exploded recently, and a wedding band called to play when the news
reached Sasaram, a district HQ town in Bihar, that Sanjay Kumar Singh
had, after several failed attempts, cleared the civil services
examination with a rank of 42 that would take him to the mecca for all
aspirants—the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Sanjay reached there
via the high seas. He switched from pre-engineering to the merchant navy
to build up a bank balance, doing his BA by correspondence at the same
time from the Indira Gandhi National Open University. Then, he gave up
his $3,000 per month salary to join thousands of other youths who live
in and around the IAS-coaching class ghetto of Mukherjee Nagar in North
Delhi, in tiny, shared rooms amid stacks of books, guides, rigorous
swotting timetables, old exam papers, and crumpled pages from The
Sanjay Kumar Singh, 29 / 42nd rank, Civil
Services Exam, 2006
Son of a munsif (court clerk) in Sasaram district in Bihar, he did his
BA by correspondence. Though he lived one km from the district
collectorate, he never got within conversing distance of a district
collector, but like all bright students in Bihar, he was encouraged from
childhood to join the IAS.
He got in on his seventh attempt.
"Bihar has not seen the winds of change that swept through the country
from the ’90s, so we have an older mindset. For us power and prestige
still means sarkari naukri, rather than the fat salaries of MNCs."
Walking into Outlook's Delhi office a few weeks after he was
selected—with a distinct air, if not a swagger—Sanjay relives those
heady moments when he was swiftly transformed from a small-town boy with
uncertain prospects into a member of the mai-baap sarkar that
personifies power in his home state. The euphoria of family and friends,
the sudden warmth of neighbours who had written him off after he
flunked, gushing calls from mere acquaintances and even strangers. The
tears of his father, a clerk at the district court who had spent a
lifetime in awe of three conjoined letters, I, A and S. And the
attentions of bridegroom-seeking civil servants and local politicians
belonging to his Rajput caste. They were the only ones disappointed. At
29, the new probationer was already married.
The most recent data on the social profiles of the 400-odd who annually
clear the civil services exam conducted by the Union Public Service
Commission (UPSC) to join the IAS, the Indian Foreign Service, the
Indian Police Service and other services, shows that the numbers of
those born and schooled in "dots in the hinterland" is rising steadily.
The city-born and city-bred, apparently chasing IIMs, MNCs, foreign
universities and a plethora of new-economy options, are painting
themselves out of the picture. "The easy availability of good jobs not
requiring such hard work and preparation to get into, have turned people
from relatively affluent backgrounds away from the IAS," says ex-IAS
officer and National Advisory Council member N.C. Saxena.
Sanjay is the new face of the civil services. Agastya Sen, the
metro-born protagonist of Upamanyu Chatterjee's 1988 novel, English,
August, with 'St Stephen's College' written all over him, who finds
himself in a district town—a "dot in the hinterland"—after joining the
IAS, is even more of a rarity than he already was in the '80s and the
Govind Jaiswal, 22 /48th rank, Civil
Services Exam, 2006
His father used to pull rickshaws, now he rents them out. He went to a
government school and a modest college in Varanasi, His family sold land
to finance coaching classes in Delhi. He got a dozen marriage proposals
after the results, one from the family of a local liquor king, offering
Rs 4 crore as dowry, but he turned them down.
"I decided to try for the IAS because this is one government job where
you don’t need money or approach to get in, and I had neither....
Earlier, the police used to harass my father, now they do ‘sir sir’."
According to data, in 2004, less than two out of 10 entrants into the
civil services were born in metros and state capitals. Three out of 10
were born in villages—and as many as half were born and schooled in
district and tehsil towns. Compare that with the '70s, when two out of
three civil service recruits were from cities, and the '80s, when one
out of four still was. "It is a sign of a healthy democracy, of
expanding opportunities," says Rudhra Gangadharan, director of the Lal
Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA), where new
recruits are trained. "People who had no access to the civil services
are coming in." But for a mix of reasons.
