UPSC row: Will Hindi-heartland politics now let students set question papers?

More than pandering to the political demands of the Hindi heartland, by dropping the marks for English in CSAT, the central government has capitulated to a perverted logic that aspirants of a public exam can demand how the question papers should be set.

By extension of this weird logic, the aspirants of other examinations including that of state PSCs and banking service recruitment board should now be able to demand question papers that suit their capability and interests.

 UPSC row: Will Hindi-heartland politics now let students set question papers?

A file photo of protests over UPSC. PTI

More over, without entering into a serious dialogue with other stakeholders such as political parties from non-Hindi states, when the government said the marks for English will not be graded, what it has done was effectively diluting the autonomy of a constitutional institution such as the UPSC. Since the 1950, the UPSC had an untainted, stellar record as envisaged by the Constituent Assembly.

In a single, reckless stroke, the union government has decided to interfere with its constitutional autonomy. What’s the guarantee that the Hindi-heartland politics will not demand modification of other recruitment processes by UPSC, now that they have tasted success? The government should have been firm and should have entered into wider consultations.

The agitation and the solution are not simple. The agitating civil service aspirants first said that their problem was with English and even cited statistics showing that people with Hindi background didn’t fare well. Now that the government has agreed to drop the English part, they want the entire CSAT to be dropped.

If English is the problem in handling the questions on reasoning, it’s understandable. As Times of India reported on Wednesday, the success rate of Hindi students have dropped since CSAT was introduced. "According to the data, success rate of Hindi medium students dropped by more than 50% in civil services preliminary exam after the introduction of CSAT. Conversely, the success rate of English medium students improved by 50% in the same exam indicating a disadvantage for Hindi medium students.” Therefore, any suggestion that Hindi students should be allowed to take this part of the exam in Hindi is justified, but not dropping it altogether because India’s top bureaucracy, the workforce that runs central and state governments, needs strong numerical and reasoning skills.

But then, this disadvantage is not applicable to Hindi students alone, but to all of those who are not good in English-reasoning combo. Therefore, as the regional parties such as the AIADMK and DMK demanded, the test should be available in other languages too. The government’s fall to the agitators might lead to the protest in other parts of India because aspirants from other regional languages would feel shortchanged and disadvantaged.

In fact, Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle said on Wednesday that there were intelligence reports warning of a regional frenzy. "It was precisely for this reason that the government worked overtime holding discussions at the highest level and came out with a formula which was spelt out by the minister of state for personnel Jitendra Singh in Parliament on Monday," the report said. In an interview with NDTV, union finance minister Arun Jaitley also said that the government wanted to prevent such language agitations.

Some experts are of the view that the agitation is an indirect way of attacking the preliminary tests of the civil service exams since they require deeper and wide-ranging general knowledge and logical and reasoning abilities. That the agitating aspirants are not satisfied despite the government’s capitulation is an indication that they want the preliminary examinations to be diluted or scrapped. Of late, the prelims have become tougher than the final because the latter allows for narrower or more focussed preparation. According to them, an invisible hand of the training lobby, which has not been as successful as before since the introduction of the CSAT, also cannot be ruled out.

Former union home secretary G K Pillai’s observation, quoted in Times of India, is revealing. According to him, “political considerations seem to have led the government to focus on the row over English component, rather than the students' key grievance that the analytical and numeracy skill questions put engineering and science students at an unfair advantage. "The upcoming state elections in Bihar may have been on the government's mind.”

In short, the decision to submit to the agitating students seems to be motivated by politics. What it has effectively done is opening the doors for weakening our constitutional establishments and lowering the standards of our public institutions. Unfortunately, it may not stop with the civil services. Instead of constantly striving for newer heights of excellence, we are lowering the bar without qualms.

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Updated Date: Aug 06, 2014 17:08:32 IST