Tips on Political Science Optional by IAS Topper Rajat Sen
(AIR 319, CSE 2013)
Hello everyone. Certainly, there is a real sense of
satisfaction after the grueling fight against the mammoth syllabus and finally
finding myself in that sacred PDF. Well still not that uber satisfaction
acquired but still enjoying each day since the holy 12th June, 2014. Well in
proportion with the overhype surrounding this exam, ever since the qualification
there has been a lot of praise and adulation all around and effect is such that
soaking in Delhi heat seems no less than a beach holiday in Bahamas. A gazillion
calls ranging from congratulations of loved ones to newly found relatives and
friends has tested the limits of android in my phone. And the bills of parties
since then have rendered a bigger fiscal deficit than Uncle Sam. Overall, these
events certainly mean that something has changed and smiley faces of parents and
family members confirm that the change is for better.
Going further, first ten days following the results passed in
a moment. And then suddenly marks were displayed. Almost all of us including me
were shocked by the composition of marks. Frankly speaking, most of the
qualified candidates still don’t have many clues about the marks they have
secured in most of the papers. In my case, shock was a bit low score in
GS/interview and a bit high score in political science. As few more days passed,
I came to know that I have secured the highest marks in Political Science and
International Relations(PSIR). Another round of phone calls/messages started
(thankfully to Shubra mam releasing message which had my phone number). An
enthusiast from Mysore even called at 2:15 AM to congratulate me and asked for
some life saving tips to score highest in the subject. Since then, my wife makes
sure my phone remains at silent mode after 11 PM. Well, overall, calls for
sharing my grand strategy of Political Science were growing.
Of course such things are very much expected from the
qualified gentry. It also prompted me to look back at the tumultuous time of
preparation when there were always a lot of question in the mind regarding the
strategy of various papers. What to read? What to skip? Where to read from?
Which source is trustworthy? And a hell lot of other questions. Also, there was
a will to share my tryst with PSIR as I am a science student/engineer and have
no academic link with political science throughout my whole career. And today
after securing top marks in Political Science and International Affairs in civil
services exam there is a sense of satisfaction (of course with a bit of pride)
as the hard work done in the field of International affairs since last 10-12
years has finally paid off.
Before coming on to nuts and bolts of political science
papers, first let me disclose what prompted me to take this subject. I am an
active news follower of national and international affairs since my childhood.
And India’s lower stature in the world always prompted me to look outside the
country to see why we are in such a state. This had sparked my interest in
international affairs/history and I follow it religiously. I don’t have any date
of origin but I have faint memories of issues in Yugoslavia in early 90’s,
bombing of Iraq in 1998. My first comprehensive international coverage was
following every posssible detail of IC 814 hijacking in December 1999. I was
just 13 years old at that time but followed the event as if my life savings were
in that ill-fated Indian Airlines plane. Words like Kandahar, Taliban, Maulana
Masood Azhar etc have since been printed in my head. I had gathered almost every
bit of knowledge that I could possibly do at that time. But as I belonged to a
very small town and in the absence of internet not much information could get
mustered. Sincerely speaking there were a lot of unanswered questions in my mind
but in that pre-internet era and in such a small town it was really difficult to
quench my thirst. Still, my interest kept on increasing and as events kept
unfolding, the set of unanswered questions increased exponentially. Real
breakthrough came in 2004, when I came to Delhi College of Engineering and got
access to decent internet connection. Google, Wikipedia and this whole web of
knowledge started answering so many questions while opening new ones and links.
This resulted in a chain reaction and I went on reading almost every issue on
international affairs along with its history. By my graduation in 2008, I was an
international affairs hawk. I used to cover every international event sincerely.
Here I would like to remind that I had still not heard about any political
theory or any academic link. My knowledge here was pure factual with little
scope of analysis as I was still unaware of real theories and ideologies behind
all the international events that I had read. Meaning of words like Marxism,
Fascism, Socialism were still limited to dictionary lines. I had not even heard
about famous political thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Lock etc. To sum
up the above lines, after cricket, I had found made foundation of another hard
core interest which had settled and consolidated in my thoughts.
