Everything You Need To Know About Political Parties And Pressure Groups- Upsc Notes

Political Parties and Pressure Groups- UPSC Notes

Political Party

political party is a group of people who share common values, ideology and goals and come together to contest elections and form government. In comparison, Pressure groups or interest groups are organised associations, unions or organisations of people who share common interests.

Political parties are the most visible institutions in a modern democracy, and for most ordinary citizens, democracy means political party. Since multiple viewpoints exist as to what is suitable for the people and how it can be achieved, the political parties try to convince the public; these parties basically reflect the fundamental political divisions in society.

One principal feature of political parties that distinguishes them from other institutions like pressure groups is that the political parties seek to capture power through constitutional means to put their policies into practice. In contrast, pressure and interest groups try to influence government policies from outside.

Everything You Need To Know About Political Parties And Pressure Groups- Upsc Notes

Functions of Political Parties

The following are the characteristic functions of the political parties:

  1. Contest elections: Even though independent candidates can also contest the elections, in most cases, candidates belonging to a political party contest the election. In some countries like the USA, the supporters of the party choose the candidates.
  2. Put forward policies and programmes: Political parties put forward different policies and programmes in the form of manifestos; on that basis, the electors decide which party to vote for. During the formulation of policies, parties reduce the multitude of opinions into a few basic positions.
  3. Decisive role in law-making: Even though the laws are made in the legislature, they are dominated by the members of the ruling party, who usually toe the party line irrespective of their personal opinions.
  4. Role of opposition: Political parties that fail to form government sit in opposition and offer critique to the government policies. They also mobilise opposition against the ruling party and also offer alternative policies.
  5. Shape public opinion: Political parties raise issues of public interest and try to mobilise the support of the public in favour of those issues.
  6. Provide public access to government apparatus and welfare schemes: Political parties act as a link between people and the government. Ordinary citizens often approach their political representatives to get their work done.
  7. Political recruitment and socialisation: Political parties recruit political activists in their fold and nurture them to take up political positions in future. Parties socialise individuals about the democratic process and train them in party politics, coalition building, etc.
  8. Political education and awareness: Political parties play an important role in spreading awareness about political processes and encouraging public participation in political activities.

Types of Political Parties

1. On the basis of ideology

  1. Radical Parties: They seek to establish a new order by overthrowing the existing system.
  2. Reactionary Parties: They hold on to or want to go back to old socio-economic and political systems, which they believe were better than the existing system.
  3. Conservative Parties: They believe in the status quo or very slow change.
  4. Liberal Parties: They seek to reform the existing system; in a way, they follow the middle path between conservatives and radicals.

Note: Political scientists classify reactionary and conservatives as rightists (for ex-BJP), liberals as centrists (for ex-INC) and radicals as leftists (for ex-CPM). These terms came into existence when, in 1789, the French National Assembly members met to draft the constitution; the anti-royalists sat to the left of the Presiding officer and the conservatives and aristocrat supporters sat to the right of the presiding officer.

2. On the basis of organisation

  1. Mass-based parties: They are characterised by their large and diverse membership. They focus on appealing to the masses of diverse sections to win the elections. Their organisational structure is more flexible and less hierarchical. For example- the Indian National Congress.
  2. Cadre-based parties: They rely more on a disciplined and hierarchical organisational structure. Cadres are dedicated and ideologically committed groups of individuals who play a central role in the party’s activities. They have a well-defined ideology and political agenda. For example, the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Note: It should be noted that many political parties exhibit characteristics of both types to a varying degree; hence, they cannot necessarily be categorised into one of these types.

Party Systems and its Types

Party system refers to the structure and organisation of Political parties in a political system. On the basis of how political parties interact with each other in a political setup, there are mainly 3 types of political systems:

  1. Single-party dominant system: In such systems, there exists only one party which rules, and there exists no opposition. Such systems are marked by totalitarianism and curtailment of fundamental rights. For example, China, the Former USSR, etc.
  2. Two-party system: In such systems, two major parties exist; for example, in the USA, two major parties exist, Republican and Democrat.
  3. Multi-party system: In such systems, multiple parties exist, and several parties join together to form coalition governments, for example, Switzerland, France, etc.

Party System in India

The party system in India has evolved over a period of time from a one-party dominant system to a multi-party coalition system. In this section, we will look at the different phases of the party system in India.

1. One-Party dominant system (Congress System)

The dominance of the Congress party till 1967 in the Indian political landscape is described as the “Congress System” by Political Scientist Rajni Kothari. As per him, the system was marked by one-party dominance, lack of effective opposition and the party’s ability to accommodate diverse regional and ideological interests.

