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44th Death Anniversary of Dudley Senanayake Leadership beyond measure

18 April 2017 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Dudley was engaged in politics until his death at the age of 61.
  • After leading a spiritual life sans politics for four years, Dudley was  actively involved in spreading Buddhism in Germany, during which time he  witnessed the fall of his party at the 1956 general elections.
  • The most valuable aspect of Dudley Senanayake’s leadership is the  agreement he entered into with the moderate Tamil leadership in 1965—it  addressed several key concessions for the minorities which included  language, devolution and land matters.

Closest to a Lasting Solution  

On August 12, 1953, violent demonstrations in four provinces compelled a reluctant Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake to sign ‘shoot at sight with impunity’—a painful decision for the susceptible man of 42 years. A few months later he tendered his resignation and bid goodbye to politics. Dudley, back politics was in search of a lasting solution to the Language, Ethnic and Minority issues. The ‘Senanayake––Chelvanayakam Pact’ was signed between Dudley Senanayake, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and S.J.V Chelvanayakam, leader of the Federal Party on March 24, 1965. Political analysts believe this unique agreement was a major progressive step towards a unitary and stable Sri Lanka.


 Dudley was engaged in politics until his death at the age of 61. He was once invited by the British government to participate at the Coronation of the Queen in 1954, representing his country as its head of state. The organizers ran short of a horse-carriage for a Head of State and wanted our young PM from ‘LIPTON’s Tea Estate’ to share the carriage with an African head of state from a little-known British colony. Dudley emphatically declined the offer and even threatened to take the next flight home. The London Home office authorities replied, “It is an insult to her Majesty if you do that” our man retorted, “Officer, your suggestion is an insult to my great nation.” British authorities apologized, expressing their deepest regret before arranging a special carriage for our PM—a lesson for the new generation of politicians; but will they ever learn?  

Buddhism to Germany 

After leading a spiritual life sans politics for four years, Dudley was actively involved in spreading Buddhism in Germany, during which time he witnessed the fall of his party at the 1956 general elections. However, at the request of party loyalists and family pressure, he was made to change his future plans and resume politics in 1957. The assassination of Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike in 1959 and the chaotic political happenings within government ranks led to the parliament being dissolved and an election being scheduled for March 1960. Dudley was invited to form a government in a hung parliament. His unstable minority government lasted only a month. Later, in 1965 following an electoral success at general elections, he became PM for the fourth time in a coalition led by the UNP. This is an extract from his victory speech on that occasion.  

 “I am glad that circumstances have enabled me to form a National Government, which might have been denied to me if I had obtained more seats. I am glad that I have been given the opportunity, I believe for the first time in this country, of making a sincere and genuine effort to solve the divisions among us racially. Let us cast all isms aside. I say that I and my Government, whatever the ism, will seek the greatest good of the greatest number.”  

‘Senanayake––Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965’

 The text of the Pact….   
“Mr. Dudley Senanayake and Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam met on March 24, 1965 and discussed matters relating to some problems over which the Tamil-speaking people were concerned, and Mr. Senanayake agreed that action on the following lines would be taken by him to ensure a stable government: 

(1) Action will be taken early under the Tamil Language Special Provisions Act to make provision of the Tamil Language of Administration and of Record in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. 
Mr. Senanayake explained that it was the policy of his party that a Tamil-speaking person should be entitled to transact business in Tamil throughout the island.

(2) Mr. Senanayake stated that it was the policy of his party to amend the Languages of Courts Act to provide for legal proceedings in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be conducted and recorded in Tamil.

(3) Action will be taken to establish District Councils in Ceylon vested with powers over subjects to be mutually agreed upon between two leaders. It was agreed, however, that the government should have power under the law to give directions to such councils under the national interest.

(4) The Land Development Ordinance will be amended to provide that citizens of Ceylon be entitled to the allotment of land under the Ordinance.

Mr. Senanayake further agreed that in the granting of land under colonization schemes, the following priorities be observed in the Northern and Eastern provinces:

(a) Land in the Northern and Eastern provinces should in the first instance be granted to landless persons in the district.

