For all those of us who believe religion to be a matter of personal faith, the news that a church in the United States has ‘baptised’ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is quite touching. The ‘proxy’ baptism points to the fact that Gandhi is a luminary whose iconic status makes him in demand from not only the usually expected quarters, but from not so obvious ones.
So if a Mormon Church in Utah decides to symbolically bring the Mahatma into its fold, what harm can there be in that? In any case, the influence of Christianity — especially the brand outlined by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in his book The Kingdom of God is Within You that struck a chord in the young Indian — has been well documented by Gandhi himself. One can see the man chuckle and be chuffed that he is being symbolically made a honorary Christian, which, in respects especially pertaining to non-violence, he already was.
“So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu… But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian,” Gandhi wrote in Young India in 1928. Gandhi’s tut-tut about foregoing the need to ‘convert’ someone is gentle and more about taking pride in one’s own identity rather than hankering for ‘expansion’. His emphasis on the essential root of all religions being a love for humanity, makes a serious argument of belonging to a religion somewhat redundant.
Some voices have reacted to the ‘baptism’ with irritation. While this is understandable, they should also take a leaf from Gandhi and treat such matters more lightly. If it makes those upset about Gandhi-ji’s ‘proxy baptism’ feel any better, they could choose a great personality of their choice and ‘convert’ him or her to a religion of their choice. Let not harmless religious ceremonies come in the way of what is really a compliment.