D.S Senanayake’s 64th death anniversary Commemoration is today
On the morning of 22nd March 1952, the first Prime Minster of Independent Ceylon, Don Stephen Senanayake went riding a police horse, Chithra on Galle Face Green as he usually did in the early morning hours. Another of his known daily rituals was that immediately before setting off for official work, he would visit his orchid house ‘Woodlands’ where he had a large and rare collection of orchids which he treasured and tended himself. There, he would pick an orchid for the day and wear it in his buttonhole.
But he couldn’t make it to his orchid house on that fateful day, as he fell off Chithra, after suffering a stroke. His riding companion Sir Richard Aluvihare, on a horse behind him, had witnessed the Premier’ fall.
The PM was admitted to the Central Hospital in Colombo where he died several hours later.He was 67 at the time. The entire country plunged into deep mourning and messages of sympathy poured from all corners of the world.
Here was a man who through giant strides, emerged as the chief architect in the transition of the country from a colony to self-rule, formed the United National Party and gave this country the pride of nationhood to become the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.
The nation, that unexpectedly had to bear the loss its Father who was considered more a great humanist who understood the aspirations of the people and worked for their upliftment, struggled to come to grips with such a sudden exit.
"In 1931 DS was elected to the State Council and went on to become the Agriculture and Lands Minister. He took up the Ceylon’s agricultural problems, and established an agricultural policy"
This was one part of the story of the of D.S. Senanayake saga that my uncle P.C.Imbulana who used to speak volumes of that great man struggled to deal with. The usually cheerful P.C. Imbulana, a founder member of the United National Party who considered D.S. Senananayaka as his mentor visibly re-lived the sadness whenever he spoke of his tragic death, even 60 years after his demise.
His eyes would sparkle with admiration and reverence when ever he spoke of the life and times of the man he would describe as an unparalleled colossus. His audiences would lose complete track of time when listening to him speak of DS. It was upon the invitation of D.S. Senanayake that P.C.Imbulana, entered politics, and he was most grateful to D.S. Senanayaka for guiding him to principles and systems in politics that P.C followed in achieving his own success.
As the President of the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society, a position he held until his demise four years ago, PC was at his busiest in his retirement, meticulously planning the death commemoration of D.S. Senanayaka, to military precision. Each year he would sit down to pen the annual tribute to D.S. Senanayaka to be published in the newspapers.After he died the D.S.S.M. Society invited me to write the article. And since then I have found it an honour to have fulfilled this task.
D.S. Senanayake’s contribution to the country cannot be summed up in one article but I have made an attempt to give a sketch of the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.
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, in Mutwal.
How true were his words that schools “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 in the audience when Buck in a famous farewell speech said: “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…”
D.S Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila; they 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 an 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 receiving mass support from the people. Fredrick Richard Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake were also the founders of the Y.M.B.A.
"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, in Mutwal"
D.S. Senanayake initially worked on his father’s plantation and also at 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 other freedom fighting leaders and held in inhuman conditions in “penal cells”which were worse than ordinary cells occupied by convicts. The authorities tried their utmost to implicate them in the riots but short of evidence they 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 DS was elected to the State Council and went on to become the Agriculture and Lands Minister. He took up the Ceylon’s agricultural problems, and established an agricultural policy that countered Ceylon’s rice problems. 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 in the same year by amalgamating three Right-leaning pro-Dominion parties. Within a year of its formation he was elected as Ceylon’s first Prime Minister in the general election held in 1947.
Declined a Knighthood
He declined a Knighthood, but maintained good relations with Britain and was a Privy Councillor. He boldly made plans to spread out the population, and his Gal Oya scheme and relocated over 250,000 people. He steered the nation on the path to freedom, 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 are still the main sources of income of the rural masses.
Upon his untimely death in 1952, his elder son, Dudley Shelton Senanayake, succeeded him as Prime Minister in, 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. Incidentally the baton has passed on to the fourth generation and his great grandson, Vasantha Senanayake is today a legislator who polled the highest number of preferential votes at the recent election.
Through his struggle for independence for Ceylon he gained world recognition. I quote the New York Times in that regard: “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 reconciliated his most formidable opponents, the Tamil Congress, to the point of securing their active support.”
D.S. Senanayake was widely respected by the 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 because of their modern and nontraditional nature.
I wish to draw the attention of D.S. Senanayake’s feat achieved not only in our island but the in the world stage by quoting The Times of India: “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.”
The Daily Herald,London had this to say: “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.”
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.
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 the former politician P.C. Imbulana, a Founder Member of the United National Party and the former President of the
D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society. Charnika, a senior journalist is a member of the D.S.Senanayake Memorial Society and a life member of the re-organised Dudley Senanayake Society.
The following article was published in The Illustrated London News on March 29, 1952…..
The death of a great Commonwealth statesman
A wise statesman looked upon by his countrymen as “The Father of the nation” ; The late Mr. D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of the dominion of Ceylon died on March 22 from injuries received when he was thrown off his horse on the previous day.”
Both Ceylon and the Commonwealth have suffered a grievous loss in the death of Mr. D.S. Senanayake, Prime minister of Ceylon since that country became a dominion in 1947. Mr.Senanayake, who was sixty-eight, was thrown from his horse early on March 21, and taken unconscious to hospital. The news of his death was received on March 22, a few minutes before Sir Hugh Cairns, the brain specialist, was due to board an R.A.F. Hastings aircraft at Abingdon Aerodrome to fly to his bedside.
Educated at a Church of England College in Ceylon, Mr.Senanayake remained a devout Buddhist. As minister of Agriculture for fifteen years under the Donoughmore Constitution, which granted a modified form of self-government, he transformed the agricultural system of the country. In 1942 he was appointed leader of the State Council, and subsequently organised a Ceylon war effort. In 1950 he became the first Ceylonese to be appointed a member of the Privy Council. He came to London in January last year for the meeting of Commonwealth prime ministers. Dr.Senanayake’s sagacity, foresight, judgment and tolerance were unexcelled, and under his leadership Ceylon has been the most untroubled country in Asia.”