"I came in accidentally. My family has land, but my brother, who had
failed seventh class, decided to work on it. The land was not yielding
much—so I decided to look at a government job, and found getting into
civil services was possible. Options like joining IIMs or MNCs or
starting businesses are not available to lower-middle-class families, we
don't know about them," admits Pandurang Pole, a young IAS officer from
Maharashtra in the J&K cadre. Says V. Anbukkumar, another young IAS
officer, whose father was a police constable, "In a village, authority
means the collector. He is the face of the government. In the absence of
many educated people around, the DM became my default role model." Of
course, the bigger the role of government in a state, the greater the
quest for government jobs. "Bihar has not seen the winds of change that
swept through the rest of the country from the '90s, so we have an older
mindset. We equate sarkari naukri with power and prestige," says Sanjay.
Interview with IAS Topper
Interview with IAS topper
Interview with IAS topper -
Prakash Raj Purohit.
Asst sub inspector to IAS ,
journey of a farmers son
Peon's daughter makes it to IAS
I want to improve bureaucracy,
IAS woman topper
How to prepare IAS and other
Civil service exam, ias, ifs, ips ...
civil service guidance, ias, ips,
ifs guidance, ias exam guidance,
Kashmiri doctor who tops IAS
exam wants to be arole model
Students need motivation, not
Srinagar Doctor tops Civil
Achieving the impossible
"In our country, there are three people who are the most powerful—PM, CM
and DM. I wanted to be a DM."
About 30 per cent of civil service entrants are, like him and
Anbukkumar, the children of government and semi-government employees.
But, says ex-IAS officer Wajahat Habibullah, who interacted with three
recent batches of young civil servants as LBSNAA's director from 2000 to
2003, that is less and less likely to mean children of senior civil
servants. "The children of IAS officers do not want their fathers'
jobs," he says, a little ruefully. "But there is an influx of the
children of those who worked in the lower ranks of government
service—like head constables, private secretaries and clerks—for whom
the IAS was the ultimate." Also, curiously, a continuing influx of
technical people, like engineers and doctors.
"These are often people who've grown up in a rural area or a district,
gone to a medical or engineering college, but after that, don't want to
go abroad, where the best-paid options are. They want to stay in India,
look after their parents," says Habibullah. Adds an IAS officer from an
engineering background, "A civil engineer who joins the government
engineering services will never become more than chief engineer. An IAS
officer goes much further, so they would much rather lose their
specialisation and join the IAS."
Muthyalaraju Revu, 26 / Ist rank, Civil
Services Exam, 2006
He comes from Chinnagollapalem village in Krishna district, Andhra
Pradesh, where his father and two brothers are farmers. Muthyalaraju
studied in the village school and did his B Tech from Regional
Engineering College, Warangal, and his Masters in Bangalore. His family
borrowed money for coaching classes in Delhi. He got into the IPS in
2005, but tried again for IAS and topped in 2006.
"The death of my 12-year-old sister due to poor medical facilities in
the village spurred me in the direction of the civil services."
Their story is often one of impressive mobility—the story of a
changing India, as much as a changing civil service. Studious and
focused 'Bunties' and 'Bablis' from village, tehsil and district schools
sally forth in search of higher degrees, reaching Jawaharlal Nehru
University (JNU) and Delhi University, sundry engineering and medical
colleges and established state universities. Aboobacker Siddique, a
farmer's son from Malappuram district in Kerala, makes it to JNU, where
a section of the library, taken over by civil service swotters, has been
christened Dholpur House, after UPSC's headquarters. Sujit Singh, son of
a havaldar in Bihar, makes it first to Delhi's Hindu College, and then
to the civil services. Anbukkumar, a constable's son from Tamil Nadu,
goes to the elite Madras Christian College in Chennai for his MA.
