A D V E R T I S E M E N T
lonely planet of IAS aspirants
At 27, Nayan
Mohapatra doesn’t have to explain why he doesn’t hold a job and has never
earned a single rupee. ‘‘I’m studying for the IAS,’’ is his stock
reply to anyone who wonders what he’s been doing in Delhi for the past three
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A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Not that the ‘what-are-you-doing’ question comes Nayan’s way very
often, given that he allows nothing — no morsels of leisure, walks to the
market, hair cuts — to distract him from realising his goal.
who’s surviving in this mad city of 12 million on the strength of his
ambition, and a lot of generosity and goodwill from his Rourkela-based parents,
has cleared the Preliminary civil services exam twice, but hasn’t made it past
the Mains yet. ‘‘I’m not leaving any room for doubt this time,’’ says
Nayan, who lives on a paltry Rs 1,500 a month, which comes to him through a
money order (postmarked Rourkela) every 30 days.
cook because it’s ‘‘a waste of time,’’ hasn’t been home in three
years because there’s no one to pay his train fare. Sixteen-hour days,
beginning at an unearthly 4.30 am, have run into monochrome months, even years.
His ‘residence’? One corner of a room that measures no more than six feet by
eight feet, which he shares with fellow IAS aspirant Sreenivas: 24, Bihar-born,
first-timer. A wood plank framed in metal serves as a bed (blanket, sheet and no
pillow). Stacked in two neat columns beneath the bed is evidence (a) of his
progress, which is the number of study books he has mastered, and (b) of the
task ahead, which is the number of books he still has to go through.
not a freak case whose HI (human interest, human interest) story you can
despatch to your newspaper for a congratulatory note from the editor. If
anything, he’s the prototype of a sub-species — the IAS aspirant (person
with a ‘mission’), usually from small-town India, who has shifted base to
Delhi, chasing the power dream, sitting in on coaching classes — who has an
existence on the borderlines of city life.
would you do if you didn’t
make it to the civil services?
Take inspiration from these
A certain journalist, formerly with The Asian Age spent the better part
of his 20s studying for the IAS. Upon failing to make it past the
interview stage for the third time, he gave up hopes of joining the
bureaucracy and settled for a career in journalism instead.
Himanshu Kotwal’s coaching classes ‘‘to crack the IAS exams’’
get aspirants signing up by the droves, but he himself is an IAS flunkie.
Four attempts, but he has never cleared the exams. ‘‘I know what
it’s all about, though,’’ he reasons.
A science student at
JNU, who sat in on classes for the Indian Political System only to
improve his IAS info fund, lay down on one of the campus roads, liqour
bottle in hand, crying brokenly for nearly six hours, when his name
wasn’t on the IAS list.
aspirant lives like an ascetic, but aspires for a life flush with comfort. So if
Nayan hasn’t been to a movie theatre ‘‘since Hum Aapke Hain Kaun,’’
it’s because movies remind him of ‘‘how far I have to go.’’ And while
James Lotha, an Economics graduate from Nagaland, cherishes the ideal of a Hum
Do, Hamare Do family, ‘‘I can’t think of marrying or even having a
girlfriend until I clear the exams.’’ The only distraction Lotha allows in
his study area is a scribbled-on poster of Hollywood hottie Alicia Silverstone.
never bump into the IAS aspirant on a regular day. If you want to seek him out,
remember the following must-check-out places. In Delhi University’s North
Campus, they peer at you from youth hostels and anonymous one-room shacks,
mostly dazed, at times revelling in their cubbyhole existence. In N-41, Mukherji
Nagar — a three-storeyed building in the University area — for example, each
austere floor is home to four IAS aspirants (that makes a total of 12 men), all
in their 20s, all in different stages of preparation.
Kolli, a 27-year-old MBA graduate from Vishakhapatnam, gave up his marketing job
with Videocon International, and landed in Delhi to prepare for the IAS. ‘‘I
lived in a hostel in Vizag where everyone was preparing for the civil service
exams, and before I knew it, I was hooked,’’ he grins. An addiction? So it
would seem. Srinivas’ college mate Vijay Babu is a veteran at the IAS exam.
Next year, the qualified mechanical engineer will sit for the Mains (chosen
subjects: History and Geography) for the third time. What if he doesn’t clear
the exam? ‘‘I’ll try again and again till I do,’’ answers Babu,
chagrined at the very thought. While rules are relaxed for SC/ST and OBC
candidates, who command 50 per cent of all bureaucratic posts every year,
regular candidates can take the civil services exam up to four times. The upper
age limit for regular candidates has also been extended from 28 to 30 years. But
while the number of exam takers hovers between one and one-and-a-half lakh every
year, barely 400 make it into the services.
opposite direction from Delhi University is another nerve centre for the IAS
aspirant, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), where a section of the library
has been named Dholpur House, after the UPSC headquarters. Dholpur House is
almost always deathly still, but that’s not because there’s no human
presence. Every table is host to a row of bent heads, busy cramming the brain
with book-loads of information, or taking practice tests.
take the IAS exam as a mission and fight till the end,’’ says A. K. Mishra,
Director, Chanakya IAS Academy, of these young men (and some women). Coaching
classes at the Chanakya Academy, conducted by 96 faculty members, run into six
hours every day, six days a week. Of the present batch of 300 students, says
Mishra, a majority are from Bihar, followed by Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan
and Andhra Pradesh. ‘‘The craze to enter the civil services is strongest
among the youth from these states,’’ he observes. In the 10 years of the
Academy’s existence, 40 per cent of all candidates have been from Bihar.
