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Career volume-34

Civil Services (Mains) Exam-2016
Understanding GS Paper-1

S. B. Singh

Of the four papers in mains General Studies (GS), GS Paper I is the lengthiest  one , accounting for almost one-third of the entire GS syllabus taken together. This is due to the fact that the vast history and geography  syllabus has been clubbed  together in this paper .Besides, a whole range of social issues  is also a part of this syllabus. Thus, GS Paper I presents a combined syllabus of three very lengthy areas posing a  real challenge to an aspiring candidate, especially as the exam draws to a close. However, the real challenge in this paper  is not its huge syllabus, but a poor understanding of the syllabus. Once the syllabus of each part , viz; history, geography and social issues is decoded correctly, preparation gets smooth and easy. In this article,  the true nature of GS Paper I shall be explained  along with  reference to  books and other sources.  A list of important topics for IAS-2016  examination is also given against each topic.


The history syllabus   comprises Modern India, Post Independent India ( i.e. developments between 1947-2016) and World History.  Bulk  of  questions are framed on modern Indian history and a couple of questions are asked  each from post  independent India and world history.

Modern India: As per the UPSC syllabus, modern  Indian  history  covers the period from 18th century upto 1947. This  indeed is a huge time period  and it means  practically everything to be covered after the decline of the Mughal  Empire and    beginning of European commercial activities. But in terms of questions, the 18th century history is not that important. Most of the questions are framed from the period starting the Revolt of 1857. Hence, the focus of study should be the period   between 1857-1947. However, one must have a preliminary knowledge about  pre-1857 period also especially about the rise of British power, its conflicts with Marathas, Sikhs etc and its policies towards  frontiers, especially annexation of Sind.  For this, NCERT book on modern India will suffice. For the period 1857-1947, the following   areas  constitute the syllabus.

1. Revolt of 1857, tribal and peasant revolts

2. Socio-Religious movements, lower caste movements, trade union movements

3. Formation of the Congress and the Moderate Era

4. Rise of militant nationalism

5. Era of revolutionary terrorism

6. Home Rule League movement

7.Gandhian Era: His techniques of struggle, his early agitations, his views on swaraj as expounded in his book  ‘HIND SWARAJ’, Non Cooperation Movement, Congress Swaraj Party, Nehru Report and Jinnah’s 14 points, Civil Disobedience movement, formation of Congress ministries in provinces, movements in princely  states, Quit India Movement,  INA, main  events between 1940-1947 leading to partition and independence

8. Rise of Muslim League, its confrontation with Congress, rise of communalism, the road to Pakistan

9. British  economic policies: agriculture, industry, trade, drain of wealth phenomenon

10. British administrative structure: civil service, judiciary, decentralization, provincial autonomy

11. British educational and Press policies

12. Famous conspiracy cases:  Kakori, Kanpur, Alipur, Lahore conspiracy cases

13. Rise of left wing within and outside Congress: ideology and contribution

14. Role of capitalists, foreigners, and women in national movement

15. Constitutional developments during British Rule: All acts from Regulating Act 1773  upto  Indian Independence Act, 1947. More emphasis on Acts of 1909, 1919, 1935. Also, the recommendations of Simon Commission, Cripps Mission,  Cabinet Delegation

Sources of study:

Text books: 1. Bipan Chandra’s NCERT as well as India’s struggle for independence. 2. R.C. Pradhan: Raj to Swaraj ( very important book which is not in knowledge of many  candidates), 3.A. R. Desai: Social background of Indian nationalism, 4. B. L Grover: Modern India

Reference books: 1. Nehru: Discovery of India.2. Durga Dutt: India from Curzon to Nehru and after .3. Gazetteer of India  Vol.II  ( Publications Division , Govt  of India)

Post Independent India

This part of the syllabus deals with the major developments  relating to nation building, economic development, political issues, foreign policy issues, environmental issues and the problem of insurgency in independent India. I have developed a succinct, compact syllabus for this part under the following broad topics.

1. Approaches to nation and state building in modern India.

2. Socialism as an economic and foreign policy doctrine, its characteristics and limitations

3.Strategies for development in agriculture and industry: Green revolution, industrial policies etc.