However, an increasing number do not travel that far, picking up a
degree or two from a modest institution nearer home, and a distance
learning course. Many less known institutions are chipping away at the
dominance of the civil services by established universities. The intake
from Delhi University, even if still high, has declined considerably
since the '70s. Likewise from Allahabad University, whose silver-haired
alumni adorn the upper reaches of the bureaucracy. Calcutta University
has fallen off the map. Showing up on the map are little-known colleges
and universities in places like Tiruchirapalli, Warangal, Izatnagar,
Kolhapur, Bareilly, Rohtak, Meerut, Bhagalpur, Amravati, Belgaum,
Nagarjunanagar, Gorakhpur, Gulbarga, Bikaner, Sagar.... And three per
cent of the intake is now from distance learning courses.
M. Sudha Devi, 31/ IAS, Additional
Commissioner, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh
Married at an early age, Sudha (looking up) had to give up her studies.
When the marriage broke up after four years, she finished her BA from
Coimbatore, and prepared for the civil services, which she cleared at
the first attempt, after joining a coaching institute in Delhi. The
daughter of a farmer, she grew up in the tehsil town of Tiruchengode,
"My humble background makes me better able to understand and relate to
people’s problems. When I see a farmer with grievances standing in front
of me, I see my father."
Greater access to the system helps. Until the late '60s, the civil
services exam was the preserve of the English-educated. It could not be
taken in another language. Thereafter, candidates were permitted to take
some papers, and then all except one basic qualifying English paper, in
an Eighth Schedule language. Weightage for the personality interview, in
which candidates from elite backgrounds are perceived to have an
advantage, was reduced. (It is now just 13 per cent of the total marks).
Changes like these helped Malegaon boy Mohammad Qaiser and Varanasi lad
Govind Jaiswal make it to the top this year.
Twenty-nine-year-old Qaiser, who took the exam in Urdu, was disappointed
by his poor interview result. It did not stop him, however, from
standing 32nd in a gruelling three-part exam taken by one-and-half-lakh
people at the first stage. Govind, whose muscular and idiomatic Hindi is
palpably better than his English, topped the list of Hindi-medium
candidates this year. One in four now prefers to take the exam in Hindi,
or a regional language. Their success rate is far lower than that of
English candidates, but still, their numbers are rising.
And then, of course, there is reservations. The 27 cent per cent
reservation of seats for OBCs since the mid-'90s, in addition to the
22.5 per cent reserved for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes,
has begun to radically transform the composition of an upper
caste-dominated higher bureaucracy. There may be unfilled quotas in the
lower services, but in coveted services like the IAS, IPS and IFS, they
are intensely sought. OBCs, especially, are boosting their
representation in these top services by making it to the general
category. According to the Department of Personnel, in the last five
years, 32.5 per cent of officers inducted into the IAS have been OBCs.
The impact can be seen in the individual stories of young men and women
who are among the first to represent their communities in the
bureaucracy. For example, Sudha Devi, a young additional commissioner in
the Himachal cadre, is the first woman from her Kangavellalar farming
community in Tamil Nadu to make it to the IAS. Says Sudha, "My getting
in has been an eye-opener for this area and my community—so many others
are preparing now. Every time I go home,girls come to me for counselling."
Muhammed Qaiser Abdul Haque, 29/ 32nd
rank, Civil Services Exam, 2006
One of eleven children of a former powerloom worker, now grocer, in the
communally sensitive textile town of Malegaon, Maharashtra, he went to
school there, then did his Masters from Pune. He joined a civil services
study circle for backward and minority students at Hamdard University in
"I have seen the lack of resources on the ground, no proper hospital, or
colleges.... I see my IAS job as that of a middleman, between the
government and the people, and I feel responsible towards all the
people, not just those of my community."
Yet, despite reservations, the poorest seem to be largely excluded
from the civil service club (as are Muslims). The social data shows that
only a minuscule number of the new babus are first-generation learners.
