Dudley Senanayake, the reluctant politician, entered the political fray at a very young age-he was only twenty five years old. It is believed that his father’s gentle persuasion and constant advice by his friends and other members of his family were finally successful in making him to take the plunge.
But looking back at his public life from 1936 to his demise in 1973, one begins to wonder whether the intrinsic love and affection he portrayed for his countrymen throughout his public life was the hidden compelling force that persuaded him to enter politics.
He was born on the 19th June 1911. Incidentally 19th June was the Poson Poya for the year 1911.
He was born in the village of Bo-thale named as the village of the Bo-Sapling, situated in Mirigama in the District of Gampaha (Western Province).
However, he did not enter the State Council from the area of his birth as that electorate was represented by his illustrious father. He represented the adjoining electorate (Dedigama) situated in the Kegalle District (Sabaragamuwa Province) that became vacant with the demise of a powerful politician Sir Francis Mollamure.
Having entered the State Council when the country was under colonial rule, he set about his task of opposing the colonial Government in its dictatorial activities. One such issue was incarceration of two of his colleagues, namely Mr. Philip Gunawardane and Dr. N.M. Perera.
He defended them even though they represented an opposing political party and were severe critics of his political philosophy. They were incarcerated for opposing the war effort during World War II, under the Defence (Miscellaneous No.3) Regulations dated 3rd June 1940. Referring to these regulations Dudley Senanayake stated in the State Council,
“I would like to ask the Hon. Members what is it that the United Nations is fighting for? What is the freedom that it talks so much about? Do we not see the characteristics of Fascism in this act? I would class this as one of the greatest acts of Fascism ever perpetrated in this country. The representatives of the people, with hardly any dissent, have suggested the release of these persons.”
Dudley Senanayake stuck to the principle of ‘fairness’ throughout his life. He was not a blind follower of anybody, not even his father, even though his father was a powerful and a widely respected leader.
One such instance was in regard to the support extended to the British during World War II.
As the leader of the House, D.S. Senanayake threw his entire weight behind the British during the War. Even though the British were the colonial rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), D.S. Senanayake felt that in this battle between the Fascists led by Hitler and the free world led by the British, it was the proper thing to do. Moreover, he was of the opinion that such action would surely make the British Government more amenable towards Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in her struggle for independence.
However, the young Senanayake had other idea: He was of the opinion that the British were an occupying force and that we should not be a party to the war. On a number of occasions, the young State Councillor acting according to conscience found himself on the opposing side of his father and that disturbed him deeply.
Unable to come to terms with this predicament, he informed his father that he intended to give up his political career. To his surprise, his father advised him not to entertain any such thoughts, but continue to act according to his conscience and that as far as he was concerned he was more than proud to witness his son acting according to his own convictions.
With the gaining of Independence in 1948, D.S. Senanayake became the first head of Government, and Dudley Senanayake became the Minister of Agriculture and Lands, the Ministry held by his father since 1931.
The young Minister was given the responsibility to enhance the colossal work done by his father, and many were sceptical, but, within a short period of time, Dudley Senanayake proved to all his critics that he was more than capable of achieving the task entrusted to him.
His greatest achievement as Minister of Agriculture and Lands was the inauguration of the Gal Oya scheme in 1948. It is pertinent to note that this gigantic scheme was solely financed by Sri Lanka’s own funds and that not a single cent was obtained from any foreign source.
Referring to this scheme in Parliament on 21st May 1948, Dudley Senanayake said,
“It is recorded in history that when the tank Parakrama Samudra, or the Sea of Prakrama, was built, it was then the proud boast that the volume of water in all other tanks then existing in Ceylon could not exceed that of the Sea of Parakrama. It can now be claimed that the volume of water in all the tanks of the Island today, including the Parakrama Samudra, will not exceed the volume of water that will be enclosed in this Gal Oya reservoir.”
In 1952, with the death of the Prime Minister Rt. Hon. D.S.Senanayake, a crisis emerged in the Government. Even though in 1951 Hon. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, a powerful founder member of the United National Party, who was more or less the second in command, had left the Government and crossed over to the Opposition paving the way for Sir John Kotelawala.
The Government Parliamentary Group was not amenable to Sir John becoming the successor. Instead, they chose Dudley. Sir John was furious. Dudley Senanayake, however flatly refused to accept saying that it should be offered to the next in line. All negotiations failed as some members of the Government Group threatened to cross over to the Opposition if Sir John became Prime Minister. The very existence of the Government was threatened. The crisis was somewhat resolved by Dudley Senanayake, under tremendous pressure, agreeing to form the Government and Sir John agreeing to serve in Dudley’s Cabinet.
The new Prime Minister insisted that he should be allowed to dissolve Parliament and obtain a fresh mandate and did so just thirteen days after he was sworn in as Prime Minister. Not only did he win this election, he won it quite convincingly by getting for the first time a 2/3s majority in Parliament.
