention, and officials alter their policies around them. They help minorities raise their voice and this is manifested in the form of organized protests, sit-ins, campaigns and so on.

As they specialise in specific niches, these groups collect and gather relevant information which is used when making administrative decisions. For example, representatives from business groups can offer insight into financial decisions and the general pattern within the business industry. Moreover, as they keep a watchful eye on the activities of the government, corruption and other such harmful activities will be uncovered. This will allow the country’s people to know what exactly is happening with regard to government affairs.

From a sociological perspective, pressure groups act as agents of political socialisation. For example, workers and those who do not have access to information regarding their rights and administrative procedures are sensitised by these pressure groups. Labour unions widely speak about class-based issues and instil class consciousness within the people. Overall, they help improve the quality of governance.

Pressure groups in India and UK

Pressure groups in India and UK function in somewhat similar ways. The purpose they serve is the same, and the methods they take on to achieve their needs- demonstrations, campaigns, organized protests- are similar as well. However, the way that pressure groups are structured can be argued to be different. Pressure groups in Britain can be outsider groups or insider groups. Outsider groups do not have the support of the government and rely on media coverage to send their messages, whereas insider groups have the support and attention of the government and are usually approached to solicit advice. An example of an insider group is the Confederation of British Industry (CBI)- they do not engage in activities like protests and marches. Rather their work is done behind the scenes. It is far more structured than compared to the pressure groups that exist in India.

Prathyusha Madhu is a 19-year-old undergraduate student at FLAME University, currently pursuing Psychology and Sociology. Her interests lie in poetry and music.