Mr Akankshit Dahiya is the first placeholder in the merit list of JAG entry of the Indian Army (men category) for the April 2021 batch. Until recently, he worked as the Senior Executive (Legal) at Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd. He graduated from Amity Law School, Noida, in 2019. This interview covers his journey of securing AIR 1 in the JAG entry of the Indian Army.
He has been interviewed by Tanya Sharma, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from Amity Law School, Noida.
1. Could you please tell our readers about the Service Selection Board (SSB) process and the right time to begin with the preparation?
SSB is a five-day process that consists of two stages. Stage I is conducted on the very first day and encompasses two assessments. Firstly, there is an officer’s intelligence rating (OIR) test which is basically a reasoning test having two sets of papers (verbal and non-verbal) with about 50 questions in each. The second assessment is called PPDT (picture perception and description test) in which you are supposed to write a story around a picture shown to you, narrate that story individually, have a group discussion on the various stories written by your group and reach to a common story. Around 80% of the students are screened out on the first day itself, and only a handful are selected for Stage II, which takes place over the course of the next four days. Stage II comprises of a variety of tests ranging from psychological tests, outdoor tasks and your personal interview. It will not be possible for me to explain every part in detail, but you can find various articles online. There is something interesting that I would like to share. Most of the people I have interacted with doubt whether the SSB for JAG is different from a normal SSB. They are also interested in knowing what amount of legal acumen the candidate is tested. Let me first clarify that any SSB, no matter which entry it is for, is exactly the same except for the subject questions (which hardly consists of 2-5% of your overall interview). So you do not need to be a legal wizard of some sort to crack SSB. Just have basic knowledge about the legal areas that you are currently dealing with, and you are good to go. As far as the right time to begin preparations is concerned, I always recommend that one should not start their preparation too soon. Enjoy your initial years of law school, and you can focus on preparation during the latter part of your college days. I, for one, started my preparation only in my final year.
2. Do you think it is recommended that the students aspiring to be JAG officers to go through the coaching process to get an idea of the SSB procedure, or self-preparation alone can help? Did you take any coaching for the preparation? What other resources can be used to prepare for the JAG examination?
I would like to state it clearly that I indeed took assistance from a coaching institute. It is my humble advice that every aspirant should take the coaching without any hesitation. It was really beneficial to me, and I am confident that it would be beneficial to anyone who seeks it. Coaching centres give a wealth of information on the tasks that applicants will be undertaking at their SSB. No one will condemn you if you have received coaching, believe me. However, it is not an essential requirement either. You can afford to bypass coaching if you already have a defence background or someone to take you through the SSB procedure step by step or studied in a sainik or military school. But if you ask for my personal opinion, I would recommend it to everyone. I personally would not recommend any books for preparation because I did not use any, but watching YouTube videos of relevant current affairs and making notes of them can be really helpful. There are also various channels on YouTube that are being run by previously recommended candidates, which provide great insight into the whole SSB procedure. So that is also an option.
3. Was pursuing law and becoming a JAG officer always your professional calling? What do you think helped you define your career path?
To be honest, being a lawyer was not my first calling, but joining the army has been a long-held dream of mine since I was in school. My grandfather, late Choudhary SukhLal Dahiya, was the driving force behind this. He served in the army for 26 years, and seeing the kind of personality he had, the great qualities he exhibited throughout his life, his discipline, punctuality, and his calmness in the face of adversity all inspired me to be a part of an organisation that cultivates these impeccable attributes in you. Another source of motivation for me was my school, Motilal Nehru School of Sports (MNSS) Rai, which has a long history of sending young officers to the Armed Forces in batch after batch. However, if you ask me about JAG, it was only in my fourth year of law school that it occurred to me. Many people ask me why I chose JAG over CDS. The explanation for this, I reasoned, is that if there was a way to join the army through something on which I had already spent a significant amount of time and money, why not take advantage of it? That is when I realised I could use the legal knowledge I had received after graduation to pursue my ambition to join the Indian army.
4. Until recently, you were a Senior Executive (Legal) at Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd. and were also preparing for a highly competitive selection procedure; how were you able to juggle between the two things efficiently?
