After the Constitution of a free India took effect on 26 January 1950, the Union Public Service Commission conducted the first examination to recruit personnel for the IAS and other Central Services the same year. There were 3,647 candidates for this examination. UPSC’s first report does not mention the number of Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates. But it does say that Achyutananda Das became the country’s first SC candidate to make it to the IAS. He, in fact, topped the written examination held in 1950.
Achyutananda Das, who hailed from West Bengal, secured 609 out of 1050 marks (58 per cent) in the written examination while N. Krishnan from Madras scored 602 (57.33 per cent). But in the interview, Krishnan secured 260 out of 300 (86.66 per cent) in contrast to Das’ 110 (36.66 per cent), leaving Das way behind Krishnan in the overall assessment. However, another candidate from West Bengal, Aniruddha Dasgupta, performed extraordinarily in the interview. The marks obtained by these three candidates may be examined to appreciate the case of the topper (see table).
|Name of Candidate||Compulsory Papers (150 marks each)||Optional Papers (200 marks each)||Total|
Only 7 marks separated Achyutananda Das and N. Krishnan in the written exam. Hence, it is not much of a surprise that Krishnan finished ahead of Das, with the former scoring more than twice as much as the latter in the interview. But comparing Aniruddha Dasgupta and Achyutananda Das’ marks raises a number of issues. Dasgupta secured the highest marks in the interview among all candidates recommended for appointment to the IAS, IPS, IFS, etc. But it was also he who got the lowest score in the written exam among all those who had qualified for appointment to the IAS and allied services. Further, he scored the lowest marks among all the qualified candidates in General Knowledge. Dasgupta scored 26.66 per cent in General Knowledge, 47.14 per cent in the entire written exam, but an astounding 88.33 per cent in the interview (“personality test”) as against 52.66 per cent, 58 per cent and 36.67 per cent, respectively, scored by Achyutananda Das. The difference in marks of Das and Dasgupta in the written examination was an unbridgeable 114.
Any candidate strong in General Knowledge is usually expected to face the selection board very confidently and to perform competently. Aniruddha Dasgupta’s had the poorest (26.66 per cent) score among all successful candidates in General Knowledge, yet he scored the highest in the interview. His score of 265 was followed by Krishnan’s 260 but Achyutananda Das was far behind. Overall, Krishnan topped, Aniruddha Dasgupta came 22nd and Achyutananda Das bagged the 48th position. Das was the lowest-ranked candidate eligible for appointment to the IAS. He was allotted the Uttar Pradesh cadre.
In the written exam, Aniruddha Dasgupta scored more than Achyutananda Das and Krishnan in the General English paper only. There is no published record of the questions that the selection board asked Das, Dasgupta and Krishnan and the candidates’ answers to those questions. If those were available, posterity would have benefited by using the techniques adopted by Dasgupta, who managed to bowl over the UPSC’s selection board despite miserable written exam scores.
First Scheduled Tribe IAS officer
Assam’s Nampui Jam Chonga became the country’s first Tribal IAS officer in 1954. He was allotted the Assam-Meghalaya cadre. His selection bears striking similarities to that of Achyutananda Das, the first SC IAS officer. Nampui Jam Chonga scored the third highest mark in General Knowledge and 51.51 per cent in the entire written exam but got only 160 (53.33 per cent) in the interview. His scores can be compared with that of Rathindra Nath Sengupta, who was allotted the IAS West Bengal cadre.
Nampui Jam Chonga scored 747 in the written exam against Rathindra Nath Sengupta’s 692, the difference being 53. This translated to a percentage of 51.51 and 47.86, respectively. Sengupta’s score (50) in General English was the lowest of all the qualified candidates; in General Knowledge, his score was the second lowest. Nevertheless, Sengupta bagged the second highest score (240 marks, 80 per cent) in the “personality test”, the highest score, 260 (86.66 per cent), being secured by two candidates – S.K. Chaturvedi of the Madhya Pradesh cadre and D. Bandopadhyay of the West Bengal cadre. S.K. Chaturvedi was the topper of the batch.
Nampui Jam Chonga was ultimately ranked 64th, the last in the merit list eligible for appointment to the IAS whereas Rathindra Nath Sengupta was ranked 52nd.
Notwithstanding their impressive performance in written exam, both Achyutananda Das and Nampui Jam Chonga could not impress the selection board in the personality test. Dasgupta and Sengupta, on the other hand, achieved the opposite and in fact more than compensated for their poor showing in the written exam with their “personality”.
How to interview a candidate
I was commissioner, Tirhut Division, Bihar, from 1991 to 1995. During this period, the governor of Bihar, Dr A. R. Kidwai, offered me the post of Vice-Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur.
Dr Kidwai was a former chairman of the Union Public Service Commission. Dr Kidwai had headed the board that interviewed me for selection to the IAS in 1973. On learning that I was one of the candidates he had interviewed, he became affectionate towards me. As the vice-chancellor of the trouble-torn university in north Bihar I interacted with him frequently.
Once, I interviewed him for a Hindi monthly magazine, Adal Badal, with which I was closely associated. The editor, Prof Shailendra Srivastava, who taught at the university, was also present at the interview. Dr Kidwai was very affable and answered our questions candidly and leisurely. Here is what he told us:
On the need for the UPSC interview: “Through the interview an attempt is made to assess the potential of a person, his integrity, honesty and attitudinal make-up.”
Say, the candidate can’t answer some of the questions: “No problem. We never expect any or every candidate to know everything on earth. But we believe he knows many things that we haven’t asked him about … The candidate is expected to admit to his being unaware about certain things and be honest about it. This won’t be held against him at all … He must not try to bluff the interviewers. This will become clear to them. A lack of integrity on the part of the candidate will be evident, leading the interviewers to doubt his character.”
On whether being unable to converse in English means disqualification: “No, not at all. A candidate from Haryana was visiting Delhi for the first time ever. The whole interview of this candidate was conducted in Hindi. He could not answer many questions properly. But when we focused on his rural background and asked relevant questions, he showed his mettle. He talked about welcome changes like the farming communities becoming prosperous in the wake of Green Revolution, improvement in road transport, better marketing facilities of agricultural commodities and dairy products, leading to a greater inflow of money in village economy, improvement in educational facilities, more schools and colleges, better health and longevity. He also noted negative effects of these changes on rural life – alcohol, blue films, eve-teasing, fast life, tensions.
Thus he was able to present before us the condition of rural Haryana as a confident and erudite scholar. We were very impressed. This village boy scored the highest marks in the interview.”
On irrelevant questions: “It is unfair to ask questions on physics to a student of philosophy or history. That way a candidate’s intrinsic qualities cannot be assessed.”
Achyutananda Das and Nampui Jam Chonga weren’t as lucky as the village boy from Haryana. Dr Kidwai wasn’t in the selection board for their interviews. Still, despite all odds, they set the trend for members of the deprived communities joining India’s powerful bureaucracy.