They gather at Khula Manch, outside the Constituent Assembly, at the gate to the airport and on the sidewalks of Darbar Marg. They appear on cue, singly and in groups out of nowhere in white tees and carry the Nepali flag. Last Saturday, they were gathered at Sherpa Mall to attend a special concert by Abhaya Subba debuting her new anthem, 'Hami Sabai Nepali' .
They are all part of 'Nepal Unites', a Facebook group that was started by cyber-activists who got tired of sitting at home complaining about the delayed constitution, the load-shedding, garbage and other ills.
"We are a mass of concerned citizens, not a political organsiation," explains Mega Bank CEO Anil Shah, who helped launch the group. "This is a citizen-led initiative that aims at making the political leadership accountable and the citizens responsible so that a positive environment is built in the country."
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been credited for playing a critical role during recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. The scale of Nepal Unites is much smaller, and here the activists are protesting for timely constitution from an elected government, not against dictators.
Still, it has gathered much attention, partly because influential businessmen, bankers, musicians and celebrities have joined the cause. In only a month and a half, the group has over 6,500 'likes' on its Facebook page, with members based in Nepal, Australia, the US and UK. "Anyone can join the group and any member can suggest an event," says Suman Joshi, CEO of Laxmi Bank. "The feasibility of the idea is discussed on our pages and we support it as long the event is non-violent and does not disrupt normal life."
The group started with the slogan "Jyala pura liyau, aba sambhidan deu" which demanded that the CA members complete the work they were paid (and elected) to do. With the extension of the CA, Nepal Unites has been focusing on reminding everyone of the deadline.
"We have been facilitating dialogues among the CA members and businessmen and students," says another activist, Anil Chitrakar.
The campaigners have also been urging donor agencies, foreign embassies in Nepal and INGOs to stop funding foreign trips for the CA members until 28 August so that they stay in the country and complete the job. Almost 3,000 people have supported this cause on Facebook. Chitrakar says that Nepal Unites can be a platform to voice concern on any national issue, including corruption and tax evasion.
Nepal Unites follows from the success last year of a mass citizens' rally that ended the week-long Maoist strike in April 2010 and was launched through SMS, Facebook and Twitter. Groups such as Die Nepal Banda Die, Come on Youth, Stand Up, Gari Khana Deu have been using social networking sites to gather support and promote their cause.
Facebook alone has nearly one million Nepali users. Ujjwal Thapa, who is also associated with Nepal Unites says: "Social networking is growing at a rapid rate and tapping into it allows causes like ours to get real time responses and magnify our reach."
An idiocracy of old men, RUBEENA MAHATO