Political science is a branch of social science that informs students about the state, international relations, and governance. Not only in India, but this course happens to be one of the most desired courses in the world. Political science deals with the workings of the society, the government, the types of systems, and how one can use the theoretical knowledge of one’s country in the actual or practical world to develop it.

The 25 optional subjects provided by the UPSC IAS exam can be grouped into technical and non-technical subjects. Political science comes under a non-technical subject. This subject, along with all other optional subjects, contains 500 marks divided into two papers worth 250 marks each. The number of questions must be answered in both papers: 10 questions of 10 marks each, the  6 questions worth 15 marks each, and the rest 3 questions are of 20 marks each.

Who Could Select Political Science as Their Optional

The success rate among candidates for political science has been increasing since 2014. The success rate is now at 9.4% which is decent considering the number of students who opted for it. When you select Political Science and International Relations as your optional subject, a few points should be in your mind:

  • Political science has a lot of theoretical concepts.
  • When comparing political science with more technical subjects such as maths, science subjects, it is particularly important to present your response in a very structured and effective way.
  • If you are someone who keeps up with current affairs and read editorials on a regular basis, you will have some knowledge about the questions asked in the exam.
  • If you were able to answer questions smoothly on political science in prelims then you can consider it. Or if you are confident about your preparation in the Polity subject for prelims then you should try taking up this subject because there are some coinciding topics which are present in prelims as well as in the optional paper.

Political Science Optional Syllabus for UPSC for Paper 1

Political theory

Meaning, Definition, and approaches
Theories of the state Pluralist, Liberal, Neoliberal, Marxist, Post-colonial and feminist.
Justice Concept of justice with reference to Rawl’s theory of justice
Equality Relationship between freedom and equality and; Political, Social, and economic; Affirmative action.
Rights Meaning and theories; the concept of Human Rights
Democracy different models of democracy – deliberative, participatory and representative, Contemporary and Classical theories
Political Ideologies Marxism, Liberalism, Fascism, Gandhism, Feminism, and Socialism.
Indian Political Thought Dharmashastra, Arthashastra, and Buddhist traditions; Sri Aurobindo, B.R. Ambedkar, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, M.K. Gandhi, M.N. Roy.
Western Political Thought Plato, John S. Mill, Machiavelli, Aristotle, Locke, Hobbes, Gramsci Marx, and Hannah Arendt.

Also Read: UPSC Maths Optional Syllabus: Check-out the Update Syllabus for UPSC 2021

UPSC Political Science Optional Syllabus for Paper 2

Comparative Politics

Political economy, Nature and major approaches; limitations of the comparative method.
Globalization Responses from developing and developed societies.
Approaches to the Study of International Relations Idealist, Functionalist, Realist, Marxist, and Systems theory.
Key concepts in International Relations Security, World capitalist economy and globalisation; Balance of power and deterrence; National interest, and power; Transnational actors, and collective security.
Changing International Political Order The arms race and Cold War; Rise of superpowers; strategic and ideological Bipolarity, nuclear threat;


Non-aligned movement: Achievements and Aims;


The collapse of the Soviet Union; and Unipolarity and American hegemony; relevance of non-alignment in the contemporary world.

Evolution of the International Economic System From Brettonwoods to WTO; Globalisation of the world economy; Socialist economies and the CMEA (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance); Third World demand for new international economic order.
United Nations Envisaged role and actual record; Specialized UN agencies-aims and functioning; the need for UN reforms.
Regionalization of World Politics ASEAN, SAARC, APEC, EU, NAFTA.
Contemporary Global Concerns Human rights, Gender justice, nuclear proliferation, Democracy, environment, terrorism.
Part II – India and the World
Indian Foreign Policy Continuity and change: Institutions of policy-making, Determinants of foreign policy
India and South Asia South Asia as a Free Trade Area


Regional Co-operation: SAARC –past performance and future prospects


Impediments to regional co-operation: ethnic conflicts and insurgencies; river water disputes; illegal cross-border migration; border disputes.


India’s “Look East” policy

Kickstart Your Preparations with These Books

Books are quite important when it comes to preparing for any optional subject. Through books, you can gain a deeper understanding of topics and also create notes for revision. You can choose from these political science optional books:

  1. An introduction to political theory–  O.P Gauba
  2. Indian Government and Politics – B L Fadia
  3. International Relations -Khanna
  4. Polity: NCERT Class IX – Political Science: Democratic Politics Part – I
  5. Polity: NCERT Class X – Political Science: Democratic Politics Part – II
  6. Foundations of Indian political thought- V. R Mehta

Also Read: Political Science books for UPSC

Topics Covered in Political Science Optional Question Papers

You can tell by looking at the previous years’ question papers,  that this option covers the entire GS Paper 2 syllabus. A portion of GS Paper III, such as safety and even the climate, is also covered by this subject. In GS Paper IV, ‘ethical thinkers’ is a subject that is addressed if you take this optional.   Paper I of this subject has the concept ‘Political Tactics for the Freedom War of India.’ This will also give you some overlap with the past of GS I.

Many of the topics covered in this optional are related to current affairs, particularly in Paper 2 of this optional subject. This will certainly help you plan for your current affairs. Besides that, this topic has a contemporary aspect and, thus, the answers can be enriched by the quotation of scholars and anecdotes from regular newspaper reading.


So it can safely be assumed that there is a lot of overlap between the given subject if you take political science and international relations as a choice. You will effectively combine the prelims and mains training and save a lot of time during the preparation process.

Also Read: List of Political Science Books for UPSC

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Political Science Optional Subject for UPSC 2021: The Essential Guide to Crack UPSC 2021
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Political Science Optional Subject for UPSC 2021: The Essential Guide to Crack UPSC 2021
Essential things related to political science optional are listed here. Get to know the syllabus topics, most recommended books, know who can benefit from this subject
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