Tips on Political Science Optional by IAS Topper Rajat Sen (AIR 319, CSE 2013)

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 (truly speaking).

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)

Paper I

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
b) O.P.Gauba
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 better preparation.

2) Resources:

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.

Paper II

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)

Part B

1. Does the Elephant Dance? (David Malone – great book to read)
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 question).

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.

Courtesy: Gaurav Agarwal's Blog, (IAS Topper CSE 2013)