The Indian civil service is often called the steel frame of governance because of its role in bringing stability to the system. As it has to serve the second most populous country with a lot of diversity, the very nature of job is challenging as well as demanding. Since we continued with the British system of administration to a large extent, there is a kind of alienation between civil servants and common people. There is an aura about the abilities of a civil servant even among the educated middle class mainly because of this colonial hangover. That is why any civil servant who takes initiative to directly interact with people become immensely popular as it is perceived as someone is taking pains to ascend from the ivory tower.
Don't try to be extraordinary
The aspirant who wants to be part of this elite bunch often feel that one needs to be extraordinary to make it through. Even while preparing for the written part of the examination, certain people avoid popular sources like standard textbooks and government websites. They search for obscure sources to get a variety of points than the rest. During the interview stage, these kinds of people will come up with very peculiar hobbies often and sometimes they just complicate a normal hobby by putting it in a different way in their Detailed Application Form (DAF). An aspirant who practiced yoga ended up writing his hobby as “pursuing spiritual intelligence”. This created some unpleasant situation in the actual interview where the board dig deep into this area and the person had to admit his limited knowledge in the end.
Certain others are out there to project an image of a person who is a responsible citizen with a lot of social consciousness. I had the opportunity to listen to a person who claimed that he is a kind of ombudsman in his locality who helps in grievance redressal of his fellow citizens. Later, that person ended up having enormous corruption charges against him in real life!
In another situation, I came across a person who had a hobby of “collecting information on Gandhiji”. This was strange, but I did not ask him the reasons for keeping such a thing. He was almost boastful about his social commitment and I asked him: “If you have so much of interest to serve society, why is it that you were not part of any such initiatives so far?” He literally shocked me with his response: “Can’t you understand my social commitment by looking at my hobby? I collect information on Gandhiji”. Till this date, I do not understand his logic.
People do all these things in order to impress the interview board to get a good mark. Another logic is that one need to put catch words in the DAF to grab the attention of the board. Certain coaching institutes advice youngsters to prepare innovative solutions for social problems so that one can give a different answer to get that edge.
A general administrative job like that of Indian civil service require people who have the ability to manage human as well as economic resources in the best possible way to keep the system running. For that, the system needs people who have the ability to learn fast. That explains the way the civil service examination has been designed where one needs to process large amount of data. This along with the ability to express things clearly is what is essential for a civil servant. The creativity can be helpful while implementing programmes but most of the time it is the above-mentioned qualities which are needed.
While describing the parameters UPSC mentions “variety and depth of interest” as a desired quality. But it does not mean that one has to artificially build up such an image by giving peculiar answers or putting strange interests. The system looks for candidates with normal intelligence and general awareness. One should be aware about the general societal problems and the welfare schemes. Your answers should be content-rich not unique. So, one need not be different from the rest but should try to be better than the rest.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)