The MCS Exam 2010 as a test case

Thangkhanlal Ngaihte *

The Manipur Public Service Commission (MPSC) has invited applications for the Manipur Civil Services combined competitive examination, 2010. The MPSC is a State-level statutory body, set up on the lines of the constitutionally-mandated Union Public Service Commission at the National level.

The purpose for setting up these bodies is, among others, to preserve the merit system for recruitment to senior positions in Government service at the Central and State levels.

To that end, these bodies are made 'independent', in the double sense that their working processes and conditions and constitutionally protected and are not subject to the control and supervision of the Government of the day.

This system, it may be argued, have served India well, at least at the central level. The workings of the UPSC may seem opaque and arbitrary at times, but one has not heard about even one serious complaint about corruption or malfeasance in its conduct of recruitment.

But this is not true for the State Public Service Commissions, whose chairperson and members are selected and appointed and their funding, etc are controlled by the respective states.

The conduct of the Manipur PSC has also not been above suspicion in many instances and gossips abound about corruption and money changing hands in favour of certain candidates in some examinations. It is in this light that the recruitment process under way now at MPSC deserves our attention.

While one fervently hopes that the recruitment process will run through fairly and justly, and that the best and brightest talents will be recruited, there is also scope for scepticism. The fact that the MCS preliminary examination conducted in 2008 could be cancelled without any apparent reason and no one raises questions about it does not augur well.

But, here is the thing: if Manipur is to start anew on the path of accountable governance and development, the place to start the process is at MPSC. It is a fact that some very good candidates (some of whom have been college Lecturers, university toppers, or journalists, with proven records of competency) were recruited in the last MPSC recruitment (2005-2007).

These people, I am sure, had got through the exam purely on their merit and without paying bribes. It is also unlikely that these people returned home and joined state service with the aim to amass ill-gotten wealth. I am sure they came with the highest ideals to serve their State. And there is reason to believe that these few good people, who now occupy senior positions in the state administration, helped in raising the level of governance to a higher pedestal, however minuscule the scale may be.

Now, only if the recruitment process under way at the MPSC is to complete fairly and on the basis of academic merit alone, it will vastly add to the pool of good talent at the top level state bureaucracy.

And if it's true that the bureaucracy, like a fish, rots from the head down, and we manage to stem the rot at the top, the process of healing and cleaning can well percolate down to the rank and file, and to the entire political class. Of course, it will take much more to drain the swamp that is Manipur, but this is surely the place to start.

Fed up with the mess all around, thousands of young people left our state. They left behind their bungalow-size homes for one-room tenements in the metropolises. They endured hardships and discrimination so they can better their career and support their family at home. The patronizing advice that they keep hearing about their state stung them.

They longed to come home and rebuilt their state and society. But these upright and self-respecting young people find no place for themselves in a system where only money rules. Will it be different this time at the MPSC?

Here is hoping that it will. It must, if Manipur is to ever get out of the hole it is in. But, the system will not improve on its own. Marxism as an ideology may be roundly discredited, but Marx at least got it right when he said that the ruling class (or, clique or elite or bureaucracy) will not voluntarily yield power over to others.

Citizen vigilance, sustained media attention and mass campaigns will be crucial. There is a lesson here from the MPSC-conducted MBBS entrance examinations. If these entrance examinations become so transparent today that candidates can actually obtain their checked answer scripts, it is not because the authorities suddenly become so merit-friendly.

It is because their hand was forced by the combined strength of an activist judiciary, RTI applications, and vigilant media. Let's join our hands and make sure that the MPSC recruitment for MCS is as clean and as fair as this. Because, this, more than anything else, is something in which all of us who love this land have a stake.

*Thangkhanlal Ngaihte wrote this for The Sangai Express
The writer is a research scholar at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He previously worked for The Sangai Express.
This article was webcasted on December 23 2010.

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