  • From 1947 to 1967, the Indian National Congress (INC) was the most popular party at all India levels. It had the advantage of being the sole inheritor of the legacy of the Indian National Movement.
  • It continuously formed a government at the union level on its own till 1967. It also had governments in almost all of the states.
  • However, after the demise of Pt. Nehru and the split in the Party, Congress started facing competition from other parties.
  • In the 1960s, parties like CPI, socialist parties, Jan Sangh, Dravidar Kazhagam (DK), etc., mobilised people on social, political and economic issues, and it led to the defeat of the Congress party in eight states. With this, the dominance of the Congress party in the Indian political system ended.

2. Multi-party System

The vast size of the country and the diverse nature of Indian society and political system make the multi-party system a natural choice. From 1967, with the breakdown of the ‘Congress System’, the political landscape was marked by the emergence of regional leaders and parties in several states.

  • The regional parties represented the aspirations and interests of different regions and groups. The rise of regional parties intensified after the farming communities and backward classes asserted themselves politically, especially after some states granted reservations and the Mandal Commission was constituted.
  • Now, several states in India are dominated by the regional parties. For example, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Jammu, and Kashmir.
  • The dominance of the Congress at the national and state levels has also been challenged by the rise of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) since the 90s.

3. Bi-nodal Party System (Coalition)

  • The contemporary political system in India is marked by the emergence of a bi-nodal system, primarily at the central level and up to some extent at the state level as well.
  • In this system, the government is formed by either the Congress or the BJP with the support of regional parties. It is a type of coalition government with bi-nodal tendencies.
  • The first such stable coalition was formed in 1998 with the formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP. IN 2004, the Congress emulated the same concept and ran a relatively stable Coalition government (United Progressive Alliance) till 2014.
Are we moving towards a “BJP system”?
Political scholar Suhas Palshikar has indicated that the continued dominance of the Bharatiya Janata Party may lead to a “BJP system“, which means the BJP will enjoy the one-party dominance status like the Congress did from 1947-67. The ascendance and dominance of the BJP have made political thinkers consider if the regional parties are on a declining path.

Political scholars have given the following arguments:

           i.         For the first time in 30 years, a party has been able to get a majority mandate; it has reduced the relevance of regional parties in a coalition.

         ii.         The BJP has been weakening the traditional regional parties in states like Bihar (JDU and RJD), Maharashtra (Shiv Sena and NCP) and Uttar Pradesh (SP and BSP).

       iii.         The BJP has also been making inroads in non-traditional states such as West Bengal, Odisha, and Telangana.

However, some academics have doubts about the BJP’s ability to unite disparate groups based on caste and region by establishing the paradigm of majoritarian nationalism, especially in the southern states.

Types of Political Parties in India

1. Ideological Parties

Some parties have clearly defined ideology; For example, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party Marxist (CPM) follow the communist ideology. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) follows the ideology of Hindu Nationalism or Hindutva.

2. “Catch-all” Parties

  • There is a lack of clearly defined ideology in most of the political parties in India. These parties are driven by pragmatism, and their politics is based on issues rather than principles and ideologies.
  • These can be called “catch-all parties” that try to appeal to a diverse section of the masses with a focus on votes rather than commitment to the founding principles of their party. These generally look for short-term electoral gains rather than building long-term social coalitions.

3. Personality-Centric Parties

  • A significant number of political parties in India are organised around a single political leader. Such excessive reverence given to a political leader leads to the overshadowing of the party’s ideology and policies. It also negatively affects the internal democracy of the party.
  • This phenomenon leads to dictatorial tendencies and stumps the growth of next-generation leaders.
  • Dynastic Parties: A large number of political parties are headed and inherited by family members.

4. Parties with parochial interests

  • In India, a large number of political parties are created around narrow interests such as caste, religion, region, etc.
  • While they seek to promote the interests of their constituency, it can undermine the interests of the general public and go against the spirit of national integration.
  • In the worst-case scenario, it may lead to secessionism, endangering the unity and integrity of the country.

5. Regional Parties

  • The rise of regional parties is one of the significant phenomena in the Indian political landscape. They have been playing a major role in the formation of national government at the centre after the decline of the Congress’s dominance.
  • They seek substantive favours like financial packages and ministerial births in lieu of their support. In some cases, they even influence foreign policy; for example- DMK and AIDMK influence government position with respect to Indo-Srilanka relations, and TMC in West Bengal influenced the issue of the Teesta water dispute and boundary agreement between India and Bangladesh.

