Dr. P. Kanagaraj, a political science professor, believes in serving society by providing free coaching and mock interviews to civil service aspirants from across India. K. JESHI reports
Q: Why does Coimbatore have such a pleasant climate?
A: Coimbatore is situated across the Palghat gap. When the South West Monsoon travels across the Palghat gap it brings rainfall to the region and makes it pleasant.
Q: Why do pump and motor industries flourish in Coimbatore, and what else has contributed to the city’s growth?
A: The topography is that of eroded mountain type. The rivers and streams run deeper here , and so you need motors and pumps to draw water. This paved the way for pumps and motors industries. The region has clay soil, suitable for cotton cultivation, and that led to a boom in the textiles industry. The advent of modern medicine also helped. in the growth of the city too. Coimbatore was once a plague-infested region, and the only solution was prayers (Plague Mariamman temples abound in the city). Till the 20th century no one wanted to settle here. But when cost-effective treatments were made available, it paved the way for Coimbatore’s overall development..
“The civil service aspirants from the region are often asked such questions at their final interview,” says Professor P. Kanagaraj. He is the associate professor of political science at Government Arts College. We are at the Higher Study Centre of the Corporation building on Nanjappa Road, from where he conducts free coaching classes for students preparing for the Civil Services exams. “Questions on man- animal conflict in Valparai, Anaikatty, and Marudhamalai, on G.D. Naidu, and on political leaders from the region such as C. Subramaniam are common too,” he adds.
Kanagaraj brings serving bureaucrats from all over India to conduct mock interviews. “Interview is a personality test — an engaging conversation, an autobiography. The best strategy for the interview is to know thy self,” says Kanagaraj. “One should also know something substantial about everything. General knowledge and specific knowledge in chosen areas is a necessity.” Kanagaraj knows. He has appeared twice for the interview. “I lived in Delhi for eight years to complete my post graduation and Ph.D. It was a great learning experience. And I share it with aspiring students.”
He has authored a book called Achieving success in IAS interviews — a primer for aspirants. He writes columns on political issues in newspapers, and contributes to academic journals on topics such as environment, human rights and democracy. “Mock interviews are crucial,” he adds. “After rounds of intensive classes on state issues, national and international politics, economy, science and technology, our students go through 20 rounds of mock interviews.” He says with pride that 30 of his students have cleared the exams and are now civil servants.
Kanagaraj stresses that honesty is essential in interviews. “There should be no dodging, or misleading answers. I advise my students to adhere to constitutional values of secularism, federalism, and sovereignty. They should know their fundamental rights. The interviewers don’t entertain sectarian, communal, caste or political commitments. Hobbies and extra-curricular activities fetch marks. If face is the index of the mind, hobby is the index of your personality,” he points out.
A political science professor for 14 years, Kanagaraj recalls how his coaching classes began with just eight students in 2008 at his home. “When the numbers increased, I started taking classes after college hours at the Government Arts College. When Anshul Mishra (former District Collector) visited us, he saw students seated on the floor. He moved us to the Higher Study Centre through an MoU signed between the Corporation and the College.” Now, there are over 200 students coming to this centre to prepare for the prelims, the mains and the final interview from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra, Chandigarh, and Delhi.
Classes are conducted on four weekdays and on Sundays. “After the three-hour class, there are interactions with successful people. In the last four years, I have missed only three Sunday classes,” he smiles.
His students come from diverse backgrounds. They are doctors, engineers, police officers and lawyers. “Questions on the political history of Tamil Nadu are frequent for students from Tamil Nadu. We tell them about the impact of cinema on politics, the self-respect movement, Dravidian politics, the Dalit movement, and feminism in Tamil society…”
Serving Civil Service officers such as S.Sasikumar, A.Vasantha Kumar, Mariam Sadhiq, Sylendra Babu, and Anshul Mishra have encouraged his endeavours. “I interact with the student community in Corporation schools, colleges and universities. I have reached out to over 16,000 students, discussing with them personality development, soft skills, and how to gain expertise in their chosen fields.”
Kanagaraj prefers to call the IAS exams, not an exam of recruitment, but one of elimination. “Every year, four lakh students appear for 800 vacancies. And no one can crack it at the first attempt. Three to four years (six to seven hours a day) of preparation is compulsory. Begin with reading newspapers. Sixty per cent of questions come from there and the remaining from the NCERT school books.”
For Kanagaraj, providing free coaching is his way of serving society. “I believe that knowledge is for sharing, and not selling. The 21st century is India’s century. Civil services are the steel frame of India and in this context we want to create officers, empower youth, promote change, and build the nation.” He concludes, “Earlier, students from smaller towns in south India travelled all the way to Delhi to realise their dream. Now, students come to Coimbatore, even from Delhi. That is an achievement.”
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Mock Interview panel
A. Vasanthakumar, IRS
Commissioner of Income Tax
I play a participative role. Professor Kanagaraj helps civil service aspirants. It is important that the knowledge quotient delivered is free of cost. So, everyone stands to gain out of Kanagaraj’s coaching classes.
I have conducted about 10 mock interviews. As panellists, our role has been to help students address an issue in totality. We normally allot 30 minutes for a candidate. We evaluate their merits and demerits, and cover the weaker points, not just the answers, but also their attitude. Aspirants should cultivate basic knowledge of the Indian political system, the economic and societal scenario right from their school days. There should be a quest. What I insist on is determination and dedication to achieve the goal. And, even if you fail, you gain immense knowledge to pursue other avenues. Knowledge gained is sustained.
Mariam Sadhiq, IAS.,
Joint Commissioner (Enforcement),
We got an opportunity to meet an IAS officer only after we cleared the exams. Now, students get a wonderful opportunity to interact with officers during such mock interviews. Guidance is critical because of the sheer vastness of the syllabus. The most important criteria to be successful in the civil services examinations is self-confidence. Aspirants should learn analytically rather than by rote.
We share our experiences with students and enhance their morale and confidence. I have been a part of four mock interviews and the basic quality one needs is confidence. They should avoid self-doubt and follow a systematic approach beginning with reading newspapers, the prescribed books, and the civil services magazines. We try and make the mock interview as real as possible without making them so intense and demanding.
S. Sasikumar, IFS
Regional Passport Officer
In the last three years, I have been a part of 12 mock interviews. It’s a great opportunity for aspirants to get an exposure as the marks they score here determine the rank and cadre. I got into the services in 2001, and I went to Delhi to prepare. People from the south generally go to Chennai or Delhi. Now, thanks to Professor Kanagaraj, students come to Coimbatore. Perseverance is important irrespective of the result. Civil services test all our skills, and patience. I remember Aravind Kumar, who tried five times. For the fifth attempt he chose IAS as the only option and he is now posted in the Punjab cadre. The five-year wait has been worth it!
THOSE WHO MADE IT
Ajitha Begum, IPS, Ernakulam; Aravind Kumar, Assistant Commissioner in Punjab (training); Hariprasad, ASP in Bihar; Dr.Tyagarajan, Sub-Collector in Bihar; Satish Balan, SP in Haryana; Rohini Priyadarshini, Hyderabad National Police Academy (training)
B. Vasantha Kumar, V. Santhosh Kumar, R. Jeevitha and S. Arun Prasad are engineers, and from an engineering background, and Rajiv. K is a lawyer.
They say civil services guarantee power and social status, and an opportunity to be a part of the Government and implement policies. They study at the coaching centre. They have debates, tests and group discussions. They say they set short-term goals that keep them engaged. They are aware that failure is common, but they persevere and are patient.