The UPSC exam consists of 3 stages - Prelims, Mains and Interview.

Amongst them Mains is the most crucial stage, as in your final selection depends upon mains (Total marks: 1750 marks) and interview marks (Total marks: 275 marks), while prelims is merely of qualifying nature.

Now with respect to mains, there are 9 papers, having two papers of the optional subject - signifying a weightage of 500 marks ( Paper 1 and Paper 2- 250 marks each).  Though weightage seems to be less, the marks one can fetch in the optional subject make it most important.

This means that with a smart strategy one can achieve 60-70 % Marks ( 300-350 marks out of 500) while for other GS papers getting close to 50% is itself a mammoth task.

Therefore choosing a good optional is a sine qua non for clearing the UPSC exam. 

Decoding PSIR as an Optional :    

The optional consists of two papers - 

  1. Paper I - Political Theory and Indian Politics
  2. Paper II - Comparative Politics and International Relations


Paper - I: Political Theory and Indian Politics: 

PART - A: Political Theory and Thinkers

  1. Political Theory: meaning and approaches.
  2. Theories of the State: Liberal, Neoliberal, Marxist, Pluralist, Post-colonial and feminist.
  3. Justice: Conceptions of justice with special reference to Rawl’s theory of justice and its communitarian critiques.
  4. Equality: Social, political and economic; relationship between equality and freedom; Affirmative action.
  5. Rights: Meaning and theories; different kinds of rights; concept of Human Rights.
  6. Democracy: Classical and contemporary theories; different models of democracy – representative, participatory and deliberative.
  7. Concept of power, hegemony, ideology and legitimacy.
  8. Political Ideologies: Liberalism, Socialism, Marxism, Fascism, Gandhism and Feminism.
  9. Indian Political Thought : Dharamshastra, Arthashastra and Buddhist traditions; Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Sri Aurobindo, M.K. Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, M.N. Roy .
  10. Western Political Thought: Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, John S. Mill, Marx, Gramsci, Hannah Arendt.

PART - B: Indian Government and Politics:

  1. Indian Nationalism:
    1. Political Strategies of India’s Freedom Struggle: Constitutionalism to mass Satyagraha, Non-cooperation, Civil Disobedience; Militant and revolutionary movements, Peasant and workers’ movements.
    2. Perspectives on Indian National Movement: Liberal, Socialist and Marxist; Radical humanist and Dalit.
  2. Making of the Indian Constitution: Legacies of the British rule; different social and political perspectives. 
  3. Salient Features of the Indian Constitution: The Preamble, Fundamental Rights and Duties, Directive Principles; Parliamentary System and Amendment  Procedures; Judicial Review and Basic Structure doctrine.
  4. a) Principal Organs of the Union Government: Envisaged role and actual working of the Executive, Legislature and Supreme Court.  

b) Principal Organs of the State Government: Envisaged role and actual working of the Executive, Legislature and High Courts.

  1. Grassroots Democracy: Panchayati Raj and Municipal Government; significance of 73rd and 74th Amendments; Grassroot movements. 
  2. Statutory Institutions/Commissions: Election Commission, Comptroller and Auditor General, Finance Commission, Union Public Service Commission, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, National Commission for Women; National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Minorities, National Backward Classes Commission.
  3. Federalism: Constitutional provisions; changing nature of centre-state relations; integrationist tendencies and regional aspirations; inter-state disputes.
  4. Planning and Economic Development : Nehruvian and Gandhian perspectives; role of planning and public sector; Green Revolution, land reforms and agrarian relations; liberalization and economic reforms.
  5. Caste, Religion and Ethnicity in Indian Politics. 
  6. Party System: National and regional political parties, ideological and social bases of parties; patterns of coalition politics; Pressure groups, trends in electoral behaviour; changing socio- economic profile of Legislators.     
  7.  Social Movements: Civil liberties and human rights movements; women’s movements; environmentalist movements.              

Paper II: Comparative Politics and International Relations

PART - A: Comparative Political Analysis and International Politics:

  1. Comparative Politics: Nature and major approaches; political economy and political sociology perspectives; limitations of the comparative method.
  2. State in comparative perspective: Characteristics and changing nature of the State in capitalist and socialist economies, and,  advanced industrial and developing societies.
  3. Politics of Representation and Participation: Political parties, pressure groups and social movements in advanced industrial and developing societies.
  4. Globalisation: Responses from developed and developing societies.
  5. Approaches to the Study of International Relations: Idealist, Realist, Marxist, Functionalist and Systems theory.
  6. Key concepts in International Relations: National interest, Security and power; Balance of power and deterrence; Transnational actors and collective security; World capitalist economy and globalisation. 
  7. Changing International Political Order:   
    1. Rise of superpowers; strategic and ideological Bipolarity, arms race and Cold War; nuclear threat;
    2. Non-aligned movement: Aims and achievements;
    3. Collapse of the Soviet Union; Unipolarity and American hegemony; relevance of non-alignment in the contemporary world.
  8. Evolution of the International Economic System: From Bretton Woods to WTO; Socialist economies and the CMEA (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance); Third World demand for new international economic order; Globalisation of the world economy.
  9. United Nations: Envisaged role and actual record; specialized UN agencies-aims and functioning; need for UN reforms.
  10. Regionalisation of World Politics: EU, ASEAN, APEC, SAARC, NAFTA.
  11. Contemporary Global Concerns: Democracy, human rights, environment, gender justice, terrorism, nuclear proliferation.