Yes, I have been working as a Senior Legal Executive with Tata Power Delhi Distribution Ltd. (Tata Power-DDL) since 2019. Preparing for a highly competitive assessment while working full time is difficult, but only until you realise the benefits of adhering to a defined schedule covering all of the elements that will be evaluated or assessed at your SSB. So, there must be enough time to read the newspaper, take notes on what you have read, stay fit and healthy with daily basic exercises, and devote time to your hobbies and interests, among other things. Make sure you are not just doing the bare minimum during the day and that your daily routine includes something that represents your individuality. After you have built such a schedule, working full time becomes less of a problem. It also leaves a favourable impression on the assessors that a particular individual possesses excellent time management abilities, allowing the candidate to juggle work and exam preparation. I would not want to pass up the chance to emphasise the value of a good working environment. When I required assistance, I received a lot of aid from my co-workers and seniors. But that is something you will have to earn for yourself. Ascertain that all deadlines are fulfilled and that your job is completed with complete honesty and commitment.
5. What were the stumbling blocks you encountered during your preparation, and how did you overcome them? In the midst of all of this, how did you take care of your mental health?
It has not been an easy road to securing 1st place in the merit list. I got AIR 7 and AIR 11 in the first two attempts, which is unknown because the 7th and 11th merit place is never talked about. It was tough to deal with such close unsuccessful attempts, not because I was not competent (I mean, I was recommended both times), but because there are only 5 or 6 seats at the national level. After the second attempt, every drop of hope had been sucked out of me. At the SSB, there was also the added strain of being a previously recommended candidate. Contrary to popular belief, the tag makes it incredibly difficult to perform consistently on each try. Despite all of the challenges and setbacks, I persisted because we do not give up on our dreams, do we? No matter how many tries it took, I knew this was what I wanted to accomplish. I believe my parents and a few close friends played a significant part in keeping me motivated to attempt repeatedly. I am not sure it would have been feasible if it had not been for their consistent emotional support at the moments when I felt hopeless. Dedication to join the Indian army, persistence to not give up despite failures, and the support of my family and friends were all factors that helped me achieve AIR 1 in my third attempt, and it was well worth the effort and investment. About the mental health part, it is very important that you have something in your life that keeps you stable and makes you happy. For me, reading, writing shayari/poetry and following my beloved football club Manchester United helped me do that.
6. What are the little things that the law students usually ignore that they should be mindful of while in a law school to help secure a position in the JAG SSB merit list?
I am not going to answer this only with respect to JAG. There are a few pointers that I feel students should keep in mind. It is imperative, firstly, to know your area of interest. You can take an initial couple of years (maybe even the third year) to find that out, and then the key is to stick to that and find internships related to that area. It is important to recognise that what we are taught in theory is not always the case when it comes to the practical side of things. As a result, the appropriate internships might help you bridge that gap and finally assist you in getting positions. Another recommendation, which a few of my peers might disagree with, is to seek internships in legal firms that are smaller. If you intern at a big legal firm, you may be able to improve your CV, but you will learn a lot less since your exposure and experience will be confined because you will be a second fiddle. To summarise, choosing the proper internship will offer you the work environment of your choice while also assisting you in realising your full potential.
Now, when it comes to the SSB, do not over complicate everything and do not over-prepare. It is all about improving yourself and your personality, so take advantage of the opportunity. Enjoy your college years and do not start stressing about it in your first few years of law school. However, there is one habit that you can, or should I say, must instil regardless of the year you are in, and that is to begin reading the newspaper. The sense of security you will gain from knowing what is going on around you is indescribable. I would advise readers to pique their own curiosity about the latest happenings around the world. It will benefit you in far more ways than you think, including dealing with any counter questions the interviewer may fire at you. There is a justification for why we were taught as children to write down everything we read. In the last two years, I have realised how important it is. Whatever preparation you are doing, make it a habit to write it down. Even if you have to rewrite your interview, do so. This practice will develop into a personal brainstorming process, and you will always come up with superior ideas. I will again remind the readers of the significance of adhering to the schedule you set for yourself.
7. What skills did you acquire in law school that enabled you to evolve into the person you are today? How did your law school journey assist you in achieving your goal?
I graduated from Amity University in Noida with a law degree. I have no reservations in claiming that the broad range of experiences I had at Amity helped me shape my personality into what it is now. It was instrumental in my transformation from a timid to a confident person, which aided me in achieving my goal. I have learned a great deal, from representing my college in a moot court competition in my third semester to being a member of the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition Core Committee, from being a mere volunteer in my first year to organising Amity International Moot as a Student President in my final year. I am really grateful to my alma mater and would want to convey my heartfelt thanks to all of the professors who have been a part of my law school journey.
8. Is there anything you would like to advise your younger self who was still in law school?
Nothing actually; I believe every mistake or shortcoming that might have occurred would have only helped me grow more as an individual and a professional. So, no advice except enjoying a bit more maybe (smiles).