Increasing Cases of Factions and Defections

  • Factionalism, defection, splits and mergers have become common phenomena in Indian politics. For example, there have been recent episodes of ‘resort politics’ in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, wherein, in order to prevent MLAs/MPs from switching parties, political parties practically lock them up in resorts.
  • This causes instability in government at both the state and central levels, along with the illicit use of money for influencing politicians.

Recognition of Political Parties in India

According to the Election Symbols Order, 1968, passed by the Election Commission, political parties in India are classified into 3 categories, each with a separate set of eligibility criteria:

  • National Parties
  • State Parties
  • Unrecognised Parties

Currently, there are 6 National parties, 54 state parties and 2597 unrecognised registered parties (as of 2023).

The recognition granted by the Election Commission as a National or State Party entitles them to certain benefits.

  • Recognition of Election Symbols:
    1. A state party is entitled to exclusive allotment of its reserved symbols to its candidates in the state in which it is recognised.
    2. A national party is entitled to exclusive allotment of its reserved symbol to its candidates throughout India.
    3. On the other hand, the unrecognised parties select their symbols from a list of ‘free symbols’.
  • Nomination: State and National parties need only one proposer to file a nomination.
  • These parties are entitled to two sets of electoral rolls free of cost at the time of roll revision, and their candidates are entitled to one copy of the electoral roll free of cost during general elections.
  • Benefit in Political Campaigns:
    1. They also get broadcast facilities over Doordarshan and Akashvani (AIR) during general elections.
    2. Parties are entitled to designate ‘star campaigners’ during general elections. The state and national parties are entitled to 40 such campaigners, while registered unrecognised parties are entitled to 20 such campaigners.
    3. The travel expenses of ‘star campaigners’ are not counted in the election expenditure of the candidates.

Everything You Need To Know About Political Parties And Pressure Groups- Upsc Notes

Eligibility for recognition as a State Party

A political party is eligible for the status of a state party if and only if it fulfils the following criteria:

  • At a General Election Legislative Assembly, the party has secured a minimum of 6% of votes in a State and in addition, it has won 2 Legislative Assembly seats;
  • At a General election to Lok Sabha, the party has secured 6% of votes in the state concerned and in addition, it has won 1 Lok Sabha seat from the state concerned;
  • At a General election to the Legislative Assembly, the party has won 3% of seats in the assembly of the state or at least 3 seats, whichever is more;
  • At a General election to Lok Sabha, the party has won 1 seat for every 25 Lok Sabha seats allotted for the state.
  • At a General Election to the Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly, the party has polled 8% of votes in a State (a new criterion added in 2011).

Eligibility for Recognition as a National Party

  • The party has won 2% of seats in the Lok Sabha (i.e. 11 seats) from at least 3 different States.
  • At a General Election to Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly, the party polls 6% of votes in at least 4 States; additionally, it wins 4 Lok Sabha seats.
  • A party gets recognition as a State Party in 4 or more States.Everything You Need To Know About Political Parties And Pressure Groups- Upsc Notes

*National parties as of 2023

Note: Both national and state parties have to fulfil these conditions for all subsequent Lok Sabha or State elections in order to maintain their status.

Regional Parties in India

Regional parties operate in a limited area and pursue only limited objectives. Their base of support is limited to a specific state or region.

  • Advocate for regional interests: These parties focus on addressing local issues and articulation of regional interests.
  • Narrow identity: They identify themselves with a particular cultural, religious, linguistic, or ethnic group.
  • Personality-based leadership: A single leader generally controls them, and often, the leadership is transferred to a family member.
  • Regional priorities: While they may participate in national-level politics by forming alliances with national or state parties, their primary concern remains the regional governance and related issues and the desire for greater autonomy for their region/state.

Types of Regional Parties

The regional parties in the Indian party system can be roughly classified into the following four types:

  • Based on cultural and ethnic identity: Such parties identify with a particular cultural, religious, ethnic or linguistic group and articulate their interests. For example- Shiromani Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, National Conference, Asom Gana Parishad, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Peace Party, and Tipra Motha Party.
  • Breakaway or Splinter Parties: When a faction within the party comes out and forms a new party, they are referred to as a ‘breakaway’ or splinter For example-Rashtriya Janata Dal, Biju Janata Dal, Trinmool Congress, YSR Congress etc.
  • Parties that have a national outlook but lack a national voter base: Such parties are not formed on the basis of parochial interest, but they do not attract a national voter base for various reasons. For example- the Nationalist Congress Party, Samajwadi Party, Republican Party of India
  • Single issue Parties: Some Parties are formed to champion a specific cause. For example- Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in West Bengal demands a separate state of Gorakhaland. Bodoland People Front in Assam demands a separate state of Bodoland.

