Political Science & International Relations for CSE Mains – by Umesh N S K (AIR 77)

I am not trying to share a foolproof fit-for-all strategy to crack PSIR here because there cannot be any such strategy. Instead,I will share the sources I studied for each and every topic here. I must confess that I never did writing practice, I did not attend any mock tests and I did not take notes except for loose sheets like “List of International Organisations”,”Names of  thinkers and their famous books” and other such school-level stuff. But what I had as my strength was a diverse reading habit which ranged from newspapers to magazines to works of non-fiction by Granville Austin,Ashutosh Varshney,David Malone et al. A topic-wise analysis of syllabus follows :

Paper I 

Part 1

This section can be divided into four parts : Political Theory, Indian Political Thought,Western Political Thought and Political Ideologies.

For Political Theory, my basic text was Andrew Heywood’s “Political Theory” which helped me attain conceptual clarity in all fundamental topics like Equality,Rights,Power,Liberty and Democracy. Once Heywood is done, we can move on to O.P.Gauba.I must confess that I never completed even half of this book because of it’s convoluted style of writing. (In engineering,local authors helped me clear exams whereas in PSIR, foreign authors were more lucid).But O.P.Gauba has it’s utility because it fills the gaps in Andrew Heywood and it is written keeping in mind an Indian syllabus. So numbers 1 to 7 (refer syllabus)in Part 1 of Paper I can be mastered by thorough reading of Heywood followed by selective reading of Gauba.

For Political Ideologies, Political Ideologies by Andrew Heywood is a gift from Heaven. Look no further. Gandhism alone can be covered in Indian Political Thought.

For Western Political Thought , the book by Brian Nelson is very good. This book covers some ideologies too. Some quotes and questions from Paper 1 related to Western thinkers in 2013 were directly from this book only. Gramsci and Hannah Arendt are missing in this book.

I covered Gramsci and Hannah Arendt in O.P.Gauba’s “Political Theory” and also through some online reading.

For Indian Political Thought , V.R.Mehta’s book is a good source to study even if the language is not easy to master. Ambedkar and Syed Ahmed Khan are missing in this book which can be covered in IGNOU PDFs.I read the original texts of “Annihilation of caste” and “Hind Swaraj”.

Part II 

Indian Government and Politics:

I considered this entire section as an organic whole and the basic texts for it are B.L.Fadia, Laxmikanth, Ramachandra Guha and Bipan Chandra. But ultimately,this is a current affairs oriented section and we win or lose within the pages of a good newspaper.

Answers in these sections must have contemporary examples and can quote good authors. For example, for a question on “Marginalisation of Left Ideology in India” in 2014’s paper, I quoted Ramachandra Guha’s points from a piece for Caravan Magazine in June,2011. So, every weekend, few hours can be spent to browse websites of Indian Express, Outlook and India Today etc. There is a tendency to see Times of India as a frivolous page- 3 paper but it features columns of great writers like Sunil Khilnani and Gurcharan Das on a regular basis.

I would suggest columns of Ashutosh Varshney,Ramachandra Guha and Pratap Bhanu Mehta as mandatory reading for this section.

Paper II 

Part I 

Comparative Political Analysis and International Politics: 

This can be divided into two sections : Comparative Politics and International Relations.

Comparative Politics was the only portion in PSIR’s syllabus which never kindled my interest enough to do extensive reading. All I read for this section were IGNOU PDFs.

For International Relations,a wonderful introductory text is Globalisation of World Politics. This book is an absolute delight with great illustrations,brilliant design and most importantly,quality content. Any gaps in this book can be filled by selective reading of V.K.Malhotra’s “International Relations”.

Again,answers for this section can be written with references to recent examples. For example,an answer on National Security can mention Syrian crisis as an example.BBC website provides great summaries of all current international crises (Sample: See this).”Frontline” is a good Indian magazine to cover international events if one discounts it’s blinkered worldview.

Part II

For Indian foreign Policy, a topnotch introductory text is David Malone’s book. Gaps in this book can be filled by reading Shashi Tharoor OR Rajiv Sikri selectively.

But as anyone who saw/wrote 2014’s paper would know, even without reading any book, this section can be mastered if we follow The Hindu and good columnists regularly. Some expert foreign policy commentators include : C.Rajamohan, Brahma Challaney ,Suhasini Haidar and Srinath Raghavan. (For a question on India-Russia relations, I almost reproduced Srinath Raghavan’s viewpoints written in the pages of The Hindu five days before the exam.) I never read a single issue of World Focus (even though I bought so many issues only for them to rest in the attic) and relied more on these commentators I have mentioned.

Thus, PSIR can be mastered by a diverse reading habit along with very good writing. Why I insist on Andrew Heywood first  (and not Gauba) and Srinath Raghavan (and not World Focus) is because when we read such lucidly written prose regularly, our writing will also gain finesse with time. So,our answers for PSIR should

i) introduce the statement in the question , analyse the viewpoints associated with it and conclude it . It is important to ensure our answers have a closure to it. We must not write like students appearing for B.A Pol. Sci exam.Rather,we must write like a bureaucrat submitting a report to a higher official.

ii) Our answers should have contemporary examples and touches.For example,a  question on women panchayats should mention examples of successful and popular woman sarpanches.

iii) We can quote authors and columnists in answers. It adds to the intellectual heft of our viewpoints.

iv) Above all, reading more means writing better.

The above is not exactly a strategy but a recounting of what I did to score 138+140 in PSIR this year. All the best to all aspirants who are taking up this wonderful optional wherein we are mesmerized by Gandhi’s idealism, stunned by Ambedkar’s radicalism,transfixed by Aristotle’s pragmatism and intrigued by Marx’s,er,Marxism.

Important Note : If you feel that the books mentioned fall short in a particular topic/dimension, do supplement it with IGNOU materials.


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