The number has declined since the '80s. The number of those educated in
government schools is steadily going down (which reflects loss of faith
in state education). A commission headed by economist and educationist
Y.K. Alagh on civil service recruitment, which submitted its report to
the government in 2001, was concerned at these trends. Speaking to
Outlook, Alagh reiterated that concern: "A munsif's son is good, but
a landless labourer or an artisan's son even better. Half of the
country's workforce are landless labourers."
For families, coaching is an investment—land is sold and money borrowed
to pay for it. Interview coaching, especially, is a must—this year's
topper, Muthyalaraju Revu, travelled to Delhi's coaching hub for
interview coaching. Says Govind: "It teaches you to be balanced, to keep
your ego in check, to come across as energetic and confident." Those
understandably petrified of confronting the retired bureaucrats who
dominate interview boards are told, "Behave as if you are going to meet
your new family."
The Alagh report blames government policies that have relaxed age limits
and the number of chances available to candidates. It says they favour
crammers who spend large sums on coaching (about a lakh of rupees a
year, per candidate), and perfect exam-taking techniques, making it
harder for bright, poor candidates in all categories to get in. Agrees
Planning Commission member B.N. Yugandhar, "Coaching makes it very
difficult for first-generation learners to get in."
Age is a touchy issue. At 30 years for the general category (33 for OBCs,
35 for SC/STs), the age limits are among the highest they have been.
Correspondingly, the number of new recruits over 26 has been rising
steadily, upsetting the bureaucracy, which says older candidates are
harder to train, and get frustrated because they don't reach the top due
to shorter tenures. In February, then cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi
wrote to the PMO, recommending 24 as the age limit for the general
category, which is what it used to be in the '60s. Says Satyanand Mishra,
secretary, personnel, "Age levels have been increased in deference to
the demand that a lower age of recruitment works against people from
rural areas. But empirically this is not true—reducing age limits will
not handicap any class of people." But for the political class, this is
a hot potato. And for the Sanjay Singhs and other denizens of places
like Mukherjee Nagar and Hudson Lines, a death blow. "Higher age limits
are good for people like me—we work, make money, keep trying, get in,"
says Sanjay Singh.
Notwithstanding the distaste of reform-minded committees for
coaching—and for an exam that has become a byword for narrow, tactical
swotting—many civil servant recruits interviewed by Outlook, from
small towns and villages, and relatively modest backgrounds, have a
different perspective. They see coaching as the leveller that flattens
the playing field, helping them compete with the better educated and the
And so they make it, finally, to their "new family".
But are the new recruits improving the quality of a rather
discredited family, often perceived as lacking in accountability,
efficiency and integrity? It is hard to generalise—talking to a
cross-section, you will encounter the blazingly sincere and the rather
cynical, the confident and the diffident, the rock-solid and the showy.
Says social activist and ex-IAS officer Aruna Roy, "Many take big
dowries, contravening the act they implement. Some are susceptible to
community and communal tendencies, which is not surprising, if you look
at the distortion of history and values in current-day education,
especially in the Hindi belt—many don't know history." She also worries
that there are "no role models left to show young recruits they need not
bow to political pressure".
On the other hand, asserts Roy, "They are far more rooted in the reality
of India than my generation of civil servants. India is very complex now
and they understand that complexity better than we did—some have a very
genuine awareness of landless, Dalit and minority issues." Agrees Alagh,
"Their being in the bureaucracy is an important part of the building of
modern India. Despite the homogenisation that takes place when they
become part of the elite, they are not the bureaucrats you see at
embassy parties. You can tell a JNU district collector a mile off. They
can sort out the problems of real India. "
Down on the ground, Anbukkumar, though he is already getting a good
reputation in the district where he works, makes no such claims. "To be
frank," he says, "I have no big vision or ideals as such. I had no idea
of policy-making or decision-making or file notings. IAS simply meant a
red-light car and a lot of power. I am slowly learning the ropes now. I
may not become the number one IAS officer, but I want to be fair and
just. No more dreams, no more ideals. Slowly and surely, I will evolve."