From mid-January to mid-June, top cop Mahesh Muralidhar Bhagwat follows a strict routine.
He wakes up early to spend three to four hours from his busy schedule to scan newspapers, make notes, compile question banks and make one-to-one calls, all in addition to shouldering his responsibility as the Police Commissioner of Rachakonda, in Cyberabad.
Thanks to the relentless efforts and guidance of the cop via two WhatsApp groups, over 93 civil service aspirants successfully cleared the personality test (the final round of interview) for UPSC this year.
Mahesh Bhagwat, an officer from the 1995 IPS batch, has successfully guided more than 230 candidates through a Hyderabad WhatsApp group and over 200 candidates in a Maharashtra group.
But it is important to note that the top cop also used to mentor students from his home state Maharashtra’s Jnana Prabodhini Competitive Examination Centre (JPCEC) before he started coaching IAS aspirants on WhatsApp in 2015.
Jnana Prabodhini, which trains aspirants to join civil services as part of their exposure programme, has students travel to Hyderabad for a two-three day workshop where Mahesh Bhagwat would train them on the best practices in the government, police services, and developmental activities.
“What bothered me was that the reach was very limited. But with the dawn of WhatsApp in 2015, we started exploring the opportunity to widen the reach of the mentorship. This meant that more students from various parts of India could benefit from it completely free of cost and at the same time, it saves our efforts and time to repeat tips, notes, and suggestions,” says Mahesh Bhagwat speaking to The Better India.
Alongside three other members from the services — Supriya Devsthali (ICAS 2001), IAS Anand Patil from Tamil Nadu cadre (batch of 1998), Nitesh Pathode IRS (Customs & Excise 2016), he kickstarted the group in 2015, where guidance was given to IAS aspirants with particular emphasis on the personality interview.
“When the candidates appeared for these interviews in 2015, we asked them to immediately report back and share the kind of questions being asked by the panel. Based on this, I compiled a question bank on expected lines and shared it with the students. It has come in handy through 2016 – 2018,” adds Mr Bhagwat.
The rate of success reflects in the steady rise of the number students who cleared the personality interview from 84 students in 2016 to over 93 this year.
While over 70 students who made the cut are from Maharashtra, the rest of the students belong to an array of states across India like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Karnataka etc.
UPSC Rank 20 and Maharashtra topper Girish Badole as well as Kerala topper and rank 16 Shikha Surendran, were part of the group mentoring, adds Bhagwat.
Explaining the kind of resources that the WhatsApp groups provide to IAS aspirants, Mahesh says, “We usually call for the detailed application form that the candidates submit to the UPSC.
We helped them prepare by area of interest, the field of graduation, hobbies, work experience etc. Till the day of the interview, we make sure each candidate is well endowed with information about the leading headlines, trending topics, controversies in their state or hometown etc.
And while it is difficult for the students to make time to read full articles, I personally spend time in the morning reading three-four different publications, making clippings, notes and highlighting just the important bits for them to read and save time. From day-to-day happenings to bilateral relations with any country the PM is visiting, we cover everything. When they are asked similar questions in the interview, the candidates, therefore, answer them with confidence.”
Cracking personality interviews is anything but easy, says the top cop. He explains how they focus on helping candidates approach every question they could be asked with a balanced approach through mock interviews.
“Many candidates when they come to us, have extreme views. Mainstream media either makes them extremely positive or negative about questions thrown at them. I still remember how one of our students would always choose ‘power’ over service and gender. It took us time to sensitise them to these issues, to help them understand and inculcate that no matter what – service would always come first. And that the beauty of civil services was to give to the society.”
In addition to best practices and ground realities of civil services, the candidates are also mentored about working for social good in the legal framework. Apart from civil services, the cop also runs a separate group for Forest Service aspirants. Over ten students who were selected for the service this year from a total of 117 all-India candidates were mentored by IPS Bhagwat.
“While we assume the role of moderators when the students are preparing for their prelims and mains, and make sure they are working in the right direction, sharing notes with each other, our main focus is the 275 marks carrying personality interview. Only one out of every three candidates gets selected. So each candidate is competing with at least two others to make a mark and stand out. Those 30 minutes of the interview will involve a highly skilled panel judging every trait of your personality that will reflect in your answers. So we believe in giving them the last push to outdo themselves.”
He shares how some students who list any classical music as their hobby get asked about gharanas or ragas and even asked to sing them.
“We not only prepare them about the basics of these but based on at what time their interview is scheduled (either morning or afternoon) we teach them ragas, as well as songs based on ragas!” he laughs.
Many mentored students come from humble rural backgrounds and are often nervous about their broken English or personality. And while the top cop gives them suggestions and tips to present themselves, he says the major focus of all the mentors is to help students show their natural personality.
Mahesh Bhagwat says the motto of his entire team is to get quality in administration and help prospective candidates work for the betterment of the society with commitment.
Being the commissioner of Rachakonda, which is one the biggest Commissionerate Jurisdiction in the country, cannot be easy. Covering an area of 5091 sq km, with a population of 40 lakhs and over 21,000 reported crime, we ask the top cop how he manages his time.
“I multi-task and maintain a balance between my professional and passionate work. There have been times when I have had to cancel special engagements or cut down personal time to prioritise students. But, I don’t compromise on work commitments. This year we started on 19th February and ended on 25th April.”
The Police Commissioner also credits his co-mentors who are helping him extend the reach of the initiative to deserving aspirants as well as DGP M. Mahender Reddy and his other officers who have supported him.
The Telangana IPS Officer was also conferred the 2017 ‘Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Heroes Award’ by the US state department for his work in anti-trafficking for over 14 years. In less than a year he closed 25 brothels—five hotels and 20 residential apartments and also lead one of the largest crackdowns on labour trafficking in the country, to identify and remove of over 350 children forced to work in brick kilns.
Mr Bhagwat was very recently listed in 2017’s Top 100 Human Trafficking and Slavery Influence at rank 47th by Canada-based Assent compliance.
Signing off the man says, “I cannot wait until this initiative reaches out to every civil service aspirant who needs it. We also tell all our successful candidates to remember how a group helped them when they were struggling to crack these exams and request them to help others once they join the service. Because I truly believe that the hands that help are holier than the lips that pray. ”
If this story inspired you, get in touch with IPS Mahesh Bhagwat at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)