Sunday, June 27, 2010

It was Purushottam Agrawal!

Finally the big day came. I had wasted almost 20 days before my interview working in Tata Steel, spending time reading others' interview experience and reaching the conclusion that it was usless trying to prepare for it. However, 4 days before interview, it was the same story again. I rushed to Delhi to find some time away from work with loads of books and study materials which could not have been completed in a month.
I also spent hours trying to find the right shirt, trousers, shoes, belt and The Tie, despite already having a set and ended up buying a belt more expensive than my trouser, a tie more expensive than my shirt and a pair of formal leather shoes more expensive than all of them put together. And while doing a last minute full dress rehearsal at night before the D-Day, I found that The Tie wasn't good enough to go along with my attire minus a suit and holes in the belt weren't punched at the right place. So much for The Tie and a belt.
I reached UPSC in time but without the photocopies of my original certificates. The staff was very courteous and helpful and it didn't felt like a GOI setup. The hall we were made to wait at looked like the sets of a period movie. Here i was reminded that it was after all a GOI affair. After 1 hour of certificate verification we were made to wait another 45 minutes for interviews to begin. Since I had been warned that the board might ask me to tell the names of other fellows in my group to test my PR skills, I spent the time remembering their names. But it was kindda hard to do so since all of them except one were from Kerela, Tamil Nadu and Andhra pradesh ( no ethnocentricity intended).
The board allotted to me was that of Purushottam Agrawal. I tried to recall his background but went blank. Others reminded me after my interview that he is not very favourable towards engineers and even more conservative in awarding marks to anybody. He is also called the Butcher of UPSC for some unknown reason. There went my last hope.
Anyways, I was second to be called. The first candidate's interview was over in 20 minutes. Surprisingly the moment I opened the door, all tips and tricks taught in coaching classes about keeping calm and smiling went to dirt. Now I was truly my self, shaking like a leaf. However I tried hard to maintain the charade.
These are the questions and the answers as best as I can recall.
(Legends: C- Chairman( P. Agrawal), M1,M2- members to my left, M3 M4- members to my right, M4 is a lady)
I wished Good Morning to all members, starting with the Chairman, then M4 and then others.
C: So you are Rajiv Ranjan Singh.
Me: Yes Sir,
C ( looking at my form): You have written your hobby as Defence Strategies and...(mumbling)....What does it mean?
Me (words coming out very slowly from my mouth) : Sir, I wrote it that way for..umm.. lack of a better word. In this hobby, I regularly update myself with the developments in Defence Sector, particularly Indian Defence, Strategic postures of other nations, especially our neighbours....( C interrupts me)
C: So Rajiv, tell me about Gorshkov.
Me: Sir, Admiral Gorshkov is an old aircraft carrier that we are buying from Russia after renovation. The deal was made for around 900 m $, but it has now overshot to more than 2.3 b $ and delayed by more than 4 years...( C interrupts me)
C: Rajiv, Why do we need an aircraft carrier?
Me: Sir, in keeping with our aspirations of becoming a superpower and our economic interests in the Indian Ocean and beyond, we need a blue water navy ( C interrupts me)
C:What is a "blue water navy"?
Me: A navy that is capable of mounting far from its shore and ...ummm... and undertake expeditionary operations!
C:OK, so go on with your answer!
Me:Sir I was saying we need a blue water navy. For that we must have at least 3 aircraft carriers. At present we have only one and that is also in refit. Hence the urgency to buy an aircraft carrier.
C: Why do we need to buy it from Russia only?
Me: (Actually I should have said that this carrier was coming at very cheap prices, but didn't came to my mind) Sir, Russia has been our trusted ally for a long time and a major supplier of Defence hardware.
C: Are you aware of any recent controversy regarding this deal.
Me: Yes Sir! Our chief liaison officer, a naval officer, who was in Russia was alleged to be involved in objectionable relationships and it is still under investigation ...( C interrupts me..I was going to say "whether it had any impact on price escalation of the deal")
C: Is there any particular term for this...
Me (pat came the answer with confidence) : HONEYTRAP! ( all members gave a nod in affirmative signifying they were mighty impressed, my confidence shot through the roof)
C: Rajiv, in North India in case of any con act or cheating why is it called "CHAAR SAU BEESI".
Me: Sir, I don't know the exact reason but i can make a guess.
C: Make a guess!
Me: Section 420, IPC.
C: Yesss, that is the reason....
Me:(Wow. I prevailed again :P).
C:Now Tell me what is written in section 420.
Me (Confused, how does he expect me to know that): Sir, I haven't read section 420. but..ummm... it should be about acts of con, thugee, ......mmmmm
C: Are, section 420 is about "CHAAR SAU BEESI" ...(and he bursts into laughter...other members also share the fun)
Me: ( surprised, terrified and barely smiling)...Right Sir!
C suddenly get up and goes to the the bathroom.The sight of a vacant chair isn't too pleasing.
M1 takes over.
M1:Rajiv, you are from Bihar.What is the difference between right wing terrorism and left wing terrorism.
Me:Sir, left wing terrorism is..( cuts me short, everyone cuts me short :(
M1: No.No.No.You are from Bihar.You first tell me about right wing terrorism.(I think along with my parents origin, he noticed that I had Singh surname and hence a upper caste. I didn't want to be dragged in Ranvir Sena topic)
Me:Sir, right wing terrorism seeks to preserve the current structure of society and is led by the dominating sections.It is conservative and emerged in reaction to the left wing terrorism.
Left wing terrorism perceives the existing structure of society as unjust and seeks to change it by all means, violent if necessary.
C came back from toilet by this time and interferes again.
C:Is Jihadist terrorism right-wing or left-wing.
I must mention that C spoke in a low volume and table lamp was obstructing my view of his lips. I couldn't hear the word "Jihadist" clearly.
Me:Pardon, Sir.Did u Say jihadist?
Chairman (frowning): Yes, Jihadist. Haven't you heard the word.
Me:Ughhh....Yes Sir. ( pause)...Jihadist terrorism is a right wing terrorism.
Chairman: No!I think it is left-wing terrorism.They are against the existing structure of society.
Me(thinking hard): Sir, it is conservative in orientation and seeks to restore age-old customs ...
Chairman: No.NO.NO...leave it( points towards M1).
M1:What is the relation between governance and development?
Me:Without governance there might be economic growth but not equitable distribution of wealth which is necessary for development. Without governance peoples' participation is there only in policy implementation. Governance ensures participation happens not only during policy implementation but formulation stage as well.