After graduation and while working in Mumbai, when I started
to think seriously about Civil Services, the choice of Political Science as one
of the subject became natural after reading the syllabus. Rather I would say
that love for International affairs, which was sparked by nationalist Indian
feelings, became the main reason for leaving a good career and jumping on this
civil services wagon. To sum this up, in my case, I did not choose a subject to
qualify civil services exam rather I chose to appear for civil services exam
because of the love for this subject.
So well this was my background regarding Political Science as
my choice. It was keen interest. So while discussing the strategy for the
subject and the exam my first point is that one must thoroughly look at the
syllabus and his interests while choosing a subject. Of course this may not be
true for all but if one really has an interest in a subject he will surely be
able to concentrate better.
Now considering one has chosen his subject as Political
Science, let’s unlock the strategy to bell this cat. I have tried to share the
best of the sources and points that I have personally thought while preparing
this subject. Though I will admit that given the uncertainties in the UPSC
paper, I personally may not be able to score similar marks even I appear again
Note: I have written dynamic and static in each section below. It
denotes the amount of content which is purely from books (static) or it is very
much dependent on current events (dynamic)
Part A: (100% static)
1) One must sincerely prepare notes and cover the syllabus completely. While
preparing notes multiple resources must be seen.
2) Primary resources:
a) Shubra Ranjan Mam notes
c) Brian Nelson (I had prepared my initial notes regarding western political
thought from this book)
d) V.R.Mehta (Indian political thought)
e) IGNOU MA notes and material.
f) Sushila Ramaswamy
I had thoroughly prepared this area and had done a lot of
answer writing. As this area is purely static one must really practice well and
strive hard to maximize his score here (dynamic area of paper 2 can be tricky at
times). While practicing answers, one must ensure habit of looking at the
question which has been asked. One must write what has been asked and strictly
avoid displaying the vast knowledge on the topic. Many a times we tend to write
the whole theory while only a fraction is asked.
Q 1 (b) “Original Position”. (PSIR Paper I – CSE 2013)
One must write only about the original position that has been asked. Many
friends I know had detailed a good deal about Rawl’s theory, which means that
you know the concept of Justice but still it’s not going to fetch you the marks.
In all this section is purely based on your knowledge about the theories and
thinkers. So our analysis is less required and real factual points that one has
learnt must be given.
Part B: (75% static, 25% dynamic)
1) This area is more or less in continuity with the Part A
with respect to the method of preparation. One more point that candidates can do
is to keep tab of any constitutional development or any such issues related to
Indian polity. Questions are sometimes linked to current events and can help in
1) Oxford Companion for India Politics. (shorter version available in
students companion for Rs. 500)
2) B.L.Fadia (my main book)
3) IGNOU material
4) Shubra Ranjan mam notes
I must add one more point that I feel has fetched me some
extra marks in this section. While substantiating my answer, I had mentioned
real examples which have happened earlier. In my opinion, this gives a real feel
to the examiner and he gets a proof that the candidate is really connecting with
the question (if the example mentioned is correct and relevant). So mentioning
examples (only where required) can add sheen to the answer.
Q 6 (c) Examine the role of Supreme Court as final interpreter of the Indian
constitution. (PSIR Paper I – CSE 2013)
I had mentioned few examples too along with the answer. I think it had proved
my point well.
Again as mentioned in Part A, this section is majorly based on your knowledge
about the polity of India.
Many topics like following 9, 10 and 11 has dynamic elements too. One must be
aware of such issues that are happening around. This area also helps in Paper 2
of GS. So there is further incentive to cover this section thoroughly.
9) Caste, Religion and Ethnicity in Indian Politics
10) Party System: National and regional political parties, ideological and
social bases of parties; patterns of coalition politics; Pressure groups, trends
in electoral behaviour; changing socio- economic profile of Legislators.
