Have we ceased to be the India the world admired? is the million dollar question raised by Anand Vardhan Singh in his debut book Hey Ram To Jai Shree Ram.

Indian secularism was once the pride of the world. India was an example of a diverse, free and open society. Today it is troubling to watch the same India driving sectarian divides between its people, as though on purpose. Some terrible things are happening in India, a country that till recently was respected for its thriving democracy, non-violence and love of inclusiveness!

A country most beloved, cradle of ancient civilisations, birth place of at least four religions and considered home by people from around the world, what happened?

The concerns expressed by Singh echo in the words of a song hummed a long time ago that goes something like this:

so clever, and so admired, easy to be angry, easy to dismiss, how did we come to this?
maybe I am living in a dream, maybe I am talking in my sleep, forgive me my mistake but time is running low, talk is cheap
we play our games without regret, filled with frenzy continuing to kill without a miss, but how did we ever come to this?

So how did we come to this?

'Hey Ram!' were the last words of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the nation who was riddled with three bullets by a fellow Indian at point blank range on 30 January, 1948. Gandhi was crucified like Christ by one of his own, a people to whom he had dedicated his entire life.

The purpose of the book, says the author is to understand the impact of Gandhi's murder by Nathuram Godse on Indian politics today.

The book lists 20 incidents since independence which have affected the course of the country, including the wars fought with Pakistan and China, Emergency in the golden years of Indira Gandhi, Kapil Paaji's victory in the Cricket World Cup in 1983, the political upheaval after 1989 and the ideological transformation of India in the twenty-first century. While detailing the different events, the author never once loses thread of the fact how inclusive Gandhi's Hinduism was. The author is convinced that if Gandhi was not murdered and had lived a few more years, the years that followed the independence of the country would have been less volatile.

Gandhi was large hearted enough to never refuse an invite to the RSS camp either. He even praised the discipline of the RSS but also advised them about changing the definition of the Hindu.

It is no secret that Godse, Gandhi's murderer was an RSS sympathiser. It is also believed that the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in the conspiracy to kill Gandhi. Savarkar was the strategist and the material support was provided by Mahant Digvijayanath of the Gorakhnath Matt.

How this information links up with the present day bulldozer policy of the ruling party is most interesting. After all the Gorakhnath Matt, founded by Matsyendranath is located in the Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh. It is the citadel of the Nath sect and gets its name from Guru Gorakhnath. The Matt came into prominence recently when the sitting head Yogi Adityanath became chief minister of the BJP government in UP.

About Gandhi's murderer the author writes that his original name was Ramchandra Godse. Three brothers who were born before him had died while three of his sisters survived. The family considered this as some curse on male children and decided to bring up Godse as a girl. The tradition of piercing the nose, which is done for girls was performed for Godse too and even a nose ring (nath) was put on him. From this nath, he came to be known as Nathu Ram. Only after his younger brothers were born and survived was he treated like a man.

The author wants people between the age group of 20 years and 40 years in particular to know these details about India's past so that they can make up their mind in the present as to what kind of country they want to live in, in the future.

It is a great reference book, and an excellent companion for all those interested in knowing beyond what is told to them about India by the WhatsApp university today. And if reports are to be believed, the book is slowly climbing higher and higher on the ladder of Amazon's bestseller list!

The more joyous moments mentioned in the book include the adoption of the National Anthem in 1950.

After the Constitution was ready to be printed, India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Prem Behari Narain Raizada (Saxena) a master of calligraphy to handwrite the entire Constitution in flowing italics. Prem Behari refused to charge any money. All he wanted was his name handwritten on every page. At the end of the last page he has also included his grandfather's along with his own.

He was allotted a room in the Constitution Hall now the Constitution Club on New Delhi's Rafi Marg. Prem Behari used a 303 nib for the calligraphic work. He used 432 pen holder nibs to complete the job in six months. The famous artists Nandlal Bose and Beohar Ramchandra Sinha designed all the borders of the pages and decorated it with famous pieces of art.

Then there is the phenomenal rise of Shahrukh Khan as a superstar even as communal violence had gripped the country after the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 in Ayodhya. These were challenging years to the country's secular foundation but the entire country accepted SRK as a favourite. Despite bloodthirsty riots, ordinary Indians were undivided in their love for SRK. Unlike today when it is common to hear appeals to boycott films made by Muslims.

The political strategists and vote managers took the time to widen this divide. In today's world actors, artists, writers, activists, social workers, teachers, universities are branded as national and anti-national because they are from a particular community.

The murder of Gandhi continues to haunt the country. It almost seems like Gandhi's murder was an approval to the radicals. It was perhaps the first act in free India to proclaim that if I don't agree with your views and philosophy I will silence your voice by killing you.

After the murder of Gandhi, the radical Hindu became confident that no one of the stature of Gandhi was going to come to stop them from realising their dream of a Hindu Rashtra. It is perhaps this faith of the radical Hindu that has reduced India to become what it has become today, making the author wish from the bottom of his heart that one day the nation will move from Jai Shree Ram, being used like a cry of war these days to Jai Sia Ram, the more gentle sound of peace and tranquillity for all.

Hey Ram To Jai Shree Ram: 20 Dates That Changed the Course of India by Anand Vardhan Singh is published by Anamika, 2022