Rise of Regional Parties in Indian Politics

Barring a few regional parties like the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir and Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, most of the regional parties came up after the independence.

However, the growth of regional political parties particularly picked up after the decline in the dominance of the Congress party at the national and state levels.

This phenomenon of the rise in regional parties can be attributed to:

  1. Failure of the national parties, primarily the Congress party, to accommodate political and economic interests at the regional level.
  2. Wide cultural and ethnic diversity in India;
  3. Economic disparity and neglect of certain regions lead to an imbalance in development;
  4. The reorganisation of the state led to the emergence of more region-specific parties.
  5. The increasing role of caste and religion in politics;
  6. Green revolution empowered certain agrarian communities to assert themselves politically;
  7. Disgruntled leaders of national and state parties who saw more political benefits in having their own party.

The role played by Regional Parties

  • Political empowerment: Regional parties have played a role in the political empowerment of various sections of the society which have been hitherto left out.
  • Increase in political consciousness: Their rise contributed to more public participation in political processes.
  • Checked the dominance of national parties: Their rise has challenged the dominance of national parties, particularly the Congress party.
  • Brought change in the attitude of the national parties: They have compelled the national parties to change their attitude towards regional issues.
  • Influenced National Politics: With the emergence of coalition governments at the centre, the regional parties have influenced national politics as well.
  • Better and stable governance at the state level: Since they are formed at the regional level, they are more aware of the issue of regional interest, and hence, they are able to provide better governance and stable government.
  • Strengthened the federal structure: They have contributed immensely to the preservation and strengthening of the federal structure by demanding greater autonomy.

Flaws of the Regional Parties

  • Over-emphasis on regional interest: Their emphasis on regional interest sometimes comes in the conflict of national interest. For example, the regional parties in Tamil Nadu affect the diplomatic and economic relations with Sri Lanka.
  • Inter-State disputes: Over-emphasis on regional interests gives birth to inter-state disputes. For example- the Cauvery River dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • Rift in society: Articulation of parochial interests may damage the social fabric of the nation.
  • May lead to political instability: The rise of regional parties contributes to coalition politics, which affects the stability of the government.
  • Populism: Regional parties are more likely to resort to populist policies, which may not be beneficial for the economy of the country in the long run.
  • Lack of internal democracy: Regional parties are generally controlled by a single leader, and family members inherit the leadership.

Pressure Groups/Interest Groups

Pressure groups or interest groups are organised associations, unions or organisations of people who share common interests. They work in an organised manner to seek better conditions for their members. They try to influence the different organs of government and other decision-makers to have decisions made in their favour.

Various political scholars have given diverse definitions of pressure groups or interest groups, such as:

  1. Almond and Powell have described them as instruments of interest articulation.
  2. David Truman describes them thus, “Pressure groups are attitude groups that make certain claims upon other groups in the society.”
  3. VO Key held that interest groups are private organisations that are established to influence public policy.

Distinction between Pressure Groups and Interest Groups

Generally, the terms pressure group and interest group are used interchangeably, and pressure groups are considered as a subset of the interest groups; however, there are some basic differences between them.

Interest Groups Pressure Groups
·      They protect specific interests. ·      They protect common interests.
·      They are generally associated with long-term campaigns. ·      They are generally associated with short-term specific campaigns.
·      They do not use extra-constitutional techniques and prefer lobbying. ·      They employ direct tactics like protests, demonstrations, boycotts, etc.
·      It may or may not influence government policies. ·      Their primary aim is to influence the government policy.
·      They are more concerned about protecting their interests. ·      They seek to both protect as well as promote their interests.

By analysing the table, it is clear that all pressure groups are interest groups; however, not all interest groups may be pressure groups. An interest group that aims to achieve its objective by influencing government policies or by putting pressure on the government is a pressure group.

Characteristics of Pressure Groups/Interest Groups

  • Specific interests: The pressure groups are organised, keeping certain specific interests in mind.
  • Collective approach: They emphasise the need for a collective approach rather than an individualistic approach.
  • Limited membership: These groups are joined by a limited number of people since their objective is limited to specific demands.
  • Do not get involved in direct politics: They do not contest elections, nor seek to capture political power or involve themselves in government affairs. Their role is limited to influencing public policy.
  • Use of traditional and modern means: They rely on both traditional means, such as the use of identities like caste and religion, as well as modern means, such as influencing political parties by financing them and sponsoring candidates of a political party.
  • Employ both constitutional and extra-constitutional methods: They use both constitutional and extraconstitutional methods to get their demands met; for example- they try to influence political parties, run awareness campaigns to get public support, and also organise protests, demonstrations, bundhs, etc.

