The Indian Civil Services Examination, arguably the toughest nut to crack for Indian students, has attracted a lot of unwanted controversy recently. The ones who pass it acquire direct entry into an elite group which enjoys social status like none other. It takes a hardened individual to clear this examination which has a success rate of nearly 0.3%. Courses from IIT and IIM are generally entry-restricted while courses like Chartered Accountancy are exit-restricted while the UPSC exams are a combo of both, entry as well as exit restricted. What makes it tough is the extent of effort and familiarity required across various fields and subjects. This calls for the best minds to apply and take up roles as an IAS or IFS officer. At the end of the day, we may have a Harvard-educated cabinet minister, but it is the civil servant that runs the country.
The recent row, mildly put, is silly. The UPSC entrance/preliminary exams consisted of a general studies paper and a second paper which consisted of one out of 23 optional subjects until 2011. Since 2011, better sense prevailed among the examination authority and they decided to eliminate the second paper and introduce the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT). This tests an individual’s skills in comprehension, interpersonal skills, communication, logical reasoning, analytic ability, decision making, problem solving, basic numeracy, data interpretation, English language comprehension skills and mental ability. Bluntly put, it prefers aptitude of an individual over his/her memorizing or rote-learning abilities.
Ever since this system was inducted, individuals with Hindi and rural backgrounds suffered due to requirements of English comprehension skills. A hefty amount of students (typical Indian students I might add) who swear by rote-learning were not able to clear the preliminary examination (the CSAT requires higher passing marks then the General Studies paper). Upon realizing their inability to succeed in these exams, they decided to mask their lack of talent by alleging bias. They are now calling for abolishing the CSAT as it favors students with a technical and management background who have greater logical and analytic skills over students from humanities background. The argument doesn’t end here. Students are also alleging a biased and prejudiced attitude of the examiners who are preferring students with superior English language skills and in the process overlooking Hindi language skills.
Now if I were to write my board examinations, can I ask the chairman of my board to set papers as per my abilities so that I may pass the exams with flying colors regardless of my skills? Should he allow mediocre pupils to clear the exam or should he set the papers as per his notion of what constitutes and differentiates an intelligent student from an average one? No one is in a position to distrust or question a board’s chairman’s position and his notions. So can mere civil services aspirants, who as per the examination authority do not possess the ability to become ideal civil servants, pass the examination? I do not think so. Are these aspirants in a position to question the wisdom of the examination authority as to what are the abilities required in a person who has to run the country? Is this the aptitude and the attitude expected from a civil servant? To go on protests and fasts like another Kejriwal. The CSAT is the best decision the authority has taken in some time now and rolling it back would spell doom for the credibility of the next batch of IAS cadre.
We live in a globalizing world and if India were to ever become a superpower, it is the civil servants on whose shoulders the nation would ride. English is the language with which we can communicate with the outside world and its comprehension abilities cannot be compromised. Excelling in English communication can make a great difference for an individual as it opens up an array of opportunities and allows one to foray into the corridors of power. The Chinese premiers, who have decent English speaking abilities, use translators in their conversations in order to stress on the nuances of their conversation. This can be done only in a language one is fluent in. Hindi is not a widely spoken language (not even spoken throughout India), making English mandatory for Indians. It’s better to have civil servants, who usually strike deals with foreign delegations, with enviable English communication skills. After all, the exams test the candidate on basic grade ten English skills and that too comprises of barely ten questions. However, that said, it is true that the translations done in the examination papers were poor and it was one error which must be rectified to ensure a level playing field.
The Modi government must not refrain to playing petty politics over such issues as language. It may seem that the government is laying the ground for the UP elections by appeasing the Hindi heartland but one must hope that that is not the case. Fortunately, the UPSC is an independent body and the recent Verma Committee Report, which it is likely to implement, favors the CSAT and doesn’t promote any bold changes. The Government mustn’t intervene in this matter and if at all they do, it must to break this impasse and deal with a heavy hand against the protesters. The last thing I read was that the Government plans to nullify the marks of English comprehension, an in-between decision. This must not be implemented. Thankfully, even the UPSC has a say in this and can disagree with the Government decision. One can only hope for better sense to prevail.