7.30: Taking bath
7.30 - 8.00: Taking breakfast (food)
8.00 - 11.00: Geography (optional)
11.00 - 11.30: Rest
11.30 - 12.30: News + Magazines
12.30 - 1.00: Lunch (food)
1.00 - 3.00: General Studies
(Polity, History, Science. + Technology, Statistics)
3.00 - 3.30: Rest
3.30 - 5.30: Economics (Optional)
5.30 - 6.00: Preparation for the class
6.00 - 9.00: Class (or General Studies on Thursdays and Sundays)
9.00 - 9.30: Dinner (food)
9.30 - 12.00: Economics (General Studies on Thursdays and Sundays.
Revision of class lectures)
12.00 - 7.00: Sleeping
This is a copy of a
timetable pinned above the study table of an IAS aspirant
There are two
reasons for this: a low rate of private sector investment in these states means
that the government is still the largest employer. ‘‘In a scenario where
private sector jobs, if available, leave much room for insecurity, getting a
government job means you’re made for life,’’ says JNU professor Anuradha
Chenoy. The clout that a Deputy Commissioner or Superintendent of Police wields
is very visible in small towns and villages. Truly, they are the maibaap, the
personification of the power and perquisites that come with a bureaucratic post.
No wonder then, the civil services aspirant will not hesitate to tell you that
he only wants to ‘‘become an IAS’’ because of the ensuing power and
prestige. ‘‘Your idealism does get compromised, but if you’re an idealist,
you’ll be frustrated in the bureaucracy,’’ admits Kolli, adding that
it’s hard to think of the intangible ‘‘good’’ when everyone else
around you (dotcommer, financial consultant, IIT engineer...) is making money.
recalls an incident: a student of hers eloped with another (Scheduled Tribe,
Northeast) a few years ago. The upper caste, north Indian parents of the girl
came knocking furiously on Chenoy’s door, demanding an explanation, vociferous
in their condemnation of the
‘‘good-for-nothing-boy-from-a-lower-caste’’. Two months later, Chenoy
received a wedding invitation from the parents. The boy had ingratiated himself
with them, because he cleared the civil service exams. ‘‘That’s how
powerful the myth of the IAS is,’’ says Chenoy.
a second observation about the social background of the IAS aspirant, which is
directly related to how deeply entrenched the caste system is in a particular
state. From the days of the pre-independence Indian Civil Services till the
mandatory reservation for the ‘underprivileged’ happened, those recruited to
the Indian bureaucracy belonged to the Western-educated, upper sections of
society. While the social base of the administration has now broadened —
it’s a behemoth, size eight million — its elitist sheen, instead of dimming,
continues to be reinforced by the power myth. ‘‘It’s the shortest route to
the highest level of power,’’ says Mishra of the bureaucracy.
offer an interesting take on the socio-economic profile of the Indian
bureaucracy. In a process called ‘Sanskritisation’, it is argued that there
is a tendency among the lower castes to adopt the traits and mannerisms of the
upper castes upon gaining access to the bureaucracy, to alter their historical
social position. It’s a theory that the IAS aspirant often proves correct.
‘‘See, a civil servant will get respect and enjoy privileges whether he is
from an SC/ST or otherwise. I want that respect from my people,’’ reasons
24-year-old Imkong Ao. This Nagaland youth hopes his ST status, which he wears
like a badge, will make his maiden entry attempt into the IAS club ‘‘less
competitive.’’ But a scribble on his wall, which says ‘‘Do or Die —
Work Hard for the IAS’’ gives a clue to Imkong’s determination.
happens when the aspirant becomes the bureaucrat? ‘‘My father’s wishes
will be fulfilled, and everyone in my town will have regard for me,’’ is
what Shivendru Kumar believes. The 27-year-old from Bihar lived through a
‘‘traumatic phase’’ when he failed his first attempt, after which he
shelled out Rs 12,500 to join an IAS study circle in Delhi. The fact that he has
never earned a single rupee so far doesn’t bother him: ‘‘I’ll get into
the IAS, and then we’ll see.’’
clearing the civil services exam is an end in itself. Stories of drunk,
I-made-it men, sprawled on the ground, chanting ‘‘meri life ban gayee’’
have been elevated to the status of IAS lore. The IAS aspirant is not an
idealist, and either does not want to, or think it possible to introduce changes
in the swollen and festering system. A few years of absolute penury and
relentless studying, obviously, are not a big deal, when the power-perquisite
package deal swirls so seductively in your dreams.
the determination, contingencies abound (what if you don’t make it, ever?).
