FOR some years now, the number of successful candidates in the all-India Services from the South, especially Tamil Nadu, has been shrinking perceptibly in comparison with those from other States. This year, only 3 Tamilian looking names have qualified for 20 vacancies of IFS; 9 for 91 of IAS and 32 out of 422 for all other Services. Of course this year's figures are better than those of the middle and late 1990s, with the added surprise of a candidate from Tamil Nadu topping the list.

The declining number may not in itself be a reason for worry. Many bright candidates these days opt for the private sector or advanced studies abroad, whereas in earlier times, young aspirants had no other avenue to prove ourselves than all-India services.

I learn from Sriram's IAS at Delhi, which groomed Mr S. Nagarajan to become the topper this year, that the success rate is also determined by the mix of subjects. For instance, general studies including Constitution, current affairs, economy and science and technology are tough as there are no readily available books that do justice to the three dimensions of content, language and depth.

Reflecting their decisive role in the country's development, economic issues are coming to occupy a conspicuous position in the scheme of the examinations, calling for a thorough grasp of their complexities and intricacies. Sometimes candidates score better in, say, public administration and geography, than in technical subjects.

Proficiency in English matters but not as much as earlier. Ideas, analysis and presentation count far more in assessing the intellectual calibre, and this is as it should be. Delhi beckons as the ideal place for preparation because of the facility of easy access to think-tanks and the variety of seminars conducted by them as also to the faculties and libraries of the Jawaharlal Nehru and Delhi Universities.

Most candidates seem to find the need for coaching to be absolutely essential. Coaching centres run by the Universities and private institutions such as the Brilliant Tutorials and Sriram's are in great demand, because of their record of successful candidates and their ability to digest, process and present the material for use in the examinations, thus saving the time involved in preparation.

B. S. Raghavan

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 20, 2005)
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