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The brassiere that was thrown at Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias has now arguably become the most talked about female undergarment, at least in Sri Lanka.

Things would have been left hanging, so to speak, if not for the fact that President Maithripala Sirisena decided to take matters in to his own hands – not literally, of course!
When the President vented his outrage at the incident at Ampara, hundreds of miles away from the CR&FC grounds where the incident actually occurred, the issue assumed a life of its own.

For all the hype that has been generated about this, it is hard to imagine that even those who criticise the President harshly would want their sisters, wives or daughters going about throwing their undergarments willy-nilly at entertainers. After all it could be Enrique today and Bhathiya and Santhush tomorrow!

Social media went in to melt down, and most of it was critical of the President. He was accused of being the ‘moral Police’. How dare he interfere with a woman’s right to freedom of expression, was the gist of the scathing remarks. Some even called him ‘Sira the Bra’!
President Sirisena, in his own inimitable way, did not relent. He responded again with some public comments. If people are asking for the right to walk naked in public, he would not allow it as President, he declared. And, so the battle rages on, making a mountain of a molehill.

Let us take a step back then, shall we, and examine this issue objectively without getting hysterical about this ‘bra throwing’ and getting our knickers in a twist?
What the President basically said was that throwing undergarments at entertainers and kissing them on stage was not in keeping with Sri Lankan culture. Such incidents are common in the West but this is not the West. That seems a reasonable enough thought, even if it came from the President.

For all the hype that has been generated about this, it is hard to imagine that even those who criticise the President harshly would want their sisters, wives or daughters going about throwing their undergarments willy-nilly at entertainers. After all it could be Enrique today and Bhathiya and Santhush tomorrow!

What then went wrong? One group criticised the President for his conservatism. They saw in the President’s comments a sinister move to impose a ‘moral’ dictatorship that would tell us what was morally right and what was wrong. That would never have been the President’s intention.

The other group, more politically motivated, asked whether this was the burning issue of the day. They pointed out that there were strikes by the dozen, wage hikes and pensions were being compromised, corruption probes have been stalled and bodyguards of MPs were abducting people in Black Defenders­—and yet the President was talking about a bra!
So, that is where the President may have missed a trick.

Does it mean that, as President of the country, he should not voice his opinion on any issue that he thinks is important until all the ‘hot’ topics of the day are addressed? Of course not.

He has every right, as the country’s first citizen, to give us a piece of his mind about whatever he thinks is fit for discussion. If he were to wait until all other issues were dealt with, he will never get to it, would he?

In hindsight, the mistake President Sirisena made was that he was silent on most other issues that affect you, me and everyone else. Then, he chose to speak—vehemently at that—about a bra that doesn’t really affect 99.999% of the population. And so there was outrage.

There is moral in this story for politicians: not only do they need to say what the people want to hear, they need to say it at the right time, to the right people as well. Otherwise, things could go horribly wrong, as President Sirisena found out to his consternation.
And, I suspect, there must be a person chuckling to himself about all this because, until recently, he almost always said what the people want to hear, at the right time, to the right people. No, he is not Enrique, he is Mahinda Rajapaksa.