Tips for GS 2 Answer Writing in UPSC Mains

By | August 18, 2019

Note: This is a free chapter from my book, Fundamentals of Essay and Answer Writing. I have previously published another excerpt on Introductions to Essay. The book has similar detailed chapters on Essay and answer writing for GS-1,2,3,4, and the Anthropology optional. You can get the book here.

GS-2 is tricky in the sense that it’s easy to find the sources and prepare from them, yet for many aspirants, scoring above 100 feels like an uphill task. In this chapter, we will break down the syllabus, examine each segment in detail, and discuss what changes you can bring in your preparation and answer writing to improve your scores.

Syllabus under GS-2 can be classified into two segments: 

  • Polity, Governance & Social Justice
  • International Relations. 

A mistake many aspirants commit while preparing for this paper is to put too much focus on the current affairs part, at the cost of the equally important static portion. Questions from this topic pertain to Constitution, Government schemes, laws, governance and development sector etc, linking them all to some current affair issue. But, it’s not enough to just know about the issue, you need to also connect it to the theory part of the syllabus. 

In the following sections, I lay out some fundamental guidelines for answering GS-2 questions.

POLITY, GOVERNANCE & SOCIAL JUSTICE

BEGIN WITH CONSTITUTIONAL ARTICLES

Example: The local self-government system in India has not proved to be effective instrument of governance. Critically examine the statement and give your views to improve the situation.

You can start the answer as follows: 

A: 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution established local self government in India. Some important articles pertaining to local government are 243A (Gram Sabha), 243B (Panchayats), 243G & 243W(Powers and responsibilities of Panchayats and Municipalities), 243 ZD & ZE (District and Metropolitan Planning Committee).

This is a simple rule of thumb for Polity related questions, but works remarkably well. Whenever you read a question that has some Constitutional relevance, simply start it with the article number. Mentioning the article number will convey to the examiner that you have an idea about the fundamental principles of the Constitution and how it operates. Also, memorising them serves another useful purpose. Sometimes, questions are based on the Constitutional articles themselves without revealing other details. If you can’t figure out what that Article is about, you will be in no position to attempt that question. For instance, consider the following question:

“The Supreme Court’s use of its vast powers under Article 142 may have done tremendous good. However, it’s time to have some checks and balances.” Critically analyse  the statement citing recent judgements.

If you don’t know what Article 142 refers to, you’ll be left clueless. Hence, it’s critical that you remember them like the back of your hand. At first, it might seem difficult to memorise so many, but with enough revisions, it isn’t that hard. Knowing Constitutional articles will help you across every stage and paper of the exam— Prelims, Essay, GS and even the interview. The complete list of important articles can be found on my blog anudeepdurishetty.in.

PRESENT BOTH SIDES OF THE ISSUE

In GS 2, questions are usually asked on contentious topics where there is a possibility to take more than one view. In such questions, it helps to mention both sides of the argument even if not explicitly asked in the question and club them under relevant subheadings (arguments for/ arguments against) to mark a clear distinction between both. To illustrate, consider this question: “Simultaneous election to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies will limit the amount of time and money spent in electioneering but it will reduce the government’s accountability to the people. Discuss.” 

This is a debatable topic and one may agree or disagree with the statement. A common mistake aspirants commit is to take a side in the introduction itself and use rest of the answer to justify it repeatedly. A better approach is to present both sides of the topic with substantiation (data, facts, reasoning) and conclude the answer with what you think is right. 

USE SUBHEADINGS 

Adding subheadings in the main body of the answer helps in two ways: One, it will help you break down the question into smaller, manageable chunks and two, it will help you stay close to the topic that’s being asked. It will convey to the examiner that you are precisely answering the question. For the question: Explain the salient features of the constitution (One Hundred and First Amendment) Act, 2016. Do you think it is efficacious enough ‘to remove cascading effect of taxes and provide for common national market for goods and services’?

Subheadings for this question would be:  

  • Salient Features of the Act
  • GST and Cascading Of Taxes 
  • GST and Common National Market
  • Problems in the current Act
  • Way forward/Suggestions

Observe how the terms in the subheadings closely mimic the terms in the question. They also make your answer easy to comprehend for the examiner. 

ADD DATA AND STATISTICS

GS-2 is mostly analysis based paper with questions asking for your opinion. Merely writing arguments without facts and data would make your answers sound shallow. You must be armed with data and facts and mention them wherever apt. They make your arguments credible. If you want to say that India is struggling under the burden of NPAs— mention by how much, and what’s the trend of such NPA figures— is it increasing or decreasing? If you want to argue how India’s public health is in bad shape, back it up with numbers like IMR, high percentage out of pocket expenditure, MMR, scarcity of doctors, WHO standards etc., 

Further, you can also cite authentic reports from reputed international and national organisations to drive home your point. For instance, Transparency International report findings on corruption,  ASER on education etc.

MENTION SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENTS

These add incredible value and authority to your arguments. In Mains, it’s always the opinion of the experts that matter. We merely convey those expert opinions. Since Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of laws and the Constitution, we must know about the landmark judgments of the Apex court and use them wherever relevant. Below are some of the important judgments in independent India’s history. These are by no means exhaustive. If you think I have missed some important judgements, please add and memorize this list. 

