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17 August, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Pressure groups and our policy-making process

Though domestic pressure groups basically represent and protect the interests of individual groups, their views and opinions necessarily echo a voice of a portion of electorate
Pressure groups and our policy-making process

In any democratic practices, pressure groups or interest groups evidently play a potentially vital role in dictating and influencing public policies. Being an inseparable part of governing system of representation, pressure groups’ say in democratic transaction lends a bigger hand in the process of policy making in that they initiate and precipitate views that eventually find their echoes in the public policies. Pressure groups are usually divided into two broad categories-domestic pressure groups and global pressure groups. While the activities of the domestic pressure groups are concerned with domestic policies pertaining to the interests of the group in question, the multi-national or global pressure groups are involved in multi-dimensional engagements covering wide-ranging issues across the globe.

Pressure groups’ direct involvements in and interference with the legislation process are constitutionally permitted practices in the world’s largest and most stable democracies like ones in the USA, UK and India. The much talked of lobbying culture in the US democracy, despite huge criticism and controversies, has been interpreted by US courts as constitutionally protected free-speech. In free-wheeling democracy of the USA, any interest group or even individual both from home and abroad can hire lobbyist firms to speak for their cause especially in the US Congress. This is a practical example of pressure groups’ direct access to legislative process of policy-making.

Though domestic pressure groups basically represent and protect the interests of individual groups, their views and opinions necessarily echo a voice of a portion of electorate, whatever small it may be, and these voters participate directly in bringing the legislators into power which is why they ethically deserve the right to an access to public policies. Thus pressure groups like political parties provide link between the government and people and the difference between pressure groups and political parties are most often blurred and the only obvious departing point between them is that pressure groups, unlike political parties, usually do not field candidates for national elections. The power and potency of pressure groups have become an indispensably unavoidable reality in any truly democratic entity today. In the practical panorama of Bangladesh, the overarching influence of some pressure groups is conspicuously noticed. Pressure groups like students represented by different bodies, vehicle workers’ and owners’ association or CBAs etc. fiery presence on the bargaining table has even achieved many things once thought to be unachievable.

Pressure groups’ act as both blessings and banes depending on their avowed objectives and the instruments they realize these goals. For instance, historically, students’ bodies are the largest and the most powerful nonprofit pressure groups in Bangladesh. In the evolution of independent Bangladesh students’ outstanding contributions and supreme sacrifices are to be reckoned with high serious respect and dignity once we weigh the overwhelming pressure they put collectively against the oppressions and injustices since the British India.  Particularly, in1948, 1952, 1962, 1969, 1971 and 1990 are clearly the landmark years when students evidently made their supreme sacrifices in pressurizing the then autocratic rulers to yield to their charter of demands. All through these years their charter of demands instead of protecting their group interests only echoed in bold overtones the genuine voice of the mass people. Aren’t today’s democratic practices and policies direct derivatives of their long-drawn-out struggle of putting mounting pressure?

In contrast, the role and activism of some other pressure groups pose a diametrically opposed picture. Pressure groups like Public Vehicle Owners Association, Public Vehicle Workers association, Hawkers Associations etc., for example, typically serve their respective group interests instead of reflecting the voice of the people. Yes, it is their democratic right to protect their group member’s interests and that any democratic culture allows it to do. However, whenever any irrational demand of any particular group offends and ignores the genuine concerns of the overwhelming majority it has to be treated as a criminal offense even in the most open-ended democracies.

For example, everyone wants safe driving for road safety in Bangladesh. If the public vehicles’ drivers drive in the wrong format at their own sweet will and kill people at random, their demand of getting scot-free is blatantly a criminal offense. We should always remember that the difference between accident and murder must not be blurred. Debate may continue but cutting off head just for headache is absolutely an insane solution.

 Both in domestic policies and in external relations issues pressure groups are found outspokenly vocal in any healthy democratic practices. Even in autocratic and authoritarian systems where all outlets of free speech are silenced ruthlessly, we here the echoing voices of pressure groups ringing in undertones round the corner. Thus, standing by the side of the people either in group formation or in full-fledged formation especially in time of real need, pressure groups’ voice essentially becomes the true representative bubbles of the people.

Multi-national pressure groups’ relentless activism and campaigning have radically changed many crucially important policies across the globe. For instance, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace etc. have been working as ever-vigilant voice in their respective areas of activism. Practical instances of these groups’ remarkable successes are not far to seek.

In its ceaselessly invigorated campaigning for safe environment, Greenpeace has evidently been successful in making the countries agree to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Another enviable success of environment pressure group Greenpeace is its legendary role in curbing the mindless dumping of industrial wastes and effluents into the sea and the deep oceans. By acting both proactively and reactively in favor of a livable planet, Greenpeace has eventually become a people-friendly representative voice seeking for a secure planet for living.

In safeguarding and protecting human rights globally, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been doing quite a commendable job over the years. These global pressure groups minutely monitor human rights situations even in the remotest corners across the globe and record the slightest violations instantly. With a view to putting pressure on the concerned governments they mobilize global public opinion against the violations and thus help bringing the government back to the negotiating table. In fact, these pressure groups have become instrumental in upping the global human rights index.

Undeniably, pressure groups constitute the inseparable organs of effectively workable democracy. These groups practically work as psychological deterrent before the public policy planners and makers preventing them in doing excesses and injustices. Reciprocally, the legislators or the policy makers are expected to scrutinize the authenticity of pressure groups’ raised issues and demands in the light of mass people’s voice. Thus, through the process of reciprocations and interactions the final democratic deal is struck which is essential for the survival of healthy democracy.


 The writer is Assistant Professor of English, Bogura Cantonment Public School & College.




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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