It was well known that Sir John agreed to serve under Dudley Senanayake because, his mother, whom he loved so dearly, persuaded him to do so.
However this grudging acceptance did not last long, it finally blew up with publication of an anonymous document called ‘The Prime Minister’s Stakes 1952’ supposedly authored by Sir John, where he accused Dudley Senanayake of all kinds of villainy.
Even though this matter was settled amicably, plagued by harassment, conspiracies and illness, in 1953, Dudley Senanayake resigned as Prime Minister and announced his retirement from politics. There are only two instances ever recorded in the long history of ours, of renouncing power by a Head of State; one
was that of the great King Sirisangabo the other was Dudley Senanayake. Both chose to do so when they were at the peak of their popularity.
In 1956, one year before the due date, Sir John dissolved Parliament with the hope of returning to power with the majority he inherited from the former Prime Minister. But he was rejected by the people. The UNP was decimated to a mere eight seats and was unable even to claim the post of Leader of the Opposition.
Shaken by the result, the senior members of the UNP appealed to Dudley Senanayake to come back to lead the party. After much persuasion, Dudley Senanayake agreed to accept the leadership on the firm understanding that Sir John Kotelawala ceased to hold any position in the party and in 1957, Dudley found himself leading the United National Party once again.
Just three years after assuming the leadership, Dudley Senanayake was successful in making the decimated UNP the largest party in Parliament. However, as he could not muster an overall majority, he was of the opinion that the leader of the next largest party which was led by C.P. de Silva, should be allowed to form the Government.
He intuitively knew that such a Government would collapse before long and the UNP would return to power with an absolute majority.
But the majority of members of his party had other ideas and he was compelled to form a minority government. What transpired thereafter forced the UNP to the Opposition.
The Leftist parties in Parliament formed a coalition with the SLFP that was led by C.P. de Silva and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the widow of late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.
The introduction of Mrs. Bandaranaike into politics to lead this powerful coalition was instrumental in defeating the UNP at the general elections that was held three months later. Dudley Senanayake became the Leader of the Opposition during this period.
The deputy Prime Minister C.P. de Silva who was always uncomfortable with the presence of Leftist parties in the Government, decided to leave the Government and join the Opposition in 1964, forcing the Government to lose a crucial vote in Parliament.
At the general elections that followed, the UNP led by Dudley Senanayake with the support of seven Parties received an overall majority. However, since it was C.P. de Silva who was mainly responsible for bringing down the Government, Dudley Senanayake offered him the Prime Minister’s post in the new government.
This offer was turned down but he opted to serve under Dudley Senanayake, and Dudley became the head of Government for the fourth time.
The new Government that was formed in 1965 was the first Government to run its full term. It was a remarkable achievement considering the fact that it comprised almost all shades of political opinion.
The UNP led by Dudley Senanayake with the right of centre political philosophy, the breakaway SLFP led by C.P. de Siva with a left of centre philosophy, Marxist Philip Gunawardane, Tamil parties-the Federal Party and Tamil Congress led by Chelvanayakam and G.G. Poonambalam respectively and Rajaratne leading a Sinhala Group.
It was truly a National Government. The main reason for the government to last its full term was the undeniable faith and respect Dudley Senanayake enjoyed among all those groups.
Philip Gunawardane who was known as the ‘Father of Marxism’ in Sri Lanka, was a powerful opponent of the United National Party. However, he joined Dudley Senanayake in opposing the coalition led by Mrs. Bandaranaike. This powerful politician who commanded major support in the sixties was somehow reduced to only one seat in the Parliamentary Elections of 1965.
Only he returned to Parliament. But as soon as Dudley Senanayake was sworn in as Prime Minister, he called on Philip Gunawardane and requested him to join the government as a personal favour to him. Mr. Gunawardane was overwhelmed and agreed. These two political giants who were once bitter political enemies became inseparable friends.
The Dudley Senanayake government brought about much needed communal harmony to the country. Communal tensions that arose in 1956 and its reappearance periodically, ceased during the tenure of the new government. His visit as the head of government to Jaffna, which later became the hot bed of communal violence for many decades, witnessed a sea of heads thronging to welcome him and the Prime Minister being carried on the shoulders of the people with the security personnel unable to get near him. It was a fantastic sight that one cannot even imagine happening today.
Dudley was accused of being partial to the Tamil minority community because he proposed to establish District Councils which were decentralized administrative units, functioning under the control of Government.
Those who opposed him vehemently then became quite comfortable in participating in Provincial Councils, ad hoc power structures created on the insistence of the Indian Government, which today have become ‘white elephants’ in our fragile economy.
The new government was committed to uplift agriculture. Like his father, Dudley believed that the nation’s well being is linked to food security, and he travelled the length and breadth of Sri Lanka to provide the proper impetus to agriculture.
However, after the defeat in 1970, his opponents ridiculed him by saying that he was fooled by the officials, but later their own statistics revealed that there was an enormous increase in food production in general and particularly in the production of paddy.
