In this age of multiculturalism and globalization, the diasporic politics of immigrant and ethnic groups has become a powerful force, affecting their countries of residence and ancestry. Several analysts have noted that the Asian Indian American community is emerging as a powerful political influence in American politics. This article provides a brief overview of the patterns of civic activism of a variety of Indian American groups in the United States and examines the role that religion and transnational interests play in the formation of Indian American ethnic constituencies. The larger issue that I am interested in understanding is how certain types of groups come to be recognized as the authentic voices of a community by American policy makers. What types of voices are included in this process and what types are excluded? How do local and national policy makers adjudicate between different types of groups, each claiming to represent the community?
Specifically, I focus on the development and activities of two types of organizations: those mobilizing under a Hindu umbrella, and secular or multireligious Indian American groups which often adopt the label "South Asian." Hindu organizations represent political Hindu interests and South Asian organizations represent pluralist subcontinental groups which are explicitly against the political Hindu movement. Thus, these two types of organizations often have conflicting goals and strategies. I examine these goals and some of the activities of the two types of organizations and discuss the implications of this cleavage for Indian American political formation and action. In the final section, I focus on the United States India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), formed in 2002 to represent "the Indian American community" on Capitol Hill and raise the issue of how this national-origin based organization will arbitrate between the two types of supranational lobby groups.