POLITICAL SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Strategy by IAS Topper – Mirant Parikh, Rank 67, PSIR Marks – 307, First Attempt
The Enigma that is PSIR – All Frill and All Thrill??
The UPSC results are out and the Travesty of pitting one Optional subject against the other has started already. The popularity of the So-Called “High Scoring” PSIR is at it’s all-time high. So before penning this article let me tell you all that please select PSIR only if your own personal interest beckons you to do so and not just because someone is telling you that a particular subject is high scoring. UPSC never discriminates against any optional and if you look at the final list, you’ll notice that almost all Optional are equally represented.
P.S.: I’m sharing this strategy with the assumption that all of you are clear with the choice of your optional and are not in a dilemma regarding the same.
A Personal Rendezvous:
I had left my Job at Ford in March of 2016. The Prelims was on 7th August. I had but a few months to prepare for my Prelims, so thinking about mains and the Optional wasn’t the kind of luxury that I could afford. So, the only thing that I was sure about mains was the Optional Subject that I would select. This selection was based on three agendas:
(1) Interest – To ensure that I can stretch long hours with this subject without getting bored
(2) Expanse, Relevance and the Dynamism of the Subject – To achieve Contextual Clarity
(3) Overlap with GS – Killing Two Birds with a Single Stone
So, post my resignation, my target was to clear prelims and to earn an opportunity to write mains. Post-Prelims, I went to Delhi and joined Shubhra Ma’ams’ classes (Coz apparently she’s considered the Best and Believe me she is). Coming from an Engineering background I was a novice as far this subject was considered and living in Delhi for the First time had it’s own set of trials and tribulations. I tried to plunge myself initially into almost every recommended books for this Subject from O.P.Gauba to Andrew Heywood to V.R.Mehta to make sure that I perfected this subject and so that I could score well. But one month down the line, I recognised my folly and on Shubhra Ma’ams’ advice decided to follow just her notes. I realised that due to the paucity of time, my preparation should be rechannelised into something which could fetch me the maximum marks into the shortest possible time. So, I decided to stick with just Shubhra Ma’ams, notes.
Caveat: Also regarding my point about PSIR overlapping with GS, one must be very careful while treading the very fine line about being a Generalist and a Specialist. For eg – There was question on Rawls Theory of Justice in Ethics Paper this time around. One must be very careful not to delve too deep into that question and put up a PSIR perspective or context into that. The Vice-Versa is also true.
Next on, I’d try to cover the Optional Paperwise and Partwise:
Paper 1,Part A:
For this Part, I referred only Shubhra Ma’ams’ notes. Her notes are very extensive and will provide you with 15-20 points regarding every topic/thinker, which according to me are more than enough. Just read her notes 5 times before appearing for mains (I read it 5 times) and you’re good to go. It should be on the tip of your tongue, so much so that if someone wakes you up in the middle of the night and asks you something from these notes, you should be in a position to answer that.
Benefit?? – This’ll ensure that during your Mains exams you do not get confused. Coz if you would have accessed myriad materials it’ll lead to consternation in your mind whilst writing your paper about which points to include and which to avoid. Reading limited material obviates such a situation.
Now the difficult part – You should be in a position to relate one theory with another. Supposedly if you can relate a Western Thinkers’ theory with something contemporary happening in IR, it can fetch you some extra marks. Eg.- If you quote Iran’s Ayatollahs’ example in the Philosopher Kings’ concept, it’ll make your answer stand out.
So, rather than having a chain of thoughts it’s better to have a Web-based thinking to take into consideration multiple contexts, dimensions and linkages.
Paper 1,Part B:
I followed Shubhra Ma’ams’ for this part as well. But this part being Dynamic, only her notes won’t suffice. One has to complement it with standard GS-2 material as it has a lot many overlapping portions with GS-2. For example –
(1) Indian Nationalism – Spectrum and Bipin Chandra
(2) Constitution related topics – Laxmikanth
My strategy while articulating the answer was to pick up two or three good Academician from Ma’ams’ notes like Yogendra Yadav, Suhas Palashikar, Rajni Kothari, Milan Vishnav,etc . I would then understand their statements and try to us them in their relevant questions in the exam. For example – One can quote Milan Vaishnav’s book “When Crime Pays” on a question about Criminalisation or increasing money/muscle power in India. This will give your answer a different appeal and ensure your existence from the herd.