M1 passes onto M2.
M2:Rajiv, you are from Jharkhand. Right?
Me:Right Sir.
M2:Why has NREGA failed in Jharkhand?
Me( Frankly I had no idea NREGA failed in Jharkhand, I knew I shouldn't bluff but not being able to say anything despite being from jharkhand would have looked stupid, so I tried after thinking for few seconds): Sir, its because of widespread illiteracy and the fact that communities at village level are divided along tribal lines. (...bull****)
M2: Rajiv, What you are saying is correct but that is not the exact reason. These factors are present in Rajasthan as well, but NREGA there has been a roaring success.
Chairman jumps in again.
Chairman: Rajiv, I think what you have said is incorrect. But since you have said it, defend it. Argue why you are right?
Me( Frankly, I was terrified. They called my bluff and left me no space to manoeuvre): ummm..hmmmmm.ummmmm...Sir, division along tribal lines leads to a fragmented power structure at Panchayat level and a strong panchyat is necessary for success of NREGA..
Chairman: Okay leave it...Tell me about the dynamics of Naxalism.
Me (Atlast, one question I had prepared about): Sir, naxalism originated as a peasant movement in 1967 in Naxalbari in West Bengal. However it was brought under control after strong and effective action of state govts. The present rise in Naxalism in last 15 years or so is tribal in origin and has happened due to alienation of tribal communities on a large scale. The alienation has happened due to displacement because of mining, dams, industrialisation and tribals not getting a share in development.
Chairman: Okay. Tell me how to solve it.
Me: Sir, first of all , before anything else, there has to be political consensus at Central and State level.
Chairman ( Rhetorically): Don't we have consensus? Everybody believes in constitution and integrity of India.
Me:Yes Sir, that is there but there is no consensus about the nature of the problem itself. Some states are averse to using police action against naxalites.
Chairman: Which are those states?
Me( I was straying into political affairs, a dangerous area): Jharkhand....Madhya Pradesh.
Chairman: No they don't have this problem.
Me: Just on the border areas with Chhattisgarh.
Chairman: Okay, and?
Me: West Bengal!
Chairman ( goes into fits) : No.No.No.They would love to use force.They love using force.
I should have known that Purushottam Agrawal has a leftist bent of mind and is sympathetic towards naxal cause.
Chairman: Anyways, what is next?
Me: Sir, after political consensus has been achieved there has to be a three-fold strategy.Firstly, we need a well-trained, well-motivated, well-equipped and sensitised police force. Secondly, we have to refresh all the development schemes that have been hanging.We need to roll them out afresh. And thirdly, govt has to wage psychological warfare.
Chairman: Whats that?
Me: Sir. naxals have been using propaganda through their front organisations very effectively. Govt. also needs to take similar initiatives.
Chairman passes the charge to M3.
M3:Rajiv your hobby is defence and .....(mumbles). What is the nuclear policy of India.
Me: Sir, the salient points of India's Nuclear Doctrine are....
Chairman:No, No, just tell me the nuclear policy.
Me: Sir, our nuclear doctrine is not to use nuclear weapons ( I was going to say unless the adversary uses nuclear weapons and blah blah but was interrupted again)
Chairman (exclaims) : NOT USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS????
Me: I meant "no-first-use" of nuclear weapons.
Chairman: Rajiv, don't you think we have put ourselves at disadvantage by declaring no-first-use. We have opened all our cards.Now everyone knows we won't use nuclear weapons first.
Me (after 5 seconds): Sir, militarily yes. Now our adversary will be emboldened to attack us especially if it is conventionally superior because it knows we won't use nuclear weapons unless it uses nuclear, biological or chemical weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction against us. BUT, nuclear policy is determined not just by military factors ( interrupted again)
Chairman: What are the other factors?
Me: Diplomatic and international factors. By declaring no-first-use we have established our image as a responsible, credible, non-proliferating nuclear state.
M3: Can you tell me about the difference between good governance and good administration.
Me:A good administration is only the machinery that delivers the public goods and it does so efficiently and effectively. However the goods that it delivers may not be what the public at large wants. This is where good governance comes in. In good governance people get a voice in deciding what is the administration going to deliver to them. ( I was being repetitive, but was out of words)
M3: How do we measure the development of a state. How do we understand if a state is developing?
Me: Per Capita income, life expectancy, literacy rate, mortality rates,i.e., infant mortality, maternal mortality and other such indicators.
M3: You have not talked about communication, infrastructure. ( then correcting himself)..okay these indicators will be good only when infrastructure and communication are good.
Passes on to M4 ( a lady member)
M4: Rajiv, you said various indicators indicate development. How?
Me: M'am, any of these indicators will be good only when there is progress in several other sectors. For ex., maternal mortality rate will be low only when income levels are good, people are literate, health awareness is there, infrastructure is good, hospitals, health centres are present, drugs are available AND THERE IS GENDER EQUALITY.
M4:What about development in Jharkhand?
Me: Jharkhand performs better in most indicators especially per capita income, maternal mortality, female literacy as compared to its neighbouring states like Bihar and Orissa however it performs poorly compared to West Bengal.
M4:You have worked as a manager in Tata Steel for about 3 years. What are the qualities in you that make you a good manager?
Me:Firstly, my proficiency in the particular technical function I am engaged in. Secondly, my ability to get along with people who are hardest to get along with. I have experienced this during my college days as well as in my work.
Chairman: Rajiv suppose you are posted in a district as a DM. You get the information that in a village, a young couple who married against caste rules are going to be punished by the panchayat. What will you do?
Me: Sir, as soon as I get the information I will rush there and inform the Sp and the police to reach there. Once there I will try to deter the people from taking any action by explaining the consequences of taking the law into their hands. I will try to convince the village elders against it.
Chairman: Suppose the mob is agitated and they don't listen to you.They are about to kill the couple.
Me: I will order the use of force.
Chairman looks at me and says your interview is over.


