D.S. Senanayaka The prodigious first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon

20 March 2015 06:43 pm - 4     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Mr. D.S. Senanayaka, a name most revered and more valued with time, now, more than ever acknowledged as an unparalleled colossus, is remembered sadly on 22ndMarch, a day on which 63 years ago tragedy befell him and stunned this entire island nation and plunged its people into grief at the news of his demise. The Memorial Day commemoration this year would be held on Sunday (22) at Independence Square.

The great life of the father of the nation, Mr. D.S. Senanayaka, born on October 20, 1884 and he passed away on March 22, 1952. This was well before I was born, but I lived and breathed a life of more than four decades that heard his name mentioned during my childhood days and in our household which housed a gentleman by the name of Mr. P.C. Imbulana, my mother’s brother, a founder member of the United National Party and a senior politician.

 

"The great life of the father of the nation, Mr. D.S. Senanayaka, born on October 20, 1884 and he passed away on March 22, 1952. This was well before I was born, but I lived and breathed a life of more than four decades that heard his name mentioned during my childhood days and in our household"




As my uncle would relate his many political stories, I recall it would always start with the name of D. S.Senanayaka and how he was invited into politics by Mr. Senanayaka. 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 political life that emerged to be an elegant, honourable, steady and a very successful one.

Mr. 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. Senanayaka Memorial Society to write this article which I obliged with much pride and honour. Mr. D.S. Senanayaka’s contribution cannot ever be summed up in one small article but with the space that we can utilize 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 upto with great pride, Don Steven Senanayaka hailed from the village of Bothale. He wss 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 St. 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 Mr. D.S. Senanayaka was witness to Buck’s famous farewell speech “You have learned the best lessons from STC (St. Thomas’s 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 to 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.Mr. D.S Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, with whom he had two sons, Dudley Shelton Senanayaka (19 June 1911 – 13 April 1973) and Robert Parakrama Senanayake (8 April 1913 - 26 April 1986).

Mr. D.S. Senanayaka had two brothers and a sister. The two brothers,Mr. Don Charles Senanayakaand Mr. Fredrik Richard Senanayaka were also involved in politics. But it was Mr. D.S. Senanayaka’s who went the stretch in politics. Brothers, Don Stephen Senanayaka and Don Charles Senanayaka were prominent members of the Lanka Mahajana Sabha. Mr. F.R. Senanayaka shunned the limelight although he became a prominent and very influential member of the Temperance Movement founded in 1912. With his guidance Mr. D.S. Senanayaka entered public life as an active member of the Movement achieving much success in receiving mass support from the people.  Fredrick Richard Senanayaka and Don Charles Senanayaka were also the founders of the Y.M.B.A.

Mr. D.S. Senanayaka initially worked on his father’s plantation, and also in 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 Senanayaka 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 forty six days of incarceration.  

Mr. Senanayake’s initial role as an independence activist was to support his brother F. R. Senanayaka. While on a pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya in 1925, Mr. F. R. Senanayaka’s met with his death, after which Don Stephen Senanayaka took his place on the Legislative Council and led the independence movement. In 1931 he was elected to the State Council, and went on to become the Minister of Agriculture and Lands.

He took up the challenges of  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 fifteen years,he also enforced “Agricultural Modernization”, 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 (UNP) 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 at the general elections held in 1947.

 

Declined knighthood


He declined 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 colonization 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.”

Mr. D.S Senanayake was widely respected by Sinhalese and most Muslims however there was resentment 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 nontraditional 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 sixty-seven years old at the time of his death.

 

"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.”"



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 Mr. Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1956, campaigning under the “Sinhala Only” slogan. However Mr.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’squote, -; “Mr. Senanayaka’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 Mr. D.S. Senanayaka’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. Senanayaka, the reflection of Parakramabahu”, which is a befitting tribute to his grandfather. The book should be read by all Sri Lankans.

I wish to draw the attention of Mr. D.S. Senanayaka’s feat achieved not only in our island nation but on 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. Senanayaka may have been the reincarnation of Parakremabahu. He undoubtedly is Sri Lanka’s greatest visionary of the twentieth 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,the prodigious first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon, is an unparalleled colossus, I join in the thoughts of the statement issued by the Ramanya Nikaya at the time of his death, pondering….”whether a leader of this stature will ever be born again in this country?...

 
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  Comments - 4

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  • Rajasegaram Saturday, 21 March 2015 09:39 PM

    I am an Indian origin Tamil of srilankan citizen. I remember my family always stood for UNP and my late grandfather had highest respect to late Mr. D.S. senanayake when ever he talked about UNP. My Father paid his last respect to late Dudly Senanayake in 1973 by waiting hours in the queue and travelling from Balangoda. So it is not correct to say that all Tamils of Indian origin had any resentments towards late DSS or his family.

    Quraish Moulana Saturday, 21 March 2015 10:49 PM

    Great hero of our history, we are indebted to Our FATHER OF THE NATION.

    Namal Perera Sunday, 22 March 2015 01:30 AM

    A gentleman Politician who served the entire Nation. What ever decisions or projects undertaken were to benefit the citizens of the Country and not to fill his own pocket as we saw during the previous corrupt Regime.

    Quraish Moulana Saturday, 21 March 2015 06:13 PM

    Indeed DS was a great leader, his bro FR was a very good friend of my great grand father, when the British imprisoned FR , DS , my great grand father wrote to the British as both of them saved our families during the 1915 muslim riots. On his recommendations the British released both the brothers. Senanayakes were not racists but great gentlemen. Worth adoring them forever......


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