UPSC Mains – How to Prepare for Political Science and International Relations Optional

Political science as an optional involves a lot of static portion with a wide focus on theoretical knowledge about Indian and world politics. It is very dynamic in nature as well and hence one needs to be constantly updated on the current events and happenings. This ever changing subject remains to be a popular pick among Civil Service Exam aspirants and each year the number of aspirants opting for this has seen a significant increase.

Political Science requires a focused preparation as the syllabus for the same is very vast and comprehensive but the subject is very interesting and one can score good marks with sincere preparation. The choice of taking up Political science and International Relations as an optional should solely be based on interest as if an aspirant is interested in a subject, he/she will definitely delve deeper into the content and assimilate things faster. One of major pros of choosing this optional is the considerable overlap with general studies paper (GS).

For example,

  • GS paper 1 – History (Post independence India)
  • GS paper 2 – Polity and International Relations
  • GS paper 3 – Planning and economic development, land reforms, political economy
  • GS paper 4 – Ethics (Thinkers theory, ideas of justice and equality)

At the end of the day, it is crucial to strike a right balance in one’s preparation of GS and optional paper. Though political science provides an aspirant with the luxury of using GS knowledge in the optional paper and vice versa, it is important to understand the clear differences between the two. One needs to have a specialist approach for an optional and a generalist approach for GS. Without any prior background in this subject, an aspirant can score good marks.

However any choice comes with a few pros and cons and one need to look into it before making the final decision:

Pros of Choosing Political Science as Optional

1) This subject has many topics which one can relate to the daily happenings and hence makes it easy to understand.

2) As mentioned earlier, one of the major pros of is the heavy linkage with GS papers.

3) An aspirant who is up to date with the current happenings stands a good chance of scoring well due to the dynamic nature of the subject.


Cons of choosing Political Science as Optional

1) As mentioned earlier, the syllabus is vast and comprehensive just like the name of the subject.

2) Like any other optional, one is expected to refer to multiple sources and the dynamic nature of the syllabus can pose a big challenge for a few.

3) Political science, being a subject of liberal arts suffers from the disadvantage that a mark one scores in the exam depends on the approach and it’s hard to single out one correct answer.


Political Science Syllabus for UPSC Mains:



  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, and Hannah Arendt.


  1. Nationalism: 
    (a)    Political Strategies of India’s Freedom Struggle: Constitutionalism to mass Satyagraha, Non-cooperation, Civil Disobedience; Militant and revolutionary movements, Peasant and workers’ movements.
    (b)    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.
  5. Grassroots Democracy: Panchayati Raj and Municipal Government; significance of 73rd and 74th Amendments; Grass root movements.
  6. 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.
  7. Federalism: Constitutional provisions; changing nature of centre-state relations; integrationist tendencies and regional aspirations; inter-state disputes.
  8. 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.
  9. Caste, Religion and Ethnicity in Indian Politics.
  10. Party System: National and regional political parties, ideological and social bases of parties; patterns of coalition politics; Pressure groups, trends in electoral behavior; changing socio- economic profile of Legislators.
  11. Social Movements: Civil liberties and human rights movements; women’s movements; environmentalist movements.



  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 globalization.


  1. Changing International Political Order: 
    (a)    Rise of super powers; strategic and ideological Bipolarity, arms race and Cold War; nuclear threat;
    (b)    Non-aligned movement: Aims and achievements;
    (c)    Collapse of the Soviet Union; Unipolarity and American hegemony; relevance of non-alignment in the contemporary world.
  2. 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.
  3. United Nations: Envisaged role and actual record; specialized UN agencies-aims and functioning; need for UN reforms.
  4. Regionalisation of World Politics: EU, ASEAN, APEC, SAARC, NAFTA.
  5. Contemporary Global Concerns: Democracy, human rights, environment, gender justice, terrorism, nuclear proliferation.


  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: 
    (a)    Regional Co-operation: SAARC – past performance and future prospects.
    (b)    South Asia as a Free Trade Area.
    (c)    India’s “Look East” policy.
    (d)    Impediments to regional co-operation: 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.


Reference Books and Study Material for Political Science Optional:


Part A is mostly theoretical and static in nature and one can master this section by understanding the basics thoroughly. Contents can be sub divided into 4 groups:

1) Political Theory:

  • Introduction to political theory – OP Gauba
  • Political Theory – Rajeev Bhargava
  • IGNOU Material on Political theories

2) Political Ideologies:

  • Political Ideologies – Andrew Heywood
  • Political Theory – Rajeev Bhargava
  • IGNOU material on Political theories

3) Indian Political Thought:

  • Foundations of Indian Political Thought – VP Verma
  • IGNOU Material

4) Western Political Thought:

  • Western Political Thought – OP Gauba



Part B is highly dynamic in nature and linked to history and polity portion of GS.

1) Nationalism and Making of Indian Constitution:

  • Bipin Chandra – Indian struggle of independence

2) Salient Features of the Indian Constitution, Principal Organs of the Union/State Government, Grassroots Democracy, Statutory Institutions/Commissions, Federalism:

  • Indian Polity – Laxmikanth
  • Newspapers – Hindu, Indian Express

3) Planning and Economic Development, Caste, Religion and Ethnicity in Indian Politics, Party System, Social Movements

  • IGNOU material
  • Indian politics student edition


  • Global politics – Andrew Heywood
  • Comparative Politics – J.C Johari
  • IGNOU material
  • Newspaper and Magazines


This is mostly a dynamic section and deals with India’s foreign policies.

  • Newspapers – Hindu, Indian Express
  • Does the Elephant Dance – David Malone
  • Pax Indica – Shashi Tharoor
  • MEA Website, IDSA
    • Indian Foreign Policy – Rajeev Sikri
  • Yojana


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