Merit for whom?

A Dalit Topper in the IAS: Is he meritorious? Dr.A.K.Biswas IAS(rtd)

The curiosity to find out the first IAS among the dalits, drove me to the National Library, Calcutta. A few weeks there was rewarded with a startling revelation by conventional perception of merit. Achyutananda Das, a Bengali scheduled caste, not only made it to the highest service of fledgling nation in 1950 but also grabbed the top position in written examinations. That year the UPSC came into being with the new constitution of India on the 26th January. The Federal Public Service Commission, a relic of the British era, stood superseded thereby. The UPSC’s  first IAS examination witnessed the aforesaid SC in the top slot. N.Krishnan, a graduate of Madras University, who secured second position, was 11 marks behind A.Das. But A.Das was awarded 110. i.e., mere 36.6% marks out of 300 in interview. Krishnan, however, obtained 260, which works out to 86.6% in the viva voce and topper in final analysis the merit list.

In the initial years the IAS examinations were conducted in 1350 marks; three compulsory subjects, each of 150; three optional , each of 200 besides viva voice of 300marks, were added for India foreign service, candidates were tested 400 marks in viva voice as against 300 marks for IAS. For Indian Police Service and Central Services 200 were earmarked for personality tests. I found the case of another Bengali, Aniruddha Dasgupta, interesting as well as absorbing. He was awarded startling 265 marks or 88.88 in personality test. This warrants close look and analysis of his case. Mark-sheets of the three, in tabular form, are marshalled for comparison and analysis.

Statement showing marks obtained by three candidates in IAS examination in 1950

Candidate  Compulsory* Optional Total Viva Grand

Subject    Subject   Marks   voice   Total

(150 marks each)  (200 marks each)

EE  GE  GK  I   ii     iii  1050  300   1350

A.Das        80  76   79 106 141 127 613  110  719

N.Krishnan105 68   69 112 127 121  602 260  862

A.Dasgupta75  100         40  78  101  40   495 265 760

Candidate Compulsory Subject Optional subject Total


Viva voice Grand Total
  150 marks each 200 Marks each And obtain Total & obtain & obtain
  EE GE GK i ii iii 1050 300 1350
A.Das 80 76 79 106 141 127 613 110 719
N.nan N.Krishnan 105 68 69 112 127 121 602 260 862
A.Dasgupta 75 100 40 78 101 40 495 265 760


(UPSC Pamphlet of IAS, etc. examinations, part ii 1950-51) (Note: EE: English Essay; GE: General English; GK: General Knowledge)

The case of A.Dasgupta has not been taken up as a specimen of brilliance. He represents exactly the opposite in glaring manner. In the final reckoning he was among the successful candidates recommended for appointment for IFS solely because of the extraordinary high marks warded to him in viva voice.

The table shows that out of 1050 marks, A.Das secured 613; Krishnan, 602 and A.Dasgupta ; poor 495 in written examinations.

In percentage, the topper A.Das; 58.3%, Krishnan; 57.3% and A.Dasgupta; 47.1%.

The picture underwent a dramatic, nay mind-boggling change in the viva voice, thanks to 300 marks earmarked for personality test. Award of whopping 265 of 300 in viva voice put A.Dasgupta in a paradoxical situation.

In written papers, he was 11.2% behind A.Das’s scores. In absolute terms, Dasgupta lagged behind A.Das by astounding 118 marks. In no written subject compulsory or optional-did he secure 118 marks. But his viva voice earned him 155 marks more than the SC topper in written test. This is pregnant with significance and dubious meaning.

The document of UPSC show that of all the candidates qualified and called for interview. A.Dasgupta was the last man. But in the final results declared, A.Das was placed at the bottom of the 48 successful candidates, who were recommended for appointment. He was assigned the 48th position and served the State of Uttar Pradesh. A.Dasgupta was recommended for IFS. The scores of Krishnan in viva voice appear to be in harmony with his written results. This harmony between the two ends, needless to emphasis, is seriously wanting in the case of the two Bengali competitors. This leaves room for in-depth probing.

In interview, the potential of candidate is assessed on the basis of his area of study and specialization. Perhaps these conventional yardsticks were applied neither in case of A.Das nor in that of A.Dasguplta. If so, their results would most likely be in line with Krishnan who struck a balance between the written and personality tests. Dasgupta was awarded in 88.3% viva voice, which was  a complete divorce from his written performance. He was 4147 ahead of written performance, notwithstanding the fact that he secured mere 47.1% in written examinations. A.Das similarly, was awarded 36.6% marks, which is 21.7% below his written scores! Reason fails to explain it.

What appears strange is that Anirudda Dasgupta’s personality overwhelmed the interview board though him examiners were little impressive by his pen. And A.Das personality, in comparison, miserably failed to keep pace with his pen.

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