In defence of Dilip (and others)


Dilip Wedaarachchi emphasised a point when he bit on a raw fish at a press conference. We need to forget the antic and get the point.

At a press conference convened by the Samagi Jana Balavegaya two days ago, Dilip Wedaarachchi emphasised a point by biting on a raw fish live, in front of the cameras. Not surprisingly, the point was lost.

The point was that very few people are going out to buy fish, and more importantly buy fish from vendors. The Peliyagoda coronavirus cluster dampened the latter’s fortunes. Given the stigma associated with them , people don’t seem too eager to buy from them directly: they prefer Sathosa or other supermarkets. Even those who wouldn’t frequent these outlets are now doing so. The fish vendors, naturally, are suffering.

We don’t know whether Wedaarachchi scripted his antic. We don’t know what made the Samagi Jana Balavegaya script their press conference this way, if so. But we do know that we have a habit of missing the woods for the trees, confusing the message with the messenger. That is why we go on social media, post memes, and make fun of straw men. Wedaarachchi made a point, a fine one, but most of us were too enthralled in ourselves to notice. He became a straw man, even internationally.

The track record on fisheries of the government Wedaarachchi was part of was mixed. Ambitious plans were made and targets set, while every Budget set aside considerable amounts for the industry, but the result was, despite a spike in fish exports in 2017 and 2018 due to the resumption of the GSP+ scheme, not a lot ended up being done for the country’s fishermen.

Yet we applaud Wedaarachchi’s gesture. We applaud it the same way that we applaud other gestures, by other politicians, who have resorted to such tactics to emphasise points that need to be emphasised.

Here we note, with a tinge of irony, that many of those who came to the defence of the ex-Minister’s gesture, claiming that much of the criticism of him was classist and elitist, minced no words in grilling Arundika Fernando for climbing a coconut tree to make a similar point: a shortage of coconuts in the country. Again, middle-class social media pundits missed the point. Wrapped up in their self-conceit, they went on ridiculing him.

It’s time we stopped this culture. It’s time we read what these people, elected by the people, are trying to say. Lambasting them is easy and convenient. It takes intelligence of a special sort, however, to read into what they’re doing. That’s where they’re miles ahead of us.

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