Techniques Employed by the Pressure Groups

  • They seek to mobilise public opinion on issues of their interest; for this, they educate the masses through various means.
  • They employ both constitutional means like legal appeals, petitions, etc, as well as extra-constitutional means like protests, picketing, demonstrations, etc.
  • They also influence political leaders and parties by funding them and sponsoring their candidates.
  • In order to influence public policy, they also resort to lobbying, which also includes influencing senior bureaucrats in the government.
  • They utilise public relations strategies like using media outlets and advertising agencies to influence public opinion.
  • They engage with regulatory agencies and other institutions to get public policy shaped in their favour.
  • They also conduct studies and research to effectively present their point of view.

Relationship between Pressure Groups and Political Parties

  • The pressure groups and interest groups do not seek direct control of power, unlike political parties, which are established to form governments. For example- the RSS may be considered a pressure group, and BJP is a political party.
  • Pressure groups are generally formed to solve immediate issues, while political parties are formed on ideological grounds and have a broader and long-term vision.
  • Pressure groups represent a smaller and homogenous group, while political parties seek the support of a number of diverse groups in order to gain electorally.
  • Pressure groups are generally non-partisan in character; they seek support irrespective of political affiliation.
  • The relationship between political parties differs from one party system to another; for example, in one party system states, the interest groups enjoy fewer rights and opportunities to articulate their interests.

Role of Pressure Groups

  • They supplement the political parties as a representative of the public. They also articulate the interests of groups that are electorally not attractive (minority groups) for the political parties.
  • Provide a responsible criticism of government policies and actions.
  • They also act as a communication link between the government and the public.
  • They provide inputs and expertise during the formulation of public policies;
  • They promote and facilitate the political participation of the public without the need to join a political party.

Pressure Groups/Interest Groups in India

Different types of pressure groups are found in India, such as business groups, trade unions, peasant groups, student groups, teacher’s associations, caste and religious associations, women’s associations, etc.

1. Business Groups

  • They are the most organised, powerful, resourceful and effective interest group in India.
  • They have been present even before the independence.
  • They try to influence the concerned regulatory bodies, licencing bodies and economic industries.
  • They interact with the consultative committees in the ministries and during pre-budget meetings.
  • Such business groups include the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), All-India Manufacturers Organisation (AIMO), and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

2. Trade Unions

  • Trade unions started developing rapidly under the communist influence in the 1920s.
  • They have been able to exert significant influence in the formulation of government policy.
  • In India, trade unions are generally affiliated with political parties. For example- The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) is affiliated with the Communist Party of India, and the Indian National Trade Union Congress is associated with the Indian National Congress.

3. Farmer Organisations

  • The abolition of the zamindari system, land reforms, the green revolution, and the establishment of the Panchayati Raj have been major reasons for the growth of peasant organisations in India.
  • They are often associated with political parties.
  • Unlike trade unions, farmer associations are more localised and do not have a significant presence at all Indian levels due to the interplay of caste factors, language factors, and weak financial position.
  • Some important agrarian associations are Bharatiya Kisan Union (North India), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (Gujarat), Shetkhari Sangathan (Maharashtra), and R V Sangham (Tamil Nadu).

4. Professional Associations

  • They are concerned with the interests of professionals like doctors, teachers, lawyers, etc.
  • For example, the Bar Council of India, the Indian Medical Association, etc.

5. Student’s Organisations

  • Their activities are not limited to issues concerning students or education but also raise issues of general interest.
  • Generally, they are associated with political parties; hence, they also work on behalf of political parties for public mobilisation on various issues.
  • They also act as a launch pad for entry into active politics.
  • Some of the prominent student organisations are Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP, affiliated with BJP), the National Student Union of India (NSUI, affiliated with Congress), and the Student Federation of India (SFI, affiliated with CPM).

Everything You Need To Know About Political Parties And Pressure Groups- Upsc Notes

6. Ideology based Groups

  • They are created to advance a particular ideology.
  • For example- Environmental groups, civil liberty associations, women‘s rights associations, etc.

7. Anomic Interest Groups

  • They are spontaneous groups that emerge in response to some societal, political or economic disruptions.
  • They seek to impose new norms, values and policies.
  • They employ unconventional methods for their articulation, which include assassinations, riots and other violent methods.
  • For example- Naxalite groups, militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir, United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), etc.

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