Also, if possible do read the Editorials in IE or Hindu on contemporary Political Turmoils by Christophe Jaffrelot, Milan Vaishnav, Suhas Palashikar or any other psephologists to gain a new perspective. This will ensure that you’d be in a position to answer any current affairs based question with extreme clarity and with an articulation of an expert political academician.
Paper 2, Part A:
In this paper you’d have to keep a delicate balance between the Static and the Dynamic portion. One should not be sacrificed at the altar of other which penning down your answer.
For the Comparative Politics, I referred only Ma’ams’ notes and nothing else. I think just her notes would suffice. But if you have time and want to delve deeper one can refer IGNOU material for the same.
As explained earlier in Paper1,PartB, one can quote contemporary issues and their timeline to give your answer an added edge. But one must keep in mind that the issue should not turn out to be irrelevant to what has been asked for in the question. For example – While answering a question on Security Dilemma one can quote the India-China-Pakistan triangle. Similarly, for a question on Connectivity/CPEC/OBOR/BRF one can quote the statement given by our Honble PM “Sovereignty should not be compromised for connectivity”. This are just a few examples, the other examples being Ukraine/Crimea issue, Rohinga issue, ISIS, al-shabab, Migrant Crisis, Artic Melt, etc…. Thus, you can quote anything you like, but it has to be relevant.
Also, while writing an answer in this portion one should always India central to things. Thus, even though the question of Crimea might not impact India directly but still relating that issue with Indian perspective/response should be our strategy.
Paper 2,Part B:
This part being the most dynamic of all, newspaper reading becomes extremely important. Reading Editorials penned by C Raja Mohan, Lisa Curtis, Nirupama Rao, Rakesh Sood, Ashley Tellis, etc. can enhance your perspective as well as would be helpful to you in quoting in any relevant questions.
Also, I’d recommend visiting Project Syndicate, The Diplomat and The Economist websites. These are the Gold-Standard.
For the Books, I referred to Rajiv Sikri’s book as well as Can the Elephant Dance? By David Malone. As IR is my forte I used to refer many many sources(Which I could’ve avoided). Also, watching 2 mins news clipping of Al-Jazeera,BBC World News, DW News, NHK News,CNN, etc…. could be really very useful.
Alongwith reading, Articulating your answer becomes very important in this portion.
The Achilles Heel – Answer Writing :-
To be honest, I haven’t written a single test for PSIR. I didn’t have much time to prepare. So, I could’ve either written the Test Series for my GS or my Optional. So, I joined the test series for my GS and hoped that the practice done there to have a spillover effect in my optional.
Tip : Writing 3 average answers is better than writing one Extraordinary answer (UPSC Samhita!!!)
(1) Love Thy Examiner :
This is the winning formula. Whether one becomes and IAS or not is very well in the hands of the examiners that checks your copy. So, why to make him unhappy and ruin your career. Whilst writing your answer always keep the examiner on the back of your mind. – Will the Examiner like it?? Will it seem repetitive to the examiner??
That’s why the first 2-3 questions matter a lot. Coz the examiner will judge whether you’re a smart student or an average student and will base the whole paper on that assumption (“First Impression Lasts” – Harvey Specter)
(2) Time is Money:
Whatever might be the situation, ensure that you attempt all the 20 questions. With every less attempt, your chance of being in the final list diminishes. So, don’t remain emotionally attached with one answer, if you feel you’ve answered it satisfactorily, just move in. Don’t remain on that answer trying to make it perfect.
The more you practice, the better. Just reading won’t cut much ice. So, write as many test papers as you can. Get it checked from your teacher or get it peer-reviewed.
Be as innovative as you can in linking stuff and preparing a “Mind Chain” to ensure a better articulation and a multi-perspective answer formulation.
I hope this would help the aspirants.
Good Luck! Cheers!