‘Anyone can crack civil services exam’

“I prefer the term ‘civil servant’ to the term ‘bureaucrat’ because it clearly spells out that the ‘master’ is the common man.’’

April 17, 2016 05:00 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 06:13 pm IST

R.A. Israel Jebasingh

R.A. Israel Jebasingh

A number of myths surround the civil services and the UPSC examination. Some believe that only those having an excellent academic record can get into it while some think that it is easy for students with professional qualifications such as engineering and medicine. Some even believe that if they join civil services, they will have to sacrifice their social life. R.A. Israel Jebasingh, who served as an IAS officer for a decade and is currently running Officers IAS Academy in Chennai, busts these myths.

At what age did you decide to join the civil service and how did you achieve your goal?

My desire to join the civil services started when I was around 20 years old. My parents sowed the seed and they wanted me to join the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). I was not a topper in the school nor was I a gold medallist in my college, but my parents dreamt big. So, I started dreaming big, too. In fact, I had arrears while doing graduation. However, the seed sown by parents was growing. I was not successful in any of the campus interviews and I joined as a faculty at an engineering college. I started my preparation in the library there. I learnt about the dos and don’ts from successful civil servants. This is how I landed in civil services.

What is the secret behind your all-India 59th rank?

The secret was the formula ‘from the masters who already achieved it’. I learnt tips by meeting gurus who had already made it to the civil services. Initially, I secured all-India 294th rank and joined the Indian Railway Traffic Service. I appeared for the Civil Service examination again and got all-India 59th rank.

Having served as an IAS officer for a decade, you have quit the service and started Officers IAS Academy. Why did you quit? Do you think it is a wise decision?

I was fortunate to serve in backward Naxal-affected districts of West Bengal. I loved my work. Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), which trains civil servants, named me as ‘Effective Sub-Collector’ for two consecutive years. But when my mother was diagnosed with cancer during the later years, I decided to take a break from the service. I took a break for a year, and during that time, I got an offer to implement the prestigious PURA project which was the brainchild of Dr. Abdul Kalam. Once the project got over, the teacher in me awoke. I thought it would be a good idea to teach students who do not know how to prepare for the civil service examination but still have the burning desire to pursue it. So, I quit the service and started Officers IAS Academy in Chennai in 2013.

What qualities should an IAS/IPS/IFS aspirant possess?

The one and only quality required is the burning desire to get into the civil services. This ‘fire’ will take care of the rest of the requirements.

What exam tips do you give your students?

In prelims, understanding of concepts is tested. Therefore, instead of memorising, candidates should start understanding concepts. In the mains, the writing capability of the candidate is tested because if one gets selected for the civil services, one has to spend at least fifty per cent of his/her time in writing. Therefore, candidates should understand the questions and answer precisely instead of beating around the bush.

Some people think IAS is more suitable for engineering graduates than for those with arts and science degrees. Is this true?

This is a myth. Every year, many graduates from non-engineering backgrounds successfully crack the exams.

Is it necessary for an IAS aspirant to join an academy to crack the civil service exams?

No, it isn’t. One can use his/her local government library for reading and successfully crack the exams. The advantage of studying at an academy such as Officers IAS Academy is getting a chance to take repeated tests and staying on track. If a candidate knows the right path, he or she can definitely qualify without enrolling at any coaching academy.

Why do we have only a few toppers from Tamil Nadu? Are the techniques followed by coaching academies in north India superior to the ones followed by academies in the south? Or does the selection process imply a north Indian bias?

Every year, many candidates from Tamil Nadu make it to the top ranks. Last year, one of our students from Tamil Nadu, Arun Raj, secured all-India 34th rank in his first attempt. UPSC is bias- free.

These days, people use the term ‘bureaucrat’ with a lot of cynicism. Would an alternative term better describe a person in civil services?

Bureaucracy literally means ‘a body of government officials’. However, as you rightly said, it has attained a negative connotation these days. I prefer the term ‘civil servant’ to the term ‘bureaucrat’ because it clearly spells out that the ‘master’ is the common man. If the people who enter the Indian Civil Services remember that they are just civil servants and not masters, there will not be a limit to India’s growth.

The writer is Professor of English and Head, Higher Education at KCG College of Technology, Chennai. Email: rayanal@yahoo.co.uk.

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