– Island 22 Oct 2000
(This is an extract
from the book Don Stephen Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka by
H. A. J. Hulugalle, the second edition of which was launched on the 20th of
October, the birth anniversary of D. S Senanayake. The first edition was
published quarter century ago.)
Don Stephen Senanayake was born on 20th October 1884, at Botale, a village in the Hapitigame Korale of the Negombo district in the Western Province. The name of the village has nothing to do with the colloquial Sinhalese word, with the same spelling and pronunciation, meaning ‘bottle’ derived from the Dutch ‘bottel’. The village was named after ‘Bodhi-tale’—the place of the Bodhi or Bo tree.
One of Senanayake’s ancestors may have been
in the party of Buddhists who in ancient times brought a sapling of the old Bo
tree at Mahaiyangana to be planted at the shrine of the good King Sri Sangabo at
Attanagalla. On their last stop before reaching Attanagalla, they remained for
the night at Botale. In the morning they found that the sapling had taken root
in the soil where they had left it. There is of course no evidence to prove that
the venerable Bo tree one now sees at Botale was the direct descendant of the
tree at Mahaiyangana—traditionally one of the places in Sri Lanka visited by
the Buddha. There are many, however, who believe that it was.
Only a few miles from the much larger village
of Ambepussa, on the Colombo-Kandy road, Botale, stood on the frontier between
the Sinhalese kingdom ruled from Kandy and the maritime districts held by the
Portuguese. It was often an outpost of the Portuguese during their battles with
the Sinhalese. The Portuguese historian, De Queyroz, in his ‘Conquest of
Ceylon’, published in 1688, says that the Portuguese under Captain Francesco
Pimental at Attanagalla made themselves dreaded in such a manner that, not
having more to do, they went to encamp at Botale, a league further. The
Sinhalese, for their part, erected a stronghold at Dedigama. In 1598 the
quarters were shifted to "the pagoda at Botale, a place suited for
assaults, with great loss to the enemy".
The village of Botale seems to have been
known for a sturdy breed of peasants. It was said that men from the area had
constructed the tunnel through which the Sinhalese Prince Vidiya Bandara, who
was a prisoner of the Portuguese, escaped with the help of the Franciscan friars
who had their monastery at a spot near Queen’s House in Colombo where the
President of the Republic of Sri Lanka now resides.
Stephen Senanayake’s father, Don Spater
Senanayake, came of a land-owning family. The prefix ‘Don! had been used,
since Portuguese times, by the low country gentry, as it had been in the Iberian
Peninsula, where it originated Don Spater’s father, Don Bartholomew, was born
in Botale in 1847 where the ancestral house still stands. It was for Don Stephen
a hideaway to rest from the burdens of office or think out a solution to some
knotty problem. It was here that he mixed freely with the country folk and
shared his thoughts and aspirations with them. They brought their problems as
well as their disputes to him and it is said that an aggrieved party in the
village rarely resorted to a court of law, for Senanayake was judge and
arbitrator in all causes which they referred to him.
Don Spater finished his schooling at St
Thomas’ College, Matale. He married a Miss Senanayake (no relation) from
Kehelella which was in the same district as Botale. They had three sons, of whom
Stephen was the youngest, and a daughter. After the father’s death the four
children remained close to their mother who was a deeply religious woman.
The Senanayakes of Botale were rooted to the
land but Don Spater saw possibilities in mining plumbago (graphite) for which
there was a growing demand in Europe, the United States and Japan. Ceylon
plumbago was regarded by experts as "so much superior to any other turned
out". It was mined in many parts of the island but chiefly in the
Kurunegala district, where the Dodangaslande, Ragedera and Maduragoda mines were
situated, and in the Kelani Valley where the Bogala mine was the largest. Don
Spater’s contemporaries and rivals in the plumbago business included such well
known merchants as Jacob de Mel. Mudaliyar D. C. Attygalle, N. D. P. Silva, D.
D. Pedris, H. J. Peiris, M. A. Fernando, John Clovin de Silva, U. D. S.
Gunasekera and H. Bastian Fernando, all of whom left considerable fortunes.
Stephen grew to manhood when the plumbago trade was booming and even as a school
boy he knew a great deal about the ‘black gold’ and the men who dug it from
his father’s mines.
