While there might have been genuine concern about militant identity politics in India from Hindu extremists and from others, the supposedly liberal-secular movement against Modi escalated into an enormous crusade against even mainstream Hindus and Hinduism. Movies like Slumdog Millionaire, the U.S. press coverage of the 2008 Pakistani terrorist attacks on India, and more recently even a report on sanitation problems in India bizarrely and inaccurately singled out Hinduism and Hindus as superstitious and violent. U.S. school books and some important academic experts all continue to propagate colonial-era racist stereotypes and myths about Hindus, and the Hindu American community's efforts to address these problems have been inevitably dismissed by a haughty "you're with us or you're a fundamentalist" disdain.
Modi's upcoming visit to the United States comes just one year before we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark immigration legislation of 1965 that has created the diverse global microcosm we take for granted in America today. The first generation of Hindu immigrants are aging, their children are becoming parents, and new visitors, students, and workers are coming in. Temples, volunteerism, and interfaith dialogue are becoming a part of the Hindu American landscape. The major challenge that remains though is need for the emergence of a Hindu public voice that can negotiate the hopes of America, India, and indeed the whole world in the best way possible. It has not happened so far because in spite of the nominal acceptance of Hindus in American life, Hinduism is still barely understood in America on the terms of Hindus. ("Borrowed" Hinduism, is of course, a much larger phenomenon now, seeping everywhere as Yoga, Kirtan, and other intercultural delights; it is wonderful, and self-relativization is educational in many ways, but it's important to remember that Hinduism cannot be taken off by some Hindus when they leave the Yoga studio, it is existential!)
We often forget today with all the concerns about the rise of Hindu nationalism that Hinduism is a survivor religion. The oldest generation of Hindus living in the world today are people born as second-class citizens, when India was a British colony, some in near-slavery conditions in plantations all around the globe. Even when India gained independence, the politics of partition and postcolonial confusion deterred an active public engagement and debate about Hinduism. In some ways, it was as if centuries of stunted growth exploded all at once in recent times in India; at first, it was as ugly politics, as nothing more than the sometimes violent slogans of religious pride and exclusivism. But now, somehow, it appears to have expressed itself in a far more sophisticated, organic, and inclusive manner. At the apex of that expression, or at least amidst the hopes about it, is India's new Prime Minister. He represents an India, and indeed, a new world too that is only emerging, a world of civilizational partners, and equals.