  1. what was ur score in this interview...??

  2. Frankly this is the first interview which sent shivers down my spine..

  3. Hello Sir,
    Many congratulations on your great feat
    I am very happy reading yours, Prakash sir’s blog, Garima mam’s blog,Anay Sir's blog and feel really inspired.

    Because of my keen interest in taking up CSE I have now started with my preparation.
    But my academics have been always a big concern.

    Class X aggregate 58%
    Class XII aggregate 44%
    B.E. aggregate 58.6%

    If I do good then what are the odds that these lower than average credentials will have an impact on my selection.
    As the UPSC web informs:
    “The candidate will be interviewed by a Board who will have before them a record of his career.”
    And further they are looking for a well educated youth.
    As in many other exams such as CAT they look into overall good profile.

    I have the zeal and now have cultivated the integrity.
    Kindly guide me through this as I am sometimes demotivated by these facts.

  4. Ravi, you are thinking about things too far away.What the board will make out of your academic record is something you should start thinking when you are done with your mains and are confident of being called for interview.
    My personal impression is if you are called to interview with your mains marks at the top end of the spectrum then board will be mighty impressed and would be curious to know about reason for lagging behind in school academics.
    In any case , in your interview you will have to come up with a good reason for your academic scores.
    I have seen candidates getting selected who hadn't even secured a first division in their bachelors.
    What you are thinking right now are just mindgames that come naturally when someone starts preparing oneself for a long haul.
    My suggestion is Just stop making excuses to yourself and get down with books.When you are over with mains, there would be many people to help you out with this question.

  5. Thanks a ton Sir..
    You are cent% right..
    Your reply has cleared all my doubts
    I had alresdy started off with the preparation..

    Thanks a lot again Sir.
    That was really a great confidence booster..

    God bless you sir
    All the very best

    Best regards

  6. How much time panel took to finish this interview??
    BTW thanks for jotting down everything in so much details.

  7. Fun story- I decided ages ago that I would put down "Technology in National Security" as one of my hobbies for my first attempt in 2012. I can field any question in this area (even the deep ones) and I'm really passionate about it. I was also sure that I would be the only guy with such a random hobby, until I came across your blog today. Well played, Sir.

  8. hi ravi sir, congrats for your success
    i hav grad as chemi engineer this year & working with a PSU ....after reading your blog i feel enlightened as if some new path is shown to me...........

    your column is truly inspiring & can imagine myself in interview room & watching your interview going on..
    very thanks for sharing your experiences & wish you would share mussoorie's happenings with your readers.

    God Bless you & take care

  9. Hi Rajiv sir,

    I have taken mains 2010 and have to start for the interview.Thanks for your interview description above. Apart from the mains form,optionals,currents etc which areas should I focus for the interview ? Also please suggest some credible coaching institutes in Delhi ( I am in Lucknow ) for the interview and any other tips if you feel ..

    Thanks and Regards,