Today is his 131st Birthday (October 20, 1884 – March 22, 1952)
S. Senanayake was the most outstanding political leader of post-independent Sri Lanka.
This great leader and the father of the nation was born 131 years ago on October 20, 1884 at the Botale Walawwa in Mirigama. His Father -- Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake married Catherine Senanayake from Kehelella. They were blessed with four children -- daughter Maria Frances, sons Don Charles (D.C), Fredric Richard (F.R) and Don Stephen (D.S).
D.S Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, with whom he had two sons -- Dudley Senanayake born in 1911 and Robert Senanayake born in 1913. His eldest son, Dudley Shelton Senanayake, succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1952.
I thought of writing this article on D.S. Senanayake with great respect and reverence and I strongly believe that it is the right time to educate the present generation about this great and exemplary leader.
D.S. spearheaded the independence struggle of the then Ceylon. He and his elder brother F.R. Senanayake and colleagues -- Sir D.B. Jayathilaka, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, T.B. Jayah, E.W. Perera and many others were the stalwarts of the Independence Movement. This intelligent group with its coherent plan was able to win Independence for our Motherland without shedding a drop of blood.
Though the British rulers were keen on suppressing D.S’ leadership, his influence was overpowering. In 1924, D.S. Senanayake became a member of the National Legislative Council, and subsequently with the dawn of the reforms of the “Donoughmore” Commission, he became the Minister of Lands and Agriculture in 1931. The new minister had the courage to undertake the herculean task of restoring the tanks and the irrigation network of the Dry Zone of the then Ceylon.
Minister D.S. issued a directive to the then Surveyor General R.L. Brohier to survey and map out the entire irrigation network system. On completion of this magnificent task, Mr. Brohier published the invaluable hand-book “Ancient Irrigation Works of Ceylon”. This multifaceted comprehensive volume became “The Beacon” for the development of the Irrigated Agriculture Sector in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The passing of the Land Settlement Ordinance in 1931 was a major breakthrough in reversing the colonial government’s traditional policy towards peasant agriculture.
Along with the Land Settlement Ordinance, the relocation of landless people was carried out by D.S. under productive colonization schemes in Sri Lanka’s fertile lands located in the Dry Zone, which was covered in thick jungle. Agricultural Production and productivity took a leap forward and with D.S. Senanayake’s “Agricultural Policy” in place the various ethnic groups reaped the bountiful harvest of this brilliant plan which was implemented effectively.
He saw the need for a careful assessment of the land and water resources of the island before beginning work on the restoration of the old and generally neglected irrigation facilities. Sri Lanka was fortunate to have Don Stephen as the Minister of Agriculture and Lands in the State Council, where he put into effect his dreams on agricultural plans formulated as far back as 1926. The economic depression in the 1930s threw a challenge to D. S. Senanayake to prove his talents in agricultural development.
He was tough and courageous in making a strong decision by moving out a population to less-developed areas in the Dry Zone, such as Minneriya.
There is no doubt that the great achievement of D.S. Senanayake during this period was the Minneriya scheme in 1934.
He was able to start agricultural colonies in Minipe, Elehera, Bakamuna, Gal Oya and so on.
He restored the largest reservoir constructed in this county during the ancient times -- the Parakrama Samudra, with its nine-mile long bund. Next came the Gal Oya Development Scheme, the last of the great colonization schemes, which he initiated as the Minister of Agriculture.
He set up the Ruhuna and Wilpattu National Parks by legislation introduced in 1938.
"Along with the Land Settlement Ordinance, the relocation of landless people was carried out by D.S. under productive colonization schemes in Sri Lanka’s fertile lands located in the Dry Zone, which was covered in thick jungle. Agricultural Production and productivity took a leap forward and with D.S. Senanayake’s “Agricultural Policy” in place the various ethnic groups reaped the bountiful harvest of this brilliant plan which was implemented effectively"
He also took steps to restore many ancient shrines and gave special attention to the planned development of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Mahiyangana and was himself the president of the Mahiyangana Restoration Society when it was started.
As a result of the relentless struggle carried out by D. S. Senanayake and his colleagues, the London administration introduced the Soulbury Commission to this country in 1946 and the political party system became part and parcel of the local political scene. Consequent to these developments, the United National Party was formed bringing various political and social organisations such as Sri Lanka Jathika Sangamaya, Sinhala Maha Sabha and the Muslim League under one umbrella.
D. S. Senanayake, who was elected the leader of the party, gave guidance to the freedom struggle with new vigour and foresight and the letter he sent to the colonial secretary paved the way for the discussions that led to Sri Lanka winning independence on February 4, 1948. D. S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of independent Sri Lanka, in his address to the nation, said: “We have regained the independence enjoyed by the inhabitants of this small island for a very long time from foreign dominance. The independence we won would be a reality only when the people are ready to safeguard their newly- won rights and responsibilities. By winning independence, we have seen the end of a struggle but it would be the beginning of another struggle which is mightier and more challenging than the one just concluded.”
After regaining independence, he introduced a new free health system and the free education system.
Travelling extensively in far flung areas of Sri Lanka, he worked tirelessly and lived with the people. He never travelled abroad to find solutions to domestic problems.
D.S. possessed an extraordinary vision and skill to give quick pragmatic solutions to the problems of this island.
It led to Sri Lanka becoming eligible to apply for UN membership. Sri Lanka became entitled to appoint its own diplomatic representatives or use those of Britain if it was so preferred.
As a genuine patriot, D.S rendered yeomen service to the nation with dedication and honesty by making an extraordinary contribution to this country as a whole. Without any division, each and every person belonging to Sri Lanka our motherland should pay their respect to this great leader demonstrating their gratitude as civilized human beings in the presence of the people in the world.