An article courtesy of the Daily News Sri Lanka on Ceylon’s first Prime Minister after Independence, D.S.Senanayake:
D.S. Senanayake – an unparalleled colossus
D.S. Senanayake, a name most revered and more valued with time within the years, now, more than ever acknowledged as an unparalleled colossus, is remembered sadly on March 22, a day on which 62 years ago tragedy befell upon him and stunned this entire nation and plunged its people into grief at the news of his demise. The Memorial Day commemoration this year will be held today at the Independence Square.
The great life of the father of the nation, D.S. Senanayake, born on October 20, 1884 ceased on March 22, 1952, is a time period well before I was born, but I lived and breathed a life of more than four decades that heard the name mentioned each day as my childhood memory would recall, in our household which housed a gentleman by the name of P.C. Imbulana, my mother’s brother, a founder member of the United National Party and a senior politician.
As my uncle would relate his many political stories, I recall it would always start with the name of D. S. Senanayake and how he was invited into politics by Senanayake.
Inspired and motivated to respectfully follow his mentor’s guidance, given with much wisdom had made him stay the sometimes turbulent political course of time that was to shape his own future political life that emerged to be an elegant, honourable, steady and a very successful one.
Preme Chandre Imbulana, was the President of the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society until his demise last year, and he would write the annual memorial tribute to the newspapers on this day.
He made me a member of the D.S. Senanayake Society in 2008 to which I am grateful to serve and was humbled by the invitation to me by the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society to write this article which I obliged with much pride and honour.
D.S. Senanayake’s contribution cannot ever be summed up in one small article but with the space that we can utilise I make an attempt to give a peek, a skeleton sketch the least, of the gargantuan life of the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.
The name sans blemish, one that all generations after him can look up to with great pride. Don Steven Senanayake hailed from the village of Bothale. He was the son of Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake and Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera Senanayake. Although brought up in a devout Buddhist family he entered the prestigious Anglican school S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal. How true he made the words that the schools at the time “maketh the man”. The education he had with Warden Buck and subsequently with Warden Stone nurtured his inherent qualities which were reflected in later life. It is reported D.S. Senanayake was witness to Buck’s famous farewell speech: “You have learned the best lessons from STC (S. Thomas’ College)… true manliness and truth, courage, purity and all those things that make a man a gentleman…”
As most in his generation and a few after were to experience and witness later, his college had inculcated a self-confidence in him which had enabled him to deal with statesmen of the highest intellectual levels and to be admired by them for his intrinsic noble and decent character traits in life. D.S Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, with whom he had two sons, Dudley Shelton Senanayake (June 19, 1911 – April 13, 1973) and Robert Parakrama Senanayake (April 8, 1913 – April 26, 1986).
D.S. Senanayake had two brothers and a sister. The two brothers, Don Charles Senanayake and Fredrik Richard Senanayake were also involved in politics. But it was D.S. Senanayake who went the stretch in politics. Brothers, Don Stephen Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake were prominent members of the Lanka Mahajana Sabha. F.R. Senanayake shunned the limelight although he became a prominent and a very influential member of the Temperance Movement founded in 1912. With his guidance, D.S. Senanayake entered public life as an active member of the Movement achieving much success in receiving mass support from the people. Fredrick Richard Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake were also the founders of the Y.M.B.A.
D.S. Senanayake initially worked on his father’s plantation and also the Survey General’s Department. When World War 1 broke out in 1914, he joined the Colombo Town Guard. He was imprisoned without charges during the 1915 riots and faced the prospect of execution.
All three Senanayake brothers were arrested at one given time with the other freedom fighting leaders and held in inhuman conditions in “Penal Cells”which were worse than the ordinary cells occupied by convicts. The authorities tried their utmost to implicate them in the riots but short of any evidence released them after 46 days of incarceration.
Senanayake’s initial role as an independence activist was to support his brother F. R. Senanayake. While on a pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya in 1925, F. R. Senanayake met with his death after which Don Stephen Senanayake took his place in the Legislative Council and led the independence movement.
In 1931 he was elected to the State Council and went on to become the Agriculture and Lands Minister.
He took up the challenges of the Ceylon’s agricultural problems effectively, and established the LDO, an agricultural policy that countered Ceylon’s rice problems which earned him much respect. During his tenure as a minister for 15 years, he also enforced ‘Agricultural Modernisation’ which reportedly increased production output. During World War II he was a member of the Ceylon War Cabinet.
