Popular Struggles and Movements

  • Democracy evolves through popular struggles. It is possible that some significant decisionsmay take place through consensus and may not involve any conflict at all. But that would be an exception. Defining moments of democracy usually involve conflict between thosegroups who have exercised power  and those  who aspire for  a share in power.  Thesemoments come when the country is going through transition to democracy, expansion ofdemocracy or deepening of democracy.
  • Democratic conflict is resolved through mass mobilisation. Sometimes it is possible thatthe conflict is resolved by using the existing institutions like the parliament or the judiciary.But when there is a deep dispute, very often these institutions themselves get involved inthe dispute. The resolution has to come from outside, from the people.
  • These conflicts and mobilisations are based on new political organisations. True, there is an

element  of  spontaneity  in  all  such  historic  moments.  But  the  spontaneous  publicparticipation becomes effective with the help of  organised politics.  There can be manyagencies  oforganised  politics.  These  include  political  parties,  pressure  groups  andmovement groups.


Mobilisation and Organisations

In  a democracy several  different  kinds  of  organisations  work behind any big struggle.  These

organisations play their role in two ways. One obvious way of influencing the decisions in a

democracy  is  direct  participation  in  competitive  politics.  This  is  done  by  creating  parties,

contesting elections and forming governments. But every citizen does not participate so directly.

They may not have the desire, the need or the skills to take part in direct political activity other

than voting. There are many indirect ways in which people can get governments to listen to their

demands or their point of  view.  They could do so by forming an organisation and undertaking

activities to promote their interest or their viewpoint. These are called interest groups orpressure groups. Sometimes people decide to act together without forming organisations.


Pressure Groups and Movements

Pressure  groups  are  organisations  that  attempt  to  influence  government  policies.  But unlike

political parties, pressure groups do not aim to directly control or share political power. These

organisations are formed when people with common occupation, interest, aspirations or opinions

come together in order to achieve a common objective. Some examples of  popular movements in India are: Narmada BachaoAndolan,  Movement  for Right to Information, Anti-liquor Movement, Women’s Movement, Environmental Movement. Likean interest group, a movement also attempts to influence politics rather than directly take part inelectoral competition. But unlike the interest groups, movements have a loose organisation. Theirdecision making is more informal and flexible.  They depend much more on spontaneous massparticipation than an interest group.


Sectional Interest Groups and Public Interest Groups

Usually interest groups seek to promote the interests of a particular section or group of society.Trade unions, business associations and professional (lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc.) bodies aresome examples of  this type.  They are sectional  because they represent  a section of  society:

workers, employees, businesspersons, industrialists, followers of a religion, caste group, etc. Theirprincipal concern is the betterment and well being of their members, not society in general.

Sometimes these organisations are not about representing the interest of one section of society.

They represent some common or general interest that needs to be defended. The members of theorganisation may not benefit from the cause that the organisation represents. These  second  type  of  groups  are  called  promotional  groups  or  public  interest  groups.  Theypromote collective rather than selective good. They aim to help groups other than their ownmembers. For example, a group fighting against bonded labour fights not for itself but for thosewho are suffering under such bondage. In some instances the members of a public interest groupmay undertake activity that benefits them as well as others too. For example, BAMCEF (Backwardand  Minorities  Community  Employees  Federation)  is  an  organisation  largely  made  up  ofgovernment employees that campaigns against caste discrimination.


Movement Groups


As in the case of interest groups, the groups involved with movements also include a very widevariety. The various examples mentioned above already indicate a simple distinction. Most of

the movements are issue specific movements that seek to achieve a single objective within a

limited time frame. Others are more general or generic movements that seek to achieve a broad

goal in the very long term.

In India, Narmada BachaoAndolan is a good example of this kind of movement. The movement

started with the specific issue of the people displaced by the creation of SardarSarovar dam on

the Narmada river. Its objective was to stop the dam from being constructed. Gradually it became

a wider movement that questioned all such big dams and the model of development that required

such dams.


Movements of this kind tend to have a clear leadership and some organisation. But their active lifeis usually short. These single-issue movements can be contrasted with movements that are

long term and involve more than one issue.  The environmental  movement  and the women’s

movement  are examples of  such movements.  There is no single organisation that controls or

guides such movements. Environmental movement is a label for a large number of organisations

and issue-specific movements. All of these have separate organisation, independent leadership

and often different views on policy related matters. Yet all of these share a broad objective and

have a similar approach. That is why they are called a movement. Sometimes these broadmovements have a loose umbrella organisation as well.  For example,  the National Alliance for

Peoples’  Movements  (NAPM)  is  an  organisation  of  organisations.  Various  movement  groupsstruggling on specific  issues are constituents  of  this  loose organisation which coordinates  theactivities of a large number of peoples’ movements in our country.


Pressure Groups’ and Movements’ Influence on Politics in:


  • They try to gain public support and sympathy for their goals and their activity by carrying outIinformation campaigns, organising meetings, file petitions, etc. Most of these groupstry to influence the media into giving more attention to these issues.
  • They often organiseprotest activity like strikes or  disrupting government  programmes.

Workers’ organisations, employees’ associations and most of the movement groups oftenresort to these tactics in order to force the government to take note of their demand.

  • Business groups often employ professional lobbyists or sponsor expensive advertisements.

Some persons from pressure groups or movement groups may participate in official bodies

and committees that offer advice to the government.

  • While interest groups and movements do not directly engage in party politics, they seek to

exert influence on political  parties. Most of the movement groups take a political stancewithout being a party. They have political ideology and political position on major issues.

The relationship between political parties and pressure groups can take different forms,some direct and others very indirect.

  • In some instances the pressure groups are either formed or led by the leaders of politicalparties or act as extended arms of political parties. For example, most trade unions andstudents’ organisations in India are either established by or affiliated to one or the othermajor political party. Most of the leaders of such pressure groups are usually activists andleaders of party.
  • Sometimes political  parties  grow out  of  movements.  For  example,  when  the  Assam movement led by students against the ‘foreigners’ came to an end, it led to the formationof the AsomGanaParishad. The roots of parties like the DMK and the AIADMK in TamilNadu can be traced to a long drawn social reform movement during the 1930 and 1940s.
  • In most cases the relationship between parties and interest or movement groups is not sodirect. They often take positions that are opposed to each other. Yet they are in dialogueand negotiation. Movement groups have raised new issues that have been taken up bypolitical  parties.  Most  of  the new leadership of  political  parties comes from interest  ormovement groups.