4.Developments in science and technology

5.Education in Modern India

6. Foregn policy and external engagements with the outside world: Tibet policy, Panchsheel  agreement, Asian  Relations Conference, Bandung Conference,  Indo- Nepal Treaty, 1950, Indo- Pak War,1965, Operation Gibraltor, Operation  Grand Slam, Tashkent Agreement, Sir Creek and Siachen  issues,  Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace and Cooperation, 1971,  Shimla  Agreement 1972, Indus Water Treaty, 1960,  Role of IPKF In Sri Lanka, India’s stand on Suez Crisis, Nehru’s Forward policy, NAM,  India’s stand on Korean war

7. Major movements in post-independent India: Women’s movements, environmental movements, peasant movements, tribal movements

8. Insurgency in independent India: Naga, Bodo, Gurkha, Naxalite movements,  Khalistan issue

9.Politics in independent India: Political parties, elections, voting behavior, regionalism, coalition politics

10. Emergency and its impact on constitution and democracy, Jaya Prakash Narayan’s Total Revolution


1. NCERT: Politics since independence

2. NCERT: Social change and development in India

3. Bipan Chandra: India since Independence

4. Paul R Brass: Politics in India since independence


 The syllabus of world history is  defined only in its broad contours. Fortunately, neither it covers a very wide period, nor there are more than 2-3 questions asked from this section. The topics falling  under  this section are:

1. Industrial Revolution and its ramifications

2. World Wars:  I and II

3. Colonisation and the process of decolonization

4. Ideologies : Capitalism, Socialism,  Communism

5. Revolutions : American, Russian, French revolutions

How to pursue world history syllabus:    The vital point  regarding preparation of world history syllabus is that it should be pursued  in the spirit of developing  general knowledge of important world events. In other words, one should just read its broad  themes  through   couple of good books and develop a general understanding of  world events from 18th century to 20th century. No  specialized  knowledge is required  for this part of the syllabus. However, a few books may help.

For IAS-2016 exam,   the  following questions may be asked.

1. Account for the rise and fall  of  communism.

2. Why capitalism has triumphed in the post- cold war world

3. French revolution and its significance for the world. Napoleon’s  contribution to a modern Europe.

4. Treaty of Versailles and Congress of Vienna

4. Redrawal of boundaries in the post-cold war period

5. Cuban missile crisis 

Recommended books on world history:

1. Arjun Dev and Indira  Arjun Dev : A History of the World

2. L. Mukherji:  A History of Europe

3. L. Mukherji:  A History of the world

Art and Culture

Art and culture  is an integral part of history because  it  evolves in historical and cultural contexts of  different times, different political ideologies  and religious beliefs. In other words, all art  and every culture must necessarily be understood in its specific context.   In fact, art  is  a part of culture only. In anthropological sense, culture implies a way of life, whereas,  in aesthetics, it implies  art.  India’s cultural context has always been its pluralism which is  manifested  in its religion, philosophy,  language etc. Thus, our rich heritage in art and culture needs to be connected to its context in order to be fully appreciated.

 As far as  the  scope of this section  is concerned,   both conventional and non conventional aspects should be given attention.. Under conventional  topics , one should cover the following:  architecture, sculpture, painting, pottery,  literature, dance, music, theatre.  It is the non conventional areas of art and culture which require a deeper understanding. Of late, UPSC has been asking questions of non conventional nature.  Conventional topics of art and culture can always be covered through text books, but the non conventional part requires a  deep analysis of  certain subtle aspects. For example, questions such as  why  three major battles were fought  at  Panipat,  how Sangam  literature  helps understand the Tamil culture or why ancient Indian    culture has continued till today while other major cultures got vanished (asked by UPSC in previous years)  call for original ideas and not mere facts and figures.

 Therefore, I strongly suggest the aspirants to develop a  wide  perspective on  art and culture.  One needs to carefully read the comments on the nature  and spirit of art and culture in standard history books e.g. A . L Basham, Romila Thapar,Gazetteer of India

Expected topics on Art and Culture for IAS 2016 exam:

1.Religious and secular spirit of Indian art as reflected in architecture, sculpture, painting etc

2. The achievements of Indus people in art and culture

3. Essence of Gandhara and Mathura schools, Ajanta paintings

4. Features of rock cut architecture  with reference to Pallava  architecture

5. Buddhist  art and architecture

6. Comparison between Nagara and Dravida   temple architecture

7.  Ashoka’s  policy of Dhamma; its comparison with Akbar’s Din-i-Ilahi

8.  Sufism and  Bhakti  movements as cultural expressions

9. Role of mythology in Indian art and culture

10. Himalayan passes like Hindukush and Khyber  not only as  gateways of invasions and conquest, but also highways of  diffusion of Indian culture in greater parts of Asia.