The state civil services are the second option for most, while others, like
Mizoram’s Khawlsiamthanga Khawlaring, 24, have ‘‘reserved’’ a teaching
post in their hometown universities. Santosh, a qualified mechanical engineer
from Madhya Pradesh, says he’s taken up studying for the IAS exams ‘‘as a
challenge’’ — a job with Bharat Petroleum is still waiting. ‘‘At least
I’ll be personally enriched, if nothing else,’’ reasons Santosh, who
hasn’t had a haircut in nine months — ‘‘too much trouble.’’
the IAS aspirant now has another forum to exhibit the information overkill in
his brain: Kaun Banega Crorepati, where the now-famous Harshvardhan Nawathe
recently made his first crore.
MANDER, a former teacher at the Mussoorie Academy, questions the
basis for selection of bureaucrats
I have just
returned from a visit to a remote tribal district that straddles the hills in
the fertile Imphal valley of Manipur. Amidst rich green paddy fields and
forests, the people find themselves trapped helplessly in the unending
cross-fire of the underground and the security forces. The district is located
within the life-line of the thriving trade in trafficking of drug and arms. As
despairing youths destroy their lives by getting hooked to drugs, clans kill
each other in pursuit of mindless, ancient vendetta. Forests are depleted, and a
bloated and corrupt state apparatus criminalises shifting cultivation. In such a
bleak terrain, people have pinned their hopes on an unlikely figure, the Deputy
Commissioner, Sajjad Hassan, a young man, who in a few months has won the hearts
of the ravaged people who live within the district of his jurisdiction.
youth groups swear by him, village people have been touched by his humanism and
courage. He refuses to move around with security, despite threats from persons
in high places with close links to the underground.
Such men and
women are rare in the Indian civil and police services. But they exist. And it
is the unsung, unacknowledged heroism of officers such as this DC in distant
Manipur, that sometimes provides temporary succour to people who have learned to
live mostly without hope. The legal and regulatory regime that has invaded the
lives of ordinary people in the furthest corners of the country, has ensured the
utter and continuing dependence of people on state officials for daily survival.
And yet, people mostly encounter only corrupt, arrogant and arbitrary exercise
of state power as they valiantly struggle to survive.
the elaborate system of recruitment that we have inherited from our colonial
predecessors, finds no place to assess qualities of character in selecting
people into the civil services. What is measured, and that too imperfectly, is
the sharpness of mental abilities and the stamina to work through a long,
arduous and in most ways pointless examination. What is relevant to the real job
in the civil services, is only above-average intellectual abilities, not
academic brilliance. What is most required instead is steadfast courage of
convictions, compassion, empathy, respect for people and democratic traditions,
and unshakeable integrity. The fact that these qualities are unusual in the
civil services, is partly because these are never actually sought in those who
are chosen to join the ranks of the still elite government service. And if they
are found in new recruits, by some happy accident, there is nothing that is done
by the government to nurture these qualities of heart and character. Instead,
battered by frequent transfers, marginal postings, peer pressure, and regular
manifestations of ministerial displeasure, the system does all it can to wear
down these qualities, and to fit the officer into the mediocrity of character
and convictions, that are so characteristic of the mainstream. All but the most
resilient and maverick survive over the years.
What is the
solution to all of this?
People have debated over new systems of recruitment to select people of
character rather than intellectual skills for the civil services, but nothing
has actually changed. There are many who believe that tests of character are
impossible, and instead it is training and nurturing of people of moral fibre
once they are recruited, which is the answer. Yet others believe that training
of men and women who are already past their mid-twenties is futile, even more so
in today’s cynical age. In my own years of service on the faculty of India’s
training institute for fresh senior civil servants, in Mussoorie, my experience
was that young people entering the civil service are very often searching for
meaning and value in their work. I found a great many that I could believe in,
and love, and trust. And as I now travel across the length and breadth of the
country, I find deep satisfaction in the fact that there are many like the DC in
Manipur who continue to cling steadfastly to justice and probity in very hard
circumstances. However, such people remain exceptions, and their tenuous place
within the vastly overgrown and wasteful system of governance, renders them in
the last analysis, utterly ineffective and marginal to larger social processes
of oppression and marginalisation.
In the end,
the hope for people living in poverty lies not so much in finding better civil
servants, although this search should never end, but instead in dismantling the
huge and parasitical superstructure of negative powers of the state over their
lives. It is the hands of ordinary people themselves that need to be
strengthened, to make government more accountable, transparent and responsive to
them. The age of the overarching state must come to an end, and there will be
few tears shed at its demise.