PART - B: India and the World

  1. Indian Foreign Policy: Determinants of foreign policy; institutions of policy-making; continuity and change.
  2. India’s Contribution to the Non-Alignment Movement: Different phases; current role.
  3. India and South Asia:
    1. Regional Cooperation: SAARC – past performance and future prospects.
    2. South Asia as a Free Trade Area.
    3. India’s “Look East” policy.
    4. Impediments to regional cooperation: river water disputes; illegal cross-border migration; ethnic conflicts and insurgencies; border disputes.
  4. India and the Global South: Relations with Africa and Latin America; leadership role in the demand for NIEO and WTO negotiations.
  5. India and the Global Centres of Power: USA, EU, Japan, China and Russia.
  6. India and the UN System: Role in UN Peace-keeping; demand for Permanent Seat in the Security Council.
  7. India and the Nuclear Question: Changing perceptions and policy.
  8. Recent developments in Indian Foreign policy: India’s position on the recent crisis in Afghanistan, Iraq and West Asia, growing relations with US and Israel; vision of a new world order. 

Sources to Refer:

Paper 1, Part A

  • An Introduction to Political Theory by O.P Gauba
  • Political Ideologies by Andrew Heywood
  • Western Political Thoughts - A History of Political Thought' by Subrata Mukharjee; From Socrates to the Age of Ideology by Brian R Nelson.
  • Indian Political Thoughts by VR Mehta
  • Fifty major political thinkers: Routledge Publication

Note: For understanding the basic philosophy given by major thinkers one can follow youtube channels - Philosophy Tube and The School of Life

Paper 1, Part B

  • An introduction to constitution - DD Basu (especially for the topics Fundamental Rights and Centre-State Relations)
  • Indian Polity - Laxmikanth
  • An Oxford companion to politics in India-Niraja Gopal Jayal and Pratap Bhanu Mehta (Do not read page by page - only portions mentioned in the syllabus)
  • India’s Struggle For Independence - Bipan Chandra
  • Indian Government and Politics - B L Fadia

Note: As this portion is dynamic in nature keep updating your notes from Newspaper articles. One can also follow the Book Review section(weekly) in the newspaper for getting new perspectives about an issue.

Paper 2, Part A

  • Global politics- Andrew Heywood
  • IGNOU MPS Material: MPS-04
  • 50 Key Thinkers in International Relations: Routledge Publication

Paper 2, Part B

  • Does the Elephant Dance?: Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy - David M. Malone

Note: Again this is dynamic in nature. For this read IR from the editorial section of a newspaper and keep updating your notes. One can also follow blogs of important IR experts like C Rajamohan, Suhasini Haider etc. RSTV programmes like Big Picture and India’s World are also helpful in covering some of the burning IR issues. One can also refer to websites like ORF and IDSA.

One can follow The Hindu and The Indian Express to cover dynamic portions of Part B of both the papers.

Why should you choose it as your optional ?

  • It is a very interesting subject which tests your capability of integrating static knowledge with contemporary issues.
  • Apart from interest the huge overlap with GS Syllabus often compels a candidate to choose it as one’s optional.
    • Polity and International relations are a crucial part of Prelims syllabus.
    • Mains - 
    • GS 1 ( Freedom Struggle, Social Issues)
    • GS 2 ( Constitution, Polity , Social Justice and International Relations)
    • GS 3 ( Security , Environment)
    • GS 4 ( Moral Thinkers and Philosophical part)
    • Essay ( Topics on Political and International issues are often asked)

2017 Essay Topics - Has the Non- Alignment Movement (NAM) lost its relevance in a multipolar world? 

Impact of the new economic measures on fiscal ties between the union and states in India)

  • In the interview round a good knowledge of topics in Polity, Governance and International Relations, etc. can be useful.
  • The material is readily available in the market, hence no need to read multiple books for same topics, thus saving a lot of time and effort.
  • The optional is also suitable for candidates who don't have PSIR as their graduation stream( mainly engineers).
  • Newspaper reading becomes easier when you are well acquainted with the political background of India and the world. 
  • The syllabus is very useful even after clearing the IAS exam as a large number of concepts can be used while working for the government.

Cautions to be observed before choosing it as an optional:

  • Go through the syllabus properly and study the optional for 15-20 days so as to see your interest in the subject as the syllabus of PSIR is not very small.
  • Past year papers of at least the last 3 years must be seen so as to understand the nature of questions and the quantum of depth of a topic one needs to read. This will help you find the extent and time you would be required to invest in the optional.
  • Read the strategy of political science toppers as they have developed a command over the subject and can provide you with hitherto unheard insights in relation to the subject - particularly the hidden advantages and disadvantages.   

PSIR is a very good optional having multiple advantages but cautious analysis is required before taking it up as an optional because what is beneficial for one might be detrimental to another.


Some Important Links:

UPSC Prelims 2019 Question Paper pdf                                  Article 300A

Instruments of Capital Market                                                  Capital Market Instruments

Parliamentary form of Government in India                           Explain the Current Trends in Inflation

Classification of Environment                                                    First Past the Post System UPSC

Environmental Clearance Process in India                               Constitutional Values