11. Indian cinema’s contribution in capturing essence of Indian art and culture

12. Indo- Islamic architecture

13. Indology and its contribution to discovery of India’s great artistic tradition

14. Role of Sanskrit in art and culture

15. India’s cultural conquest of Central and S. E. Asia

16. India’s major cultural institutions and their role in preserving, conserving and promoting art and culture

Recommended readings on Art and Culture

1. A. L . Basham: The  wonder that was India.

2.Gazetteer of India, Vol.II

3. S. A. A. Rizvi: The Wonder that was India, Vol.II

4. NCERT: The Indian Art

5. Basil Gray : The Arts of India


Next to history, geography comes second in  terms of vastness of syllabus in GS Paper I. Its syllabus combines both static and dynamic aspects. For mains, however, it is the dynamic /current aspects of geography  that counts most. In fact,  geography has been made to appear so general in the last few years’ examinations that  one can heavily  rely upon current affairs based  topics to get questions in the exam.    

Expected geography topics for IAS-2016

 1. Earthquakes 2. Drought  3.  Pollution: its types, causes , effects ,and steps. 4. Forest fires . 5. Water issues: groundwater management, aquifer mapping, river water disputes.6.Agriculture:  Irrigation,  national agriculture market, agriculture stress, GM crops. 7. National inland waterways development 8. Port led growth and creation of coastal economic zones. 9.Pulse production. 10. River interlinking and its implications.11. Solar energy and ISA. 12. Organic farming 13. Features of Paris climate deal  and  Kigali conference on HFC gases.13. El nino and La nina and their linkage with monsoons. 14. Blue economy: meaning and scope.

 Suggested books:

1. NCERT Geography books of 11th and 12th standard   


In this section, a diverse range  of questions can be framed given the fact that our diverse , unequal society has to contend with multiple issues arising from social, gender, economic discrimination, an apathetic and  indifferent attitude towards weaker sections, consequences of religious and cultural nationalism on minority groups and many such issues.  Besides, impact of globalization on our society and its constituents like the family, elderly people, women are specific issues outlined in the UPSC syllabus. Every year, there are questions on either women issues, child issues, or,  senior citizen related issues.

The good news about social issues is that it is the contemporary issues  on which the questions are framed. Therefore, there is absolutely no need to read up exclusive books on social issues. Just the NCERT  books on  Indian social issues are sufficient for background studies.  Most of the topics can be covered through newspaper articles as well as  write ups in magazines like EPW, Frontline,  Mainstream  etc.

 In understanding social issues,  one must note that these issues emerge from   institutionalized practices  like patriarchy, gender discrimination, feudalism, caste hierarchies etc. Further, inequalities of various kinds in society  account for a number of social problems in India.  All social issues need to be viewed from two perspectives. One,  from  the perspective of its root causes and two, the steps being taken to address the issue.  To cite an example, the issue of prohibition or drugs needs to be seen  in terms of the reasons for its existence and then in terms of  remedial steps being taken by the government. Finally, you should be able to spell out your own remedies to the given social problem. Day to day observance of such issues based on newspapers/ TV  news is a very convenient way of following  this section. There is no single book which can meet the needs of this section. In view of this limitation, the best option is  to  rely on NCERT books only.

NCERT Books on social issue

1.  Social Change and Development in India

2. Globalisation and social Change

List of relevant social issues for


1. Racism and Indian society ( the recent attacks on Africans, treatment of N.E. students in northern India, etc)

2. Child Labour

3. Reservation:  pro- reservation mobilization of middle castes like Marathas, Patidars, Kappoos, Jats: their causes and consequences

4. Trends in  women participation in  labour  force

5. Drug abuse: its social and economic consequences apart from health hazards, remedial measures

6. Prohibition: necessity vs. feasibility

7. Problems of single women in India

8. Nuclear families and increasing social safety vacuum

9. Rising  suicide rates, especially among teenagers, causes and remedies

10.Transgender rights

11. Rising levels of divorce in India

12. Gender inequality in personal laws

13. Globalisation and its impact on youth


(S. B. Singh is an academician and IAS mentor. He can be reached on his email: sb_singh2003@yahoo.com Views expressed are personal)