Today is the 104th birth anniversary of Dudley Senanayake
By Professor J. Jinadasa
The late Dudley Senanayake or “Bath dun piya”, who was one of the noblest sons of Sri Lanka, demised 42 years ago today, and had rewritten the political history of Sri Lanka by becoming her Prime Minister four times which could not be matched by any politician during the history of independent Sri Lanka. He had a great love for the people, especially the paddy farmers, who produced the staple diet of Sri Lankans, this noble quality, perhaps inherited from his father, who had huge paddy lands that his farmers cultivated for him, needless to say that he himself was a regular visitor to his paddy fields and shared ideas, jokes and on most days shared the “embula on nelum kole” with his farmers. Finally, this “great farmer” having washed the mud and leaving behind the span cloth, “the amude,” at Botale Walawwa was elected by the people as the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and was designated as the Father of the nation. He had an inherited love for agriculture that no other political leader in the country ever had after Sinhalese kings like Mahasen and Parakrama Bahu the great. Dudley Senanayake followed his father’s footsteps and was an ardent lover and supporter of the farming community and crowned farmers as kings at festivals. He was so popular among the people that they affectionately called him Dudley.
State CouncilLor and Minister
At school, he was a mischievous boy but an academically bright student far superior to others in his batch of students, and also a great sportsman, which is seldom evident among most academically bright students at any time. He excelled at cricket, hockey, boxing and athletics and was an all rounder. He later became a barrister, a member of the State Council, a member of Parliament representing the Dedigama Parliamentary constituency, Minister of Agriculture, the leader of the United National party (UNP), the Leader of the Opposition and finally, ended up becoming the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, four times. He was a devout Buddhist, always clad in a white cloth whenever he visited temples, liked by all Buddhists and the clergy, and was responsible for re-building the Mahiyangana Maha Seya. Above all, he was an exemplary democrat, honest and impartial to the last letter, persevering and a forthright statesman par-excellence.
Sportsman at S. Thomas
Dudley Senanayake was the eldest son of late D.S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister and the Father of the Nation of Sri Lanka, and of Molly Dunuwila of Botale Walauwa. He was born on June 19th of 1911. He had his secondary education at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, the best Anglican College at that time and even now, which produced great scholars and politicians. At S. Thomas’ he not only excelled at studies, but was a very active sportsman, playing for the college hockey and boxing teams and took part in athletics, towered above others and won colours in most sports. Above all, as expected of him by the school, he had an unblemished character, respected by all teachers and students, won their hearts and was therefore honoured with the post of Head Prefect of the School to inculcate good qualities among his colleagues. He captained St Thomas College at cricket for three consecutive years from 1927 to 29 at the inter-college matches against the rival Royal College of Colombo. Once at school, he had learnt one of the great speeches that had been given long before he was born, by a former Warden, Buckly (1896-1901). He had emphasized that “whatever you do, wherever you go, your activities will reflect on our college, I trust not only English, Math and Classics, but manliness, truth, courage, purity make a man a gentleman”. Dudley, having learnt the above statement, followed the ideology of the Warden to its very letter and became a truly humble gentleman, who brought credit to his school as expected of him and placed the country before self. Above all, Dudley, from the start, had a tower of hope for the country.
Middle Temple Barrister and father of Gal-oya Scheme rice bowl
Dudley, after his secondary education in Sri Lanka, proceeded to UK to read for the Natural Science Tripos at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. After graduation, he was admitted to the Middle Temple as a Barrister. At the end of his academic career in the UK, he returned to his motherland unlike most other people who stayed there or went elsewhere looking for “greener pastures”. Thus he placed the country before self and was an exemplary gentleman. He was elected by the people to the State Council representing the Dedigama Constituency. Although his father was a senior politician and a Minister at that time, he never threw his weight around but spent ten long years as a backbencher in Parliament, thus his noble character is an exemplary one for the present day politicians and their kith and kin. Dudley was appointed the Minister of Agriculture in 1946, succeeding his father as the Minister of Agriculture. It was purely because of the love that Dudley had for Agriculture and to utilize his ambitions and love for agriculture to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in rice, the staple diet of the people, which then formed the cornerstone of the economic freedom of the country, that was his dream. He stated his dream a couple of times at public meetings. A lasting monument to him as the Minister of Agriculture was the Gal Oya Scheme, that was built similar to that of Tennessee Valley in the USA. He single handedly took a bold decision over-riding the American engineers and instructed them to raise the dam, which saved the Eastern Province from the great floods of 1958. Besides, today the Gal-oya valley produce a quarter of the rice requirements of our country. His forthright vision paved the way for him to meticulously plan economic endeavours and he succeeded in elevating Sri Lanka’s self-sufficiency in rice from 40 to 75 percent.
D.S. Senanayake suddenly died on the 22nd of March 1952 after falling off the horse that he was riding at the Galle Face green. Then four days after, on the 26th of March, Dudley Shelton Senanayake was appointed as the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka by the then Governor General Lord Soulbury, over his cousin Sir John Kotalawala who was a much senior parliamentarian at that time. He took up the premiership reluctantly under duress, therefore, he was frequently referred to as the “reluctant Prime Minister”. His appointment created repercussions and displeasure among some members of his Government.
