There is a sharp distinction between the civilian parts of any Indian city or town and any cantonment, anywhere in the country . While civilian India is represented by dirt, clamour, and general disorder, the India of the defence services is the embodiment of spick-and-span cleanliness and calm efficiency .
Both are Indias, but they might be two different countries altogether, from not just their outward appearance but also from the attitude and mental make-up which creates the outer environment.
India, civilian India, has been described as a functioning anarchy, a twoword definition of which cynics might say the first word is redundant. Defence services India, or cantonment India, on the other hand, is the embodiment of discipline and civic sense.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to build 100 new `smart cities' in the country . This is an ambitious, some might say overly ambitious, scheme which is doomed to fail unless the PM can change the mindset of India's civilian population. Unless this internal change is achieved, the new cities will in no time at all become not just `un-smart' in appearance and in the quality of life that they offer to residents, but downright unkempt and filthy . There is no magic broom, not even one wielded by the new prime minister, which can overnight transform the mentality of one billion-plus people and turn them into model citizens willing and able to keep their new `smart cities' in good working order. But what if NaMo's `can-do' mantra was given a `cantdo' supplement: `cant-do' not as in `cannot do', but `cant-do' as in `do as cants, or cantonments do'?
How could our civilian population learn discipline and civic sense from our defence services? One way to impart such education would be mandatory short-term conscription into the armed forces for all young adults.
A number of countries have compulsory military service, which its proponents claim helps to stiffen the backbone of national pride and integrity . Of all our public organisations, there is none so cohesive and dedicated to national service as our collective armed forces, be it in times of war or of peace, or when national calamities strike, as in the recent floods in Kashmir when the army played a major role in relief operations.
Perhaps what civilian India needs to do to get its act in order is for its young people to be recruited into the defence services as cadets for a short-term stint of six months or a year on attaining 18 years of age.
In the early 1960s there was a scheme for making enrolment in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) a requirement for all college students. Though it was abandoned for lack of proper administration, a similar programme could be started to help inculcate some of the spit-and-polish army culture into squalid civilian India.
Can't do that? Maybe we need to change that to we cant-do that.