(b) Secondly, to Tamil-speaking persons resident in the northern and 
eastern provinces.

(c) Thirdly, to other citizens in Ceylon, preference being given to Tamil citizens in the rest of the island.”

The most valuable aspect of Dudley Senanayake’s leadership is the above agreement he entered into with the moderate Tamil leadership in 1965—it addressed several key concessions for the minorities which included language, devolution and land matters. It was a settlement that could have re-enfranchised the Tamil-speaking citizens. Dudley’s failure to rally sufficient support for it within the majority community in the South had catastrophic consequences for the nation. Had it been put into action, it is quite likely that Sri Lanka would have been a lively, well-off, peaceful nation. This pact illustrated Dudley’s vision and insight to understand what was desirable to arrive at an accommodation with the minorities.  

Dudley, the Tiny Tot

The British Colonial authorities were waiting for an opportunity to apprehend the leaders of the temperance movement when racial riots broke out in 1915, and during the height of Sinhala-Muslim clashes, the government issued arrest warrants under the pretext of controlling racial riots. One morning, Punjabi soldiers arrived at ‘Woodlands’ Borella, the residence of D.S. Senanayake: it coincided with the four-year old Dudley’s skirmish with his ayah over breakfast. The Punjabis attempted to arrest DS, the 30-year-old father of Dudley, when the maid rightfully protested against the illegal arrest of her master. One military officer unmercifully shoved her away. The son, too small to realize the gravity of the situation, was excited that his bête noire of the moment, the ayah, was ‘punished’—as he reminisced about the event in later years.

‘Shoot at sight’ at Hartal ’53: Painful decision Triggered his resignation

 In July 1953, a mass workers’ rally was organized by the Marxists who controlled 80 to 90 percent of trade unions to protest against moves by Dudley’s government to prune the rice subsidy, a legacy of World War II, which the people considered their birthright. Young Marxist firebrands made inciting speeches at a rally held in the city to protest the move. The crowds went on a rampage, which compelled police to baton charge and tear gas them. The leaders of two leftist parties, the LSSP and CP, saw an opportunity as tension grew among masses; they called for a Hartal on August 12.   
Martial law and curfew was imposed; orders were issued to shoot at sight. The rioting men and women stood obstinately; the Police opened fire causing nine deaths. Dudley Senanayake was singled out by the opposition and had to face most of criticism, he even collapsed in the chamber once under stress. Subsequently he was flown to London for treatment, yet failing to recover from shock on his return, the great man who was elected by the people taught another lesson to all politicians by resigning from the post of Prime Minister, the leadership of the United National Party and politics altogether.  

A bachelor captained fathers XI against sons at St Thomas’ in 1963

Kirthie Abeyesekera writing to Sunday Observer on April 22, 1973 p-4, says, ‘On April 1963, the man who left no offspring and heir to carry the Senanayake name played for a ‘Fathers’ Cricket XI. Dudley, then Leader of the Opposition, took part in a …by St Thomas’ Preparatory, Bandarawela, when the ‘sons’ played against the ‘fathers’. “I do not know by what stretch of imagination they have included me in this team”, Dudley the bachelor chuckled. Perhaps for the man who captained St Thomas’ in his early thirties, temptation to play the game was too strong to resist, so he accepted the invitation and played. Abeyesekera added, ‘Dudley declined the captaincy in that match because, “I really have no right to play at all”, played a grand innings, top scoring with 47 and in a hectic bowling spell he took 4 wickets for 23 runs.’

In the political game as well, the ‘reluctant captain’ was a brilliant all-rounder who honoured rules to the letter and spirit.   

White, the Auspicious Colour

Dudley was admitted to a private hospital on April 6, with a heart condition. On the 12th his condition worsened. Dudley, the statesman, who took oaths as Prime Minister four times closed his eyes for the last time just a few hours before the dawn of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on the April 13, 1973. Astrologers recommended white as the auspicious colour of dress for the festival months ahead.

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