Dudley, being a true democrat and a true gentleman who excelled over others and in keeping with his principles that he had learnt from S. Thomas College, and in keeping with his motto in life, “defeat, defiance, magnanimity in victory,” immediately dissolved Parliament and called for a fresh mandate from the people later in 1952. He received a better mandate than his father at the general election, therefore, he was able to stay clear of the doubts that were simmering in the minds of his colleagues. Thus, Dudley Shelton Senanayake was elected Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the second time in one year. Due to economic problems, his Government slashed some of the subsidies such as rice, mid-day meals for school children, and therefore, the Govt. became unpopular. The left oriented trade unions capitalizing on this move, staged a hartal in 1953 and created pandemonium in the country. As Dudley was a very kind hearted statesman and not power hungry, he could not bear the hartal and resigned from the premiership and Sir John Kotalawala succeeded him. Thereafter Dudley resigned from politics altogether and happily went to his residence, Woodlands at Borella.
The General Election of 1956 brought the downfall of the powerful UNP Government under Sir John Kotelawala and the number of parliamentary seats for the UNP was also reduced to eight. The UNP hierarchy had no one acceptable to the people to give leadership to the party. Therefore once again, Dudley was invited to take the leadership of the UNP. He stayed clear of all the difficulties and organized the party in every nook and corner courageously to win the general elections of 1960 and was elected Prime Minister for the third time in March of that year. However, as his Government did not command the majority of seats in the Parliament, once again his Government was defeated at the Throne speech vote. Dudley, having the charisma to accept victory and defeat graciously, called for a general election in July of that year and it was won by a landslide by the Opposition left-wing oriented coalition parties and Madam Sirima Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister and Dudley became the Leader of the Opposition.
Protected press freedom and democracy
This great statesman’s dream was to develop the country, therefore he was unstoppable. He went round the country once again speaking to people on the importance of liberal democracy and freedom of speech and obtained the support of all major parties including Marxists and even minority parties. Around the end of 1964, the Government had drafted a bill to curb press freedom and nationalize the biggest newspaper group, the Lake House. Dudley, along with other UNP leaders clearly understood that the move of the Government was to curb freedom of speech, which was a great blow to democracy and the freedom of the people, discussed ways and means of defeating the bill in Parliament. The whole programme was spearheaded by non other than Mr. Esmond Wickremesinghe, the father of the present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Strategies as to how to defeat the bill were meticulously planned at his residence at 5th Lane, Kollupitiya. UNP stalwarts were able to persuade 14 of the Government MPs, including very senior leaders like the late Mr. C.P. de Silva to defect from the Government at the time of voting. They performed the duty as planned, and the Government was defeated and that brought down the Government of the late Mrs. Bandaranaike.
Free rice for all- “Bath Dun Piya”
Dudley, once again without a fuss or agitation, happily undertook to re-organize the party at grassroots level. His towering figure in Sri Lanka politics, charismatic personality that was never meant to mislead the people, as well as the fact that he didn’t enter politics to make a quick buck like most politicians of today - in fact he just had 547 rupees in his bank account at the time of his death, had people trusting him and rallying round him to safeguard the press freedom and democracy of the country. Clergy from all religions, academics and leaders of civil society who loved freedom, rallied round his leadership. Among them a notable, leading, vociferous Buddhist priest was Vaadepasinghe Devamottawe Amarawansa Thera, who was an eloquent speaker and all their efforts were paid off at the general elections of March 1965, when Dudley was given a clear mandate to form a Government. Thus he was elected as the Prime Minister for the fourth time in March 1965 and continued until May 1970 - the longest period served by a Prime Minister in Sri Lanka. His cabinet had members from social democrats, capitalists and Marxists elected from among Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. His Government re-established some of the lost benefits such as subsidized rice and even went one more step further and gave all citizens one measure of rice free. Therefore he was designated as “Bath dun piya.”
At the same time huge development projects were carried out. Even the giant Mahaweli was initiated during his regime. . However, some henchmen cheated him by providing him with false information contradictory to the reality on the output of rice from paddy fields etc. Dudley, being an honest gentleman trusted his men without hesitation. This brought down the UNP Government at the general elections of 1970.
Methodical workaholic and statesman of the people
Dudley Senanayake was one of the greatest orators in Parliament. He was a simple, modest, forthright person and obeyed the law of the land to the letter. He had been stopped while driving by himself by the Police and had humbly apologized to them without throwing his weight around them. He had once given a wrong order to his Permanent Secretary and when the Secretary had showed him that the order was contradictory to the Government rules, he had humbly apologized for that as well. He was a workaholic and worked at least 12 to 16 hours a day in his very simple office. Keeping appointments were his priorities.
He relaxed in the evenings in “sarong and banian”. Dudley was a person who lead a simple life with high thinking.
This great statesman of the people, who was elected by the people, for the people of the country, took his last breath on 12th April 1973, despite attempts made by eminent doctors like Wikrama Wijenaike and others to sustain his life, when all Sri Lankans were getting ready to partake the first meal of the New Year, prepared out of the free rice given to them by Dudley Shelton Senanayake, the four time Prime Minister of the country. Well over a million people poured in to Colombo on the day of his funeral to pay their last respects to this great man, which itself is testimony to his popularity and how much people loved him.
Dudley is no more, however, his legacy, honesty, integrity, humble qualities above all his liberal democratic policies will continue to grow even at a slow phase, and these principles will grow to encompass the minds of each and every one in this entire country.