The massive volume entitled Twentieth Century
Impressions of Ceylon, published in 1907 by Arnold Wright for Lloyds’ Greater
Publishing Company of London, has the following reference to Don Spater
Senanayake: "After being educated at various schools in Ceylon, he started
business on his own account in the plumbago-mining line at the early age of
eighteen years. He now carries on business as a plumbagominer, merchant, estate
proprietor and general planter. His offices are situated at Siri Medura, Castle
Street, Cinnamon Gardens, and his stores are located at Kitulwatte, Kanatte,
The article refers to the modern machinery
installed in Don Spater’s mines and estates and states that the graphite
extracted the refrom is collected at Ambepussa and forwarded to Colombo. It also
lists the names of his mines and coconut estates. Two pages of pictures go with
the article, including the family group with the striking figure of Don Spater,
in Mudaliyar’s dress, with the three sons standing behind their seated parents
and sister, Mrs. F. H. Dias Bandaranaike. Don Spater Senanayake was given the
rank of Mudaliyar, not as a Government official but as "a worthy
citizen", by Governor Sir Joseph West Ridgeway.
At the end of the nineteenth century, many
Sinhalese families interested themselves in the public life of the country.
Seats in the Legislative Council were filled by nomination by the Governor. In
1839, the only Sinhalese member was G. Phillipse Panditaratna. He was succeeded
by his kinsman J. G. Dias, the eldest brother of Sir Harry Dias who succeeded
him in his turn. On Sir Harry’s retirement, James Dehigama, a Kandyan lawyer,
was nominated. The seat went back to the family circle with the nomination of
James D’Alwis, whose daughters married Christoffel Obeyesekere and Felix R.
Dias. He was followed by J. P. Obeyesekere and Albert de Alwis, in turn. The
succession was broken by the nomination of A. de A. Seneviratne, but restored by
the entry of Christoffel Obeyesekere in 1889. In that year an additional seat
was provided to represent the Kandyan Sinhalese and T. B. Panabokke, who had
been Obeyesekere’s classmate in the Colombo Academy (later the Royal College),
was nominated. It was not uncommon for a Kandyan in Government service or one
who had retired as a Ratemahatmaya (chief headman) to be selected, as was the
case with Hulugalle Adigar, who was succeeded by his kinsman, T. B. L.
Moonemalle. When the pattern was about to be broken, Mr. (later Sir) Christoffel
Obeyesekere, no doubt irked by the new spirit of nationalism, said on a well
known occasion that much of the trouble in the country was due to
"nobodies" trying to become "somebodies".
D. S. Senanayake was the first member of the
Senanayake family of Botale to enter the Legislative Council though his older
brother, ‘F. R.’, could have at any time won a seat by election and was
always a powerful influence behind the scenes until his premature death.
Family influence was also an important factor
in the choice of Tamil members. The first Tamil to be nominated to the
Legislative Council was A. Coomaraswamy Pulle. He was followed by Simon Casie
Chitty. Governor Stuart Mackenzie spoke of "his extra-ordinary, perfect
attainment by a foreigner of the English language so difficult to all
foreigners". The nomination of Edirimanasinghe Mudaliyar in 1850 gave a
long run to a single family with its roots in Manipay. His brother-in-law
Ponnambalam Mudaliyar was the father of P. Coomaraswamy, P. Ramanathan and P.
Arunachalam, all three of whom were nominated members of the Legislative Council
at various times. Edirimanasinghe Mudaliyar had been succeeded by Sir Muttu
Coomaraswamy, another uncle of the three Ponnambalam brothers, J. R. Weinman,
the witty chronicler of this period said that "the major aim of every
Councillor is to keep the thing going in the family".
With the introduction of the electoral system of representation, many
descendants of the above-named found their way into the legislature through the
front door. This is, of course, not surprising. As a recent writer has said,
"a democratic political system cannot make elites superfluous, though it
may ensure their rapid and regular circulation".
Magazine – Island Nov 18 2000
S. Senanayake and ‘the most untroubled nation in Asia’
by Arjuna Hulugalle
The biography of Don Stephen Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka by H. A. J. Hulugalle, (second edition). Published by Arjuna Hulugalle Dictionaries, 42, Ananda Coomaraswamy Mw, Colombo 3.
biography serves generally as an assessment of an eminent person. An assessment
of D. S. Senanayake has to start by examining authenticity in the words of O. M.