The Mahaweli diversion was a massive irrigation feat inaugurated during his time. But before its completion his government was defeated at the elections.
Dudley Senanayake was a simple man. Even as Prime Minister he was often seen driving his own vehicle visiting his friends or attending to private errands, without any security personal accompanying him.
Many are the instances when his security was instructed not to follow as he was on a private mission. Nevertheless, the Police secretly followed leaving a comfortable distance and was quite satisfied with this arrangement as they were aware of the places he used to visit. One day to their shock he could not be located and a frantic search ensued, only to find the Prime Minister strolling on the beach at Hikkaduwa taking photographs. Photography was his passion.
Dudley was also a great lover of golf. On one occasion, he instructed the security not to follow him saying that he was going to Nuwara-Eliya to play golf. As usual the Police started following keeping a comfortable distance.
He was driving his own vehicle and at Ramboda Pass the radiator started to boil and the car had to be stopped. The Prime Minister parked the car and sat on a culvert nearby and waited for the vehicle to cool down. The Policemen, unaware of this development arrived at the scene a few minutes later and was shocked to see the Prime Minister seated on a culvert.
Dudley quietly got up thanked the security for following him and rather embarrassingly asked them take him to Nuwara-Eliya. Such was the simplicity of the man.
Dudley Senanayake was an avowed believer that public funds should not be utilized for the private use of a public official.
Throughout his tenure as Prime Minister, he resided at his private residence and insisted that all expenses incurred in his private residence must be financed by his private funds. As Prime Minister, he once travelled to the United States and to the United Kingdom for medical reasons but all expenses incurred by him and that of the doctors, who accompanied him were met from his private funds. Something that is unheard of today.
The Secretary to the Prime Minister Bradman Weerakoon, who may have had a torrid time differentiating these payments as they are normally met by the Prime Minister’s vote, while presenting the ‘Preface’ for the book ‘Dudley Senanayake –The most loved leader of our times’, quoted a poem of Gilbert Holland as a fitting epitaph to the life of Dudley.
It read thus,
God, give us men!
A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office ca not buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honour; men who will not lie.
An extrovert among friends but an introvert in unfamiliar company, Dudley Senanayake was somewhat a shy personality. He hardly smiled at an unknown person but readily reciprocated.
On one occasion, his sister-in-law told him that as a politician he should go out of his way and smile with people but Dudley shrugged and said ‘What if they do not recognize me, they will think that I am mad’.
This four times Prime Minister, a colossus in the political arena, chose to believe that he may not be recognized. Such was his modesty.
In 1970, the government was defeated at the general elections. Even though the UNP as a single party secured the highest number of votes in the country, the prevailing electoral system denied the UNP the majority in Parliament.
Dudley did not wish to accept the post of the Leader of the Opposition. Instead he handed it to J.R. Jayewardene who was then the de facto deputy leader of the party and he remained as only the member for Dedigama.
Though he wished to retire from politics, tremendous pressure brought about by his supporters denied him that opportunity and he found himself leading the UNP campaign in four by-elections that were held subsequently. The UNP managed to win two out of the three electorates that were represented by the UF Government.
Almost every day, early morning Dudley Senanayake drove his own vehicle and went to play golf. On one occasion, when he stopped for the traffic lights, three youths in the vicinity started jeering him. He quietly alighted from the vehicle walked up and told them that he lives nearby and that he always takes this same route to go to the golf club and requested them to take the same course of action in six months time if they felt that he deserved it.
In six months time, Dudley was no more, but the three youths concerned were crying and wailing near Dudley’s coffin apologizing for what they had done.
Dudley Senanayake started his public life as the Member for Dedigama. He became a Minister, Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Prime Minister again and again four times and finally to where he started as the Member for Dedigama. When his demise took place in 1973, he was only an MP of the Opposition, yet huge crowds from all over the country flocked to Colombo to pay their last respects to this great man. For miles and miles people queued for long hours to get a glimpse of his body. The London Sunday Telegraph in the front page referring to his funeral carried the headline “4 ½ Million pay homage to Dudley Senanayake”. It is interesting to note that this was more than 1/3 of the total population of Sri Lanka at that time. An unknown admirer, who stood in a queue for more than nine hours, walked up to the casket and laid a wreath penned with the question,
“O my leader, please answer me.
Is it honesty or kindness that is more in thee?”
This perhaps explains more than anything else the love and the admiration people had for him.
The thirty seven years of his public life were enshrined in integrity that earned him the undying respect of friend and foe alike. Born to an influential family, he moved with kings but was humble enough to be comfortable in the company of a poor villager. Honesty and simplicity are two virtues the people saw in him and admired greatly. Dudley Senanayake will never know how the people of this country reacted to his death, the sadness and the sorrow that engulfed the nation. Those who witnessed it will never live to forget. To those of us who had the privilege of knowing him, his memory, even after forty three years of his demise, continues to bring a tear to our eyes.