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Why is UPSC producing people like Shah Faesal and Kannan Gopinathan: Structural problems that must be fixed

A Sangh Parivar education group recently pointed out that some 90% of UPSC qualifiers are from an English language background, which shows how absurdly unrepresentative the crop of IAS officers is.

This is Kannan Gopinathan, the ex-IAS officer who quit his job recently to express his anger over what happened in Kashmir. Since then, he has had at least two appearances on The Wire and at least one on NDTV that I have seen. I think he made a second appearance with Ravish Kumar.


In one of these appearances, he said, stunningly, that the Chinese government is allowing freedom of speech in HongKong but the Indian government is not! Seriously? He has been on like ten different Indian channels criticizing the Government of India and he still thinks there’s no free speech? Let’s see him go to Beijing and criticize Xi Jinping.

This is how they keep their agenda flag flying high. Remarks like those of Arund**ti Roy saying Pakistan has never used its military against its own people (forgetting what the Pakistan Army did in Bangladesh, in Balochistan, etc) don’t come out of nowhere. They are not incidental. They are not lying, I believe they don’t even care about the truth as long as they are making India look bad.

As we would say in Hindi, life set hai bas for Kannan Gopinathan. I guess he is already on the shortlist for the Ramon Magsaysay award at some point.

And then there is of course Shah Faesal, the other ex-IAS officer who has been in the news.

Source: OpIndia

How sinister is this guy? Said he was on his way to Harvard to complete his Master’s degree, but he had no student visa. Just a tourist visa. You have to wonder what he might have done if they had let him leave the country. We don’t know for sure, but probably some kind of spectacle in front of some international body.

The real question is: why is UPSC producing people like Shah Faesal or Kannan Gopinathan? At the very outset, I must admit that this sample of two people is laughably unscientific. Okay, let us make the sample bigger then by adding in Arvind Kejriwal. LOL.

He may be a pathetic clown-like figure today, but he did try. And while AAP still mattered, it was one of the most poisonous forces ever created in Indian politics.

While this is still (highly) anecdotal and we have no hard data about how our bureaucrats think, I believe there might be some structural problems here.

Let me insert another anecdote here. A few months ago, a young niece of mine who wanted to study to be a lawyer, joined up for a coaching institute to help her clear the CLAT (Common Law Admission Test). I was shocked to hear that the institute had asked her to read The Telegraph regularly to help her chances! I don’t think we can blame the private coaching institute. They know what kind of “information” is needed to answer the questions on the competitive exam.

This is a structural ecosystem problem. Questions in a wide variety of subjects like political science, current affairs, etc can be tilted towards a certain worldview. The UPSC even has an interview, which makes the subjectivity component at least 10 times worse. An officer doesn’t even need to do this deliberately, the bias can easily be unconscious. It is not even humanly possible to be unbiased. So the Congress worldview will dominate simply due to the fact that they have been in power for 6 decades. And I am sure there are going to be bad people within the system who will try to structure the process to suit candidates of their left-liberal worldview.

A Sangh Parivar education group recently pointed out that some 90% of UPSC qualifiers are from an English language background, which shows how absurdly unrepresentative the crop of IAS officers is. But the UPSC exam paper is provided in several languages, is it not? But the very fact that the paper is drafted in English and then translated puts non-English speaking candidates at a disadvantage. If this is possible, imagine how easily political bias can be sneaked into the system.

What is the solution to this? If you ask me, the ideal solution is quite drastic: simply get rid of the IAS.

In fact, I believe keeping the IAS was one of the worst decisions that independent India ever made. The Indian Civil Service was created by a colonial power with the express purpose of keeping people in check. In order to make sure that Indians don’t raise their heads too much.

While this may have worked splendidly for the Empire, it does not meet the needs nor the aspirations of a sovereign nation. To imagine that the same civil servants, with their same British protocols, will suddenly go from keeping people down to lifting them up, is ridiculous. Everyone in India knows that IAS officers are like “gods.” Which is a disaster?
An IAS officer does not create wealth. An IAS officer does not do anything innovative, nor come up with ideas to encourage innovation. An IAS officer merely enforces policy decisions from the top. But yeah, they do have the trappings of power: VIP cars, big mansions, many servants and many people begging them for favours.

At worst, we have a crummy old ecosystem that trudges on with loyalty to old Nehruvianism.

At best, we have produced a class of people drunk on power, who take one exam which demands zero creativity. And never forget about how many young people waste their energy trying to crack this exam and achieve elevated status. If the minds of these young people were freed up to do productive things, we could have achieved so much more as a nation.

I do see some hope. The Modi government has opened up lateral entry into civil service positions. I believe these are fixed-term appointments. It’s a small beginning. But you have to realize that for most hidebound bureaucrats, circumventing the holy UPSC exam is sacrilege. In the coming years, I hope to see this grow and grow until the IAS is effectively disbanded, rendered totally irrelevant.

Of course, you are going to have people who will say that such lateral entries will make civil service appointments seem political. Yeah and so what? The civil service was always political all these years. Because human beings are political. The only difference is that the politicization of the civil service was done by faceless elements embedded in an ecosystem under strict secrecy. In reality, we can only choose whether the civil service should be overtly political or covertly political. Which is better?

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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