NAME OF THE CASE   JUDGEMENT                                                                                                                                                                          
SR BommaiKept a check on the powers under Article 356.
Keshavananda Bharati Propounded the concept of Basic Structure of the Constitution
Waman Rao, Minerva Mills Upheld that Judicial review is part of the basic structure
I.R. Coelho Clarified the limits of Ninth Schedule of the Constitution and upheld importance of basic structure
Navtej Singh JoharStuck down Sec 377 of IPC 
Maneka GandhiInterpreted scope of Art 21 and gave the concept of due process of law 
AK GopalanInterpreted scope of Art 21 and gave the concept of procedure established by law
GolaknathHeld that Parliament cannot curtail any of the Fundamental rights
Kedar Nath SinghClarified the scope of Sedition under Sec 124A
Hussainara Khatoon Judgement on the plight of undertrials. Genesis of PIL.
Olga Tellis Adjudicated on the rights of pavement dwellers 
Bachan SinghGave the ‘rarest of rare’ doctrine for awarding death penalty.
Sheela BharseOn custodial violence against women. Case was taken up based on a simple letter from a journalist.
Indira SawhneyAdjudicated on the scope and extent of Art 16 (4) that provided for reservation 
VishakhaEstablished guidelines to prevent sexual harassment at workplace.
Samatha      Upheld tribal rights                                                                                                        
Three Judges Cases                                                           Genesis of Collegium system
Shreya Singhal  Struck down Sec 66A of IT Act, 2000.                                                     
Puttaswamy (Privacy case)                             Upheld Right to privacy as a fundamental right              
Lily Thomas On disqualification of convicted elected representatives 
Shah Bano Begum            Gave precedence to individual rights over personal laws.

RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE COMMITTEES AND COMMISSIONS 

For this paper, every committee that’s in news is important. But apart from these current affairs related ones, there are a few core committees of the past whose observations and recommendations have remained timeless. You can quote them in your answers to substantiate your opinion, especially in the conclusion. The following list is not exhaustive. 

  • 1st ARC
  • 2nd ARC
  • Sarkaria Commission
  • Puncchhi Commission
  • Law Commission Reports
  • NCRWC

ILLUSTRATIONS

Illustrations and diagrams should be drawn when it meets two conditions: one, when it helps you express more content concisely and in less time. Two, it adds value and illuminates your answer by way of introducing or explaining a concept simply; conveying geographical spread on a map etc.

So if you find an info-graphic, a map or a graph in the newspaper or the internet, note them down and use them in your answers. In the Mains exam, I drew a diagram for the GST related question as below to show how it overcomes the problems of cascading taxes.

UPSC Mains GS 2 Answer Writing Diagram

Cascading of Taxes and GST

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Mastering IR is about grasping a few fundamentals and applying them in your answers. Below is a list of such basics that you need to cover while preparing for this section.

HISTORICAL BACKDROP 

With respect to every major bilateral relationship, you must know about the history and all the important agreements/treaties we had signed with those countries. For instance, Indo-Nepal treaty of Friendship, Kyoto protocol, Indo-Sri Lanka accord etc. might be dated agreements, but you must have a fair idea about them. List 4-5 core points of each agreement, and understand them. Adding these will add authority to your answers.  

FACTUAL DETAILS ABOUT A CURRENT ISSUE 

For every current affair issue, have thorough factual knowledge related to it. Example: If International Court of Justice is in news, you must know about ICJ, its structure and mandate, how cases are referred to it etc., It will help you write better answers.

MULTI-DIMENSIONAL PERSPECTIVE 

Understand the holistic relation that India shares with important countries such as US, UK, and other neighbouring countries. It can be categorised in the following way. 

  • Technological: Includes all the scientific and tech related relationship. For example, India-US collaborates to address tech initiative.
  • Economic: Trade and investment aspect of the bilateral relationship
  • Global fora: How India is cooperating with that particular country in various international groupings. For example, India – Japan relationship you can mention how we are working together in ASEAN, UNSC status, how Japan is helping us at Nuclear Suppliers Group etc.,
  • Strategic & Defence: In your answers, give specific names when you write about nuclear or defence cooperation. Mention the name of the equipment such as BARAK (Israel), Apache Helicopter (US), S-400 (Russia) etc. or various military exercises (SIMBEX, MILAN, Varun etc). 
  • Educational and Cultural: Any student exchange, tourism, establishment of universities, people to people contact initiatives etc.,

Also, prepare suggestions to improve the ties/overcome a challenge/way forward for each diplomatic relationship (this will inevitably form the conclusion for most of your answers)

ILLUSTRATIONS

Maps are the most versatile, useful tools for illustration in your answers. Whenever you see a question, think of ways by which you can present better through maps. Every IR question gives you scope to draw a map. You should practise enough so that so that you can draw and label them under a minute. 

For example: In India-China border dispute question, you can draw the following map and label the disputed areas.