In 1946, after he resigned from his Cabinet post to fight for Ceylon’s independence, he founded the United National Party the same year by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-Dominion parties. Within a year of its formation he succeeded, and was elected as Ceylon’s first Prime Minister in the general election held in 1947.
Refused a Knighthood
He refused a Knighthood, but maintained good relations with Britain and was a Privy Counsel. He boldly made plans to spread out the population, and his Gal Oya scheme relocated over 250,000 people.
He steered the nation on the path to freedom without shedding a drop of blood, geared the country to achieve self-sufficiency in food by restoring almost all the ancient irrigation tanks and initiated colonisation schemes to boost agriculture, which were and still are the main source of income of the rural masses.
Of his struggle for independence for Ceylon he gained world recognition. I quote the New York Times : “The Ceylonese statesman possessed a rare blend of determination with benevolence that was in large measure responsible for his country’s obtaining its’ independence with exceptional speed in a friendly atmosphere.”
The Daily Telegraph described him thus: “Kindly shrewd and courageous, he proved an able parliamentarian. He not only wielded his own party with the independents to form a powerful coalition government but conciliated his most formidable opponents, the Tamil Congress, to the point of securing their active support.”
D.S. Senanayake was widely respected by Sinhalese and most Muslims however there was rescent among the Tamil community due to his citizenship laws, which disenfranchised virtually all Tamils of Indian origin living in the central highlands. His bold agricultural plans and pro-Western policies drew criticism for their modern and untraditional nature. His other plans included the increase of hydroelectric power, but he couldn’t implement same as he suffered a stroke and fell off the Police mare Chitra while riding at the Galle Face Green on the morning of March 22, 1952. He was 67 at the time of his death.
His eldest son, Dudley Shelton Senanayake, succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1952, followed by another relative, Sir John Kotelawala (1897-1980) in 1953, but this nine-year family dynasty ended by a landslide victory for Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1956, campaigning under the “Sinhala Only” slogan. However Dudley Senanayake regained the Prime Ministership in 1960 and served again from 1965 to 1970. Under his family’s leadership, Sri Lanka’s economy flourished.
The Times of India’s quote: “Mr. Senanayake’s passing at this juncture might conceivably shift the delicate balance of power and change the political pattern at a time when stability was never more urgent.
By temperament and outlook he was peculiarly qualified to guide the island’s destinies through the critical years which marked the transition from political dependence to freedom.”
To mark D.S. Senanayake’s death anniversary last year, one of his grandsons, a former parliamentarian, one time Cabinet minister, chairman of the UNP and assistant leader of the UNP, Rukman Senanayake authored and launched a comprehensive book on the father of the nation titled D.S. Senanayake, the reflection of Parakrama Bahu which is a befitting tribute to his grandfather. The book should be read by all Sri Lankans.
I wish to draw the attention of D.S. Senanayake’s feat achieved not only in our island but the world stage. I quote The Daily Herald of London that wrote of his death: ” He will be remembered not only as the ‘father of Ceylon’ but as a great world statesman.”
In Sir Winston Churchill’s words: “The Commonwealth is poorer without him and the wise counsel he always gave.”
As his grandson notes: “Sri Lanka has followed a checkered path in the post-independence era. From being the envy of the world, it has moved to the brink of a failed state, only to inch back to a slow path of progress. Eras of different leaders have brought diverse results to the country. Some have taken the country on the path of progress, keeping the people content while others have driven the country to the brink of destruction. It is a sad fact that those who are responsible for such misfortunes seldom suffer themselves but only expose the innocent masses to unbearable suffering simply because they happen to live at that time”.
He further states: “Mr. D.S. Senanayake may have been the reincarnation of Parakramabahu. He undoubtedly is Sri Lanka’s greatest visionary of the 20th century. Such men are worthy of veneration.”
He writes: “Such men are indeed worthy of veneration. Finally while time has endorsed that Mr. D.S. Senanayaka is an unparalleled colossus, I join in the thoughts of the statement issued by the Ramanna Nikaya at the time of his death, pondering…” whether a leader of this stature will ever be born again in this country?…
The writer is the niece of P.C. Imbulana, late senior politician and founder member of the United National Party and the former President of the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society, a position he held until his demise.
A journalist by profession, Charnika has written a number of newspaper articles on the Independence of Ceylon for many years and is also the producer of the only English language TV program telecast on national TV, Rupavahini on the occasion of the golden anniversary of independent Sri Lanka. She is a member of the D.S.Senanayake Memorial Society. Charnika is currently a media advisor to several service oriented organisations.