11) Social Movements: Civil liberties and human rights movements; women’s
movements; environmentalist movements.
After reading the introductory part of my write up, one must
have guessed that my real paper and strength is Paper 2. Well, yes 133 marks in
Paper 2 has really given a hearty solace as I feel that nature has personally
acknowledged my work in this area and has rewarded me with such treasure.
Part A: (50% static, 50% dynamic) & Part B: (20% static, 80% dynamic)
Section A has mixed areas. It has topics 1, 4, 5 and 6 which
are more or less static and emulate the basics of Paper I. But then topics like
7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 have a lot of dynamic character. In my case, my historical
knowledge about international affairs has certainly aided in fetching some extra
marks. So I would suggest one to dig a step into history to improve one’s
concept (one must refrain from getting too emotional and read hell of a history
about a topic).
Section B is more or less completely dynamic. Just that topic
1 and a bit history of all relations are static topics. That is written
syllabus. But if we talk about the questions that come in paper, all questions
are heavily dynamic. This section requires very good follow up of current world
events and it is really fruitful if one can interconnect the issues. And to be
able to do that one must dig a bit of history. It is suggested to read articles
from many international newspapers (not every day and not all articles). I would
suggest to daily check world section of telegraph, new York times,
washingtonpost, Xinhua. On an average one will be lucky to get one article on
current international discourse(including all above newspapers). Though it may
sound a lot of effort, 5-10 minutes of searching followed by 20 minutes of
reading is what is required each day). It also helps in Paper 2 GS.
Sources: Part A
1. Globalisation of World Politics by Baylis and Smith
2. Global Politics by Andrew Heywood
3. IGNOU notes for Theory portion
4. General Internet reading for dynamic topics (with a bit of history)
1. Does the Elephant Dance? (David Malone – great book to
2. Indian Foreign Policy: Retrospect and Prospects by Sumit Ganguly
3. Rethinking Indian Foreign Policy: Challenges and Strategies by Rajeev Sikri
4. Current reading/Wikipedia/google
Further, mentioning examples wherever required may help in increasing the
quality of answer. As this area is from international affairs, it is very much
affected by the current events. So it is highly recommended to follow current
developments in the world politics. New topics like environment, terrorism etc
can be studied from general internet material and also from Andrew Heywood.
Again highlighting the point, that answer must be in consonance with the
question. Do not expect good marks while writing anything on the topic. Focus
should be on the relevance of your point as per the question asked.
Q 1(a) Identify the elements of change in India’s foreign policy. (PSIR
Paper 2, CSE 2013)
One must focus on the keyword “elements of change”. Question
has not asked about contemporary Indian foreign policy or any other such issue.
While mentioning “elements of change” I had mentioned examples also. This I
think had better presented my answer and examiner must had been convinced that
the candidate knows what has been asked.
Q 1(c) Examine the recent developments in India-Japan relationship.
While answering such questions one must try to think a bit
out of the box. Most of the candidates will write about the current highlights
of the India-Japan relationship. Now as far as knowledge of any political
science student’s is concerned, all are line by line aware of the recent
developments in India-Japan relation (including all major one’s). So how are we
going to score better marks when most good candidates know such similar salient
points? This is where the difference could be made. In his question, as per my
analysis, besides those salient points of recent development there is need to
mention few lines about reasons for change (primarily China) along with desire
of both the nations to look each other as political allies (not just economic
allies which is prevalent in today’s world). So this way the answer can be made
a bit more logical and may fetch 1-2 marks extra (which is 10%-20% of the
So such points and out of box thinking in this section may
help in increasing the quality of the answers. Further as repeated earlier,
answer writing must be thoroughly done after preparing good notes. Remember “the
fairest of the ink is brighter than the best of the memory”. So whatever be your
IQ do not entirely trust your memory and better practice.
Gaurav Agarwal's Blog, (IAS Topper CSE 2013)