When the Father and Son ‘Clashed’
D. S. Senanayake was a man of restricted book education but of incredible sophisticated wisdom. His eldest son an illustrious product of S. Thomas’ College, and blessed with an adorable personality, young Dudley Shelton, “Shelley” to close acquaints, showed little attention to marriage. The Senanayakes of Botale Walawwa in
Salpitigama Korale were well enriched in politics by the second decade of the 20th century with Senanayake brothers DC, FR and DS spearheading the Independence and temperance movements.
While father D. S. Senanayake supported the second World War effort, Dudley and J R were indifferent; they considered that by extending support to the enemy we could achieve independence quickly. Both of them visited the Japanese Consul in Colombo and expressed their support to Japan. DS, the Head of State was furious over the high-handed act of the two young Ministers, and to their shock and surprise, they were thoroughly chastised by him. Further if not for the father’s influence and excellent relations with the Governor Caldecott, the two radicals would have been arrested and indicted. Apart from this incident the father never interfered in his son’s political activities.
Our young minister once wrote to father DS, for the senior Senanayake to reply allowing the son full freedom to oppose him at the Cabinet— and criticize him openly; lessons for the present generation of politicians, both the seniors and juniors who think their word should be the final and the rest would have little say....; but follow the leader or face consequences. Dudley wrote:
“Dear father, the two of us are under the same roof. As your son I find it difficult to act in this manner. Sometimes I cannot agree with some of the proposals made by you to the State Council on behalf of the Board of Ministers. On many occasions I have to steadfastly oppose you. Such a thing happened today also. It caused me severe mental distress. So I have decided to resign from the State Council.” – Dudley
Father replied: “Although you are my son you have full freedom to oppose me at any moment. I brought you up and educated you to enable you to be an independent man and act according to your conscience. I am proud that you have been able to express your views before the State Council in a fearless and forthright manner. It will never harm our relationship as father and son.” – DS
During the height of communal violence in late May 1915, the Colonial Government arrested Temperance movement leaders under the pretext of controlling racial riots; they feared that the temperance movement would turn out to be a ‘freedom fighter’ in time to come. One morning the three-and-a-half-year-old Dudley was having an ‘encounter’ with his maid over breakfast when soldiers arrived at their residence, Woodlands in Borella. They have come to arrest the 30 year-old D. S. Senanayake. One of the Punjabi soldiers pushed away the ayah who argued, protested and intervened the attempt by soldiers to bundle up her master into a military truck. The three-and-half-year-old Dudley, clueless of what was going on did not apprehend the seriousness of the drama, but only enjoyed the fun seeing his bête noire at that moment, the maid, lying on the floor being ‘punished’- as recalled by this affable man, the sad tale, later in life.
The newly elected member representing Negombo in the Legislative Council (1924), D. S. Senanayake would put the two brothers Dudley and Robert, 13 and 11 respectively on their horses, and tie the pedals to the saddle. As Dudley nervously held on to the saddle, father would whip the horse on its’ rear. Dudley was compelled to maintain his balance for fear of a fall; the lesson, ‘if you were scared, you would never learn to ride a horse’.
Players, in the good old days were allowed to go home for snacks during play. Once Dudley was back at home during a cricket match. He was bleeding from the nose. Father DS, a cricketer himself who played for the same school S. Thomas’ ignored the minor tragedy and asked the cricketing son,
‘How much did you score?’
‘Fifty two’ said the son
‘Out for fifty two?’
‘No, retired hurt, a ball hit my nose. I need to rest’
‘You see…, a retired hurt batsman can go and bat later in the innings’
Basic treatment with ice for his bleeding nose, and an aspirin for relief from pain; followed by refreshments, he was sent back to the ground by the father for the good batsman to complete his century. Dudley was back at the crease at the fall of the next wicket. Upon his return to the pavilion with a deserving century against his name on the board, the young batsman was greeted by a doctor who the father had sent to attend on the son’s bleeding nose: but, the million dollar question is, was DS successful in his effort to inspire the son with the idea of ‘spirit and bravery’? The sensitive man ‘Retired hurt’ once again in 1953 unable to come to terms with his own conscience for signing the shoot-at-sight order during the violent ‘Hartal’ of August 12. However, like father, he knew the rules; and played by them.
Both Dudley, and his brother Robert followed the father DS in captaining S. Thomas’ College at cricket. Dudley shone in boxing, athletics, football, and hockey. He won the popular Victoria Gold Medal awarded to the Best All-Round Boy and also became College Head Prefect.
Dudley was a firm believer that public funds should not be used for private expenses as a public official. Throughout all his Premiership tenures he resided at his private residence Woodlands and insisted that expenses incurred in his private home must be met with by his personal funds. As Prime Minister, he twice travelled to the United States and to London for medical reasons but all expenses incurred by him and that of the consultants and para-medics who accompanied him, were met by his own funds – something that is unheard of today.
He never pleaded for leadership, and never planned to consolidate his place in the party through manipulations, but was selected unanimously; what is significant is not the number of times Dudley became the Prime Minister, but that three times he was elected by the people as the Head of State, [only after father’s death that he was sworn in] he never accepted a powerless PM’s post or power shared with one above him, but as the sole Head of the nation. In that sense Dudley Senanayake is incomparable. In 1952, he was chosen over a more senior member to be the Prime Minister. It happened after the tragic death of father D. S. Senanayake. But he was not contented; the staunch liberal democrat, dissolved Parliament and left the fate of the nation and the United National Party in the hands of the people who overwhelmingly voted him to lead the nation.
An uncorrupt politician with no malice in his heart; it is very sad that there isn’t a single politician of his calibre in the present Parliament. For the sad state of affairs and what we are undergoing now in Sri Lanka, Dudley, the true statesmen would certainly pray for us.
Writing to Sunday Observer on 22nd April 1973, was Kirthie Abeyesekera: who says, ‘In 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,” perhaps for the cricketer who led S. Thomas’ in the early thirties, the temptation to play the game was too strong to resist, so he accepted the request and played. Abeyesekera added, ‘Dudley who declined the captaincy in that match because , “I really have no right to play at all,” played a grand innings, top scoring with 47, in a hectic bowling spell he took 4 wickets for 23 runs.’
The ‘reluctant captain’ was a brilliant all rounder in the political field as well, who honoured the rules to the letter and spirit.
‘Power has only one duty - to secure the social welfare of the People.’ - Benjamin Disraeli
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