The most important stage in the civil service selection process is the Main examination where the candidates have to write descriptive answers for lengthy questions. The time available is limited and only a disciplined and organised approach will help candidates to complete the papers on time. Candidates have to read and understand the questions, then frame and write answers in the best possible manner. The pressure and time constraint affect the quality of answers and perfection may not be possible. Since candidate’s preparation is based on the syllabus and previous questions, any surprise question can create confusion and panic.
Topic of debate
In this year’s Main examination, there was a question: “What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of secularism?”. This created a furore as many political leaders tweeted about it. It was projected as an ideologically loaded question where the candidate is forced to stick to a particular viewpoint. Usually, these kinds of situations happen during the personality test where the candidates get questions for which they might not be prepared. Particularly questions related to politics and religion create this confusion where the candidate wonder about which stand to take.
During my own personality test, there were questions related to religion as it was part of my optional subject, sociology. Questions on politics, that too on personalities, were also asked. I tried to answer to the best of my knowledge without losing composure.
Why such questions are being asked in the Main examination and interview? Though the job of a civil servant is mainly routine in nature, those who gets into Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service may face critical situations in which there may not be any established procedure to follow. So, one has to think on the spot and take a decision considering all the possible consequences. In a politically charged up situation, one need to be extra cautious while coming up with the course of action to be followed. Similarly, any problems involving two different communities need to be dealt with sensitivity. The best possible option is to stick to the rule of law and make all the stakeholders aware about the due process to be followed. The clear communication of relevant facts can help in dealing with such situations.
Why such questions
We cannot blame the Union Public Service Commission for coming up with tricky questions since the actual job requires a lot of presence of mind. Such questions can check the candidate’s knowledge as well as the ability to tackle out-of-the-box situations. So how exactly one is supposed to answer such questions? By sticking to the facts, of course. Any question in the Main examination as well as any query during the personality test could be answered only with the help of relevant facts. One should address the key factors in the question and analyse them with the help of available information. The different aspects of the question should be mentioned and there need to be a clear conclusion based on the analysis. Similarly, while answering a tricky question in an interview one has to take a clear stand and explain the reason for arriving at the same.
So, an answer for the above-mentioned question: “What are the challenges to our cultural practices in the name of secularism?” should begin with a definition of secularism. In the European context, it is the separation of religion from politics and in India we define it as treating all religions equally without having an official religion for the state. One can mention that from the time of Mauryas to Mughals, India was following a practice of not imposing a single religion. After Independence also, the secularism as a policy hardly affected the cultural practices as we do not even have a uniform civil code. The challenges to our cultural practices, be it the banning of Sati or the women's entry in Sabarimala, happened in light of the “right to equality”. One could conclude the answer by saying that if we had accepted the European version of secularism, it would have been a challenge to our cultural practice but the Indian version of secularism is not like that.
These kinds of questions become a problem if one worries too much about the consequences. Any question can be tackled based on the facts and one should follow it while answering a query as well as dealing with a real-life situation.
(The author is a former IPS officer and a trainer for civil service aspirants)