Green, one of the best known British writers on international affairs in the
nineteen forties and nineteen fifties that "under Senanayake Ceylon was the
most untroubled country in Asia".
At that time, this country enjoyed one of the
highest levels of literacy in Asia, compulsory and free education, low infant
mortality and a relatively efficient, largely free national health service, a
University which was recognised and accepted as having standards comparable with
the best in Asia and the world, a model Parliamentary democracy with universal
adult franchise, a well run civil administration and a competent judiciary.
During this period "there was tranquility in the land".
How much of this was because of the wise
leadership of D. S. Senanayake? This is the question which I think my father H.
A. J. Hulugalle was trying to look at in his book "Don Stephen Senanayake,
the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka" (first published in 1975).
The author had observed Senanayake for 30
years from a very close perspective. He wrote his book twenty three years after
Senanayake’s death, as such he had the distance to look at his subject also in
the context of the events that unrolled subsequently.
What was it that took Senanayake into
politics? Senanayake was a natural leader. He came from a village which the
author says had "a breed of sturdy peasants". The family would have
thrown up leaders from the time of the Portuguese. Though deeply steeped in
tradition and religion, which the village of Botale had nurtured among its
people, the Senanayake family would have maintained a working relationship with
the foreigners, which would have given an exposure to the wider world. That
could explain adopting the "Don" as one of their names. Leadership
qualities would have led to money and money to the establishment of Mudliyar Don
Spater’s Serugollawa Walauwa, from which the future leader came.
At school Senanayake did not excel at his
studies. The education which Senanayake had with Warden Buck and subsequently,
with Warden Stone would have nurtured his inherent qualities which were
reflected in later life. He was witness to Buck’s famous farewell speech
"You have learned the best lessons from STC (St. Thomas’s College)...
true manliness and truth, courage, purity and all those things that make a man a
gentleman..." The college had inculcated a self confidence to this sturdy
villager from Botale, which enabled him to deal with statesmen of the highest
intellectual levels and to be admired by them for his intrinsic noble and decent
What was the hallmark of his success? He was
trusted. This is what Soulbury wrote "...It was also clear to me that he
was a man filled with that sense of intense patriotism and love of his homeland
which is characteristic of the members of long settled and ancient families.
From the very first I felt that I could trust him implicitly — so that as the
saying goes — "I could put my shirt on him". The trust in him was
also shared by the hundreds of thousands of simple folk who paid their respects
at his funeral. They felt, to use the words — of the Mahanayake’s of
Malwatte and Asgiriya, that "the nation was orphaned".
Even one of his most formidable opponents Dr.
N. M. Perera had this to say about Senanayake’s management of the Cabinet:
"...It is a tribute to his personal character that he held together with
such adroitness a team so long and in such trying circumstances. Only his
unrivalled knowledge could have enabled him to steer so certainly and so
steadily and maintain such an even keel".
Senanayake’s unrivalled knowledge was what
he had acquired on his own. Senanayake had a deep love for the country and faith
in its people. This obviously was a strong motivating force. However, he
realized as a practical man that mere zeal to serve the people without knowledge
would get one nowhere. His sparse academic attainments and his sole reliance on
his intelligence and common sense made him seek the best advice which he could
access on every subject he tackled.
It is amazing how he commanded such respect
from a team of ministers, advisors and officials of such enormous talent and
ability and inspire them to work for the good of the country. There were
definite attributes in his personality, which enabled this outcome. They were
his exceptional intelligence and dedication to hard work, his humility and his
great personal charm.
As Agriculture was his special commitment he
studied the subject from every aspect. In 1934, he formulated a blueprint under
the heading Agriculture and Patriotism. Here he set out his ideas for immediate
action and defined a course for a long term plan. The success of his vision was
the achievements of the schemes to harness to the full resources of Minneriya,
Kalawewa, Topawewa, Giritale and other tanks such as Kahagama colony of 17,000
acres, which came under the Balalu Wewa irrigation system and the Minipe colony.
Minneriya with its colonies Hingurakgoda and Hathamune were designed and
constructed to bring 50,000 acres of virgin wild under cultivation. Of course,
he would be remembered for Gal Oya, with its reservoir capacity of 770,000 acre
feet and designed for the better utilisation of a quarter of a million acres of
irrigable and high land, which has been posthumously named after him as the
Senanayake Samudra. When full the Senanayake Samudra contains thirty times as
much water as is held within the breakwater of the Colombo Harbour.
Gal Oya was financed almost entirely with
national funds. Of the total investment of 67.2 million dollars, less than 1.6
million dollars came from foreign aid. Apart from Agriculture and particularly
Gal Oya, Senanayake is remembered as the Father of the Nation for the manner in
which he achieved independence. Senanayake was always realistic enough to know
his limitations. He was not negotiating from a position of strength.
On the subject of the approach to achieving
independence, there were alternatives which Senanayake could have selected. A
colony could attain this by resorting to an armed struggle or by persuasion.
Non-cooperation as in India could have been another alternative. Senanayake
realized that unless such non-cooperation was highly disciplined it would have
led to violence, as Gandhi discovered. If that were to be the case achieving
one’s objectives peacefully would have ceased. Senanayake opted for the course
of persuasion and that was his secret for leading the country to independence
without bloodshed. His personality naturally, was an asset. It was invaluable at
The author does say that independence came as
a culmination of a long drawn out process and as a result of the efforts of
several national leaders. He also commends the goodwill of enlightened British
statesmen for their contribution. However, there is no doubt that the catalyst
that gelled it all was D.S.
Senanayake’s ideas on education, parity in
the use of the national languages, on the cooperative movement, Indo-Ceylon
relations, citizenship for persons of Indian origin, foreign policy, the
importance of a quality public service all contributed to creating the correct
environment for a peaceful nation. He came to realize that a correct balance in
politics was the statecraft needed for a well run society. The highest priority
he gave to the unity of the country and its people and economic development
which he considered the cornerstones for the survival of the nation. For this he
spared no effort.
The public service at every level including
the armed forces had a happy mix of the communities. In the commercial fields
the minorities played a significant role.
Senanayake’s contribution to confirm O. M.
Green’s assertion comes out pregnantly in the facts that are presented by the
author. One could quibble on non-issues but overall the fact remained that the
country was a model for the developing world.
Reading of this book should however, not seduce one to a nostalgia of the
past. The political dynamics have changed. We have to understand them as D.S.
understood and mastered the dynamics of his day, and was proven correct by
"the tranquility in the land" in his time. Then a Prime Minister could
go on horseback through the streets of Colombo without any danger to his life.
Today the only exercise a Minister can take is walking on a treadmill at home
By Ranee Mohamed
– Sunday Leader Mar 17 2002
Minister of Environmental Affairs
Rukman Senanayake remembers him. But anecdotes and incidents, he can barely
remember. For he was a toddler when the Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake, his
grandfather, was making history in the then Ceylon. But his older brother Ranjit
remembers a few visits he made to his grandfather's, the broad-shouldered and
tall D.S. He remembers as a child being taken to the farm at Ambewela and being
made to drink fresh milk, which he did not like very much.
The Senanayakes of today -
Devinda, Ranjini, Ranjit, Rukman and Yasmin Nilmini are children of Robert
Parakrama Senanayake, one of the two sons of D.S. The other son was Dudley
Shelton Senanayake who was twice prime minister of Ceylon.
Ranjit Senanayake married
Suwanitha, the granddaughter of D.C. Senanayake and they have one child, 28 year
old Vasantha Senanayake. Vasantha, who cherishes his ancestry, is however very
down to earth and humane in his approach to life.
It was fifty years ago this week
in March, when The Observer reported "Up to 3.30 p.m. today over 500,000
persons had filed past the remains of the late Mr. D.S. Senanayake at the
assembly hall of the house of representatives. At 10. p.m yesterday the queue
stretched over three miles. It wound past along Lower Lake Road, Elephant House
and through Ingham Street in Slave Island to Parsons Road. The end of the queue
was opposite the Regal Theatre. There are tentative arrangements for the funeral
procession of the late leader which is due to start from Parliament House for
Independence Square at 3.p.m. tomorrow.
Policemen from all parts of the
island will be on duty at
various points on the route.
The story speaks of a pace
setting party of twelve army, navy and air force personnel, a gap for women and
children and British service commanders and detachments of the British navy,
army and air force in Ceylon and also Ceylonese military service commanders.
The story in The Observer of
March 1952 describes the funeral arrangements of Don Stephen Senanayake, the
great statesman of his day, whose death moved the nation then, as its memory
moves the nation today, exactly 50 years later. He died following a riding
accident on March 22, 1952 at the age of 67.
During his lifetime, through the
giant strides he made, he gave this country the pride of nationhood
- he gave it independence.
D. S., a leader of men, born on
October 30, 1884, was educated at S. Thomas' and excelled in cricket and other
sports. H.A.J. Hulugalle in his Life of D.S. Senanayake however states thus:
The three Senanayake brothers DC.
FR and DS were all educated at STC, which was then in Mutuwal and their father
Don Spater Senanayake had always been concerned about the education of DS, the
youngest of them. DS's school
report showed in a certain class, he had always held the 4th place, and the
father was naturally pleased at this, and was lavish with pocket money for the
boy. Later, he discovered from FR (who later entered Cambridge University) that
there were only four boys in that class and DS was 4th.
When his father died D.S. was compelled to give up studies at
the age of 18 in order to take charge of his family estate. Thrown among the
peasants he was quick to understand their plight at first hand and was
determined to improve their lot.
D.S. was Ceylon's first minister
of agriculture and lands. It gave him this gentleman-farmer the authority to
implement his plans. Never since the days of the Sinhala kingdom was there so
much irrigation and agricultural activity in the dry zone. Soon, Minneriya,
Minipe, Polonnaruwa and several other schemes had begun to yield the bounty of
Senanayake entered public life when Ceylon was a crown colony ruled by a
foreign power that was not concerned with the aspirations of the people. The
masses had no political rights, poverty and disease were widespread, literacy
was low and life expectancy was short. Ruthlessly exploited for centuries by
three foreign powers, the country's economy had ceased to have any 'blood'
Under his leadership however, it
was possible for the country to cast away all these adversities and achieve
independence. Though he entered the legislature at the age of 40, his climb to
become the dominant political figure of his time and the architect of great
changes in politics and agriculture was itself remarkable.
He had little education and few
academic qualifications. He was no great orator. Yet, at a time when the
political stage was adorned by men of great talent and ability, D.S. rose
outstripping his elders and peers. Though said to be full of common sense and
disarming reasonableness, he was governed by deliberate, sometimes ruthless
purpose to direct and shape events.
D.S. had the gift of making
friends and influencing people and Lord Attlee, who was the Labour Prime
Minister of Britain at the time Ceylon gained her independence spoke of 'his
great personal charm," while Sir Robert Menzies, the Australian prime
minister of "his singular personal attraction."
Sir John Kotelawala, one of
D.S.'s cabinet colleagues, is reported to have made a forthright comment when he
said, "No one was too small for his attention if he had the time, and
somehow, he would find the time. No man who went to see him can ever forget the
sincerity with which he promised to look into his grievance."
Despite his commanding presence
and Stalin moustache, D.S. had been the kindliest of men, and a great lover of
children and poor folk. He made the same impression on foreigners and
It is 50 years since he died, but
D.S. has lived in the memory of every Sri Lanka and has cast a indelible
impression that can never erase itself from the history of Sri Lanka.
His vision and his endeavours are
for all times. They are true today, as they were 50 years ago. For him life was
about people, about freedom and about a better life for all.
For peace and freedom he strove
hard. Then, after the dusty and sometimes bitter conflicts over communal
representation and the balance of power in the legislature had ended, Senanayake
led a united people to the goal of independence.
He was able to persuade the State
Council to accept the Soulbury Constitution, by a near unanimous vote. He
succeeded in winning over the minorities to his way of thinking and all these
were mere steps to his final destination of peace and freedom.
Fifty years ago, today, leaders
with a vision for a better and peaceful Sri Lanka strove thus, winning over
minorities and being architects of great changes.
Sri Lankan was fortunate to have
had such a leader in the final phase of her agitation for freedom. The wisdom of
Don Stephen Senanayake and the political philosophy of the UNP have ushered in
the freedom we enjoy today.
Senanayakes of today
Suwanitha Senanayake's home down
Pahalawela road, Sri Jayawardenepura sprawls quietly to merge with its unspoiled
surroundings. Strangely, it seems to be set in an environment that could easily
be mistaken for one of a bygone era. Greenery, gravel and grass and an
uninhabited immediate neighbourhood provide the ideal setting to this Senanayake home.
As one enters the house there is
a black and white photograph of the late D.S. Senanayake standing majestically.
It says it is from Briggs studio dated around 1951.
In this building lives Ranjit and
Suwanitha Senanayake and their son Vasantha. But the memory of D.S. Senanayake
is strong and vivid here. Photographs and documents, books and cuttings, are all
reminders of Ranjit's grandfather - the late Rt. Hon.
Suwanitha, is no stranger here.
She is the granddaughter of D.C. Senanayake,
brother of D.S.
"My parents used to visit
the Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake and I remember driving up to Temple Trees with my
parents. I remember our arrival being announced. But what I remember most is the
Madati tree in the garden to which I ran the moment I arrived there," she
Though Suwanitha was a child at
that time, she still remembers the late D.S. "He loved the children and I
remember the small cowgirl suit he bought for me when he came from overseas. He
bought similar suits for the all the little girls in the family. He appeared
tough and rough, but to us he was so kind.
Father of the Nation and first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon D.S.
Senanayake died on March 22,1952 after a riding accident . Sir John Kotelawala
rightly observed at that time that his death was a national calamity. Today 45
years later, we take a peek at the pages of a collector's note book and publish
extracts from the British press which ran the story of the premier's fall and
Radio Ceylon's SOS for a British surgeon
Don Stephen Senananayake, first Prime
Minister of Ceylon, died in Colombo today from head injuries received when he
fell from his horse yesterday.
News of his death came just as one of the
world's leading brain surgeons, Sir Hugh Cairns, of Oxford, was preparing to
leave Abingdon R. A. F. Station in a special plane for Colombo.
Sir Hugh had first planned to leave at 4.30
a.m. but the flight was cancelled on Ceylon reports that the Prime Minister's
condition was "now such as to make it not worth while."
Then came news of an improvement in his
condition, and it was decided that Sir Hugh should after all undertake the
flight. The plane was due to take off at 11 a.m.
The cancellation of the flight came when Sir
Hugh, with Mr. Walpole S. Lewin, assistant neurological surgeon at the Radcliffe
Infirmary, were ready to step aboard the plane.A Hastings aircraft had arrived
from Topcliffe (Yorkshire) at 10.15 a. m. and the station staff at once began
filling the seven tanks of the plane, which carries 3,000 gallons of petrol.
Twenty-two parachutes and 22 "Mae Wests" were taken aboard.
The High Commissioner for Ceylon (Mr.
Wijeyaratne) arrived with his two sons, Cuda, aged 29, a medical student in
London, and Tissa, aged 18 a law student at the Inner Temple who had come to see
their father off. Then, just before 11 o'clock, Group-Capt. C. A. Watts, the
station O.C., told waiting pressmen and photographers that a report had been
received that the Prime Minister was dead.
Ten minutes later the station orderly
officer, Flt.-Lieut S. G. Brown, announced that the death was confirmed. Sir
Hugh and his party later returned to Oxford.
The cancellation of the flight planned for
4.30 a.m. was made on Mr. Churchill's personal orders from 10, Downing Street,
after a message from Colombo that there was "no hope" for Mr.
It was shortly before midnight when a
telephone rang in the office of the Senior Duty Officer at Abingdon R.A.F.
Station, and an Air Ministry official at the other end told Flt.-Lieut. Imray
that a Hastings transport plane was flying from Topcliffe R.A.F. Station, in
Yorkshire, to pick up Sir Hugh and his party at 4.30. Immediately the sleeping
station, woke to life as members of the emergency crew for the control tower as
well as refuelling crew were roused from sleep and told to take up their
stations. One airman just going on leave, was called back and another, clad only
in his shirt and boots, ran to rouse others, and in a short time arrangements
were complete. However, at 2.30 a.m. the telephone rang again and another Air
Ministry message was received cancelling the arrangements on the instructions of
the High Commissioner.
The ages of the Ceylon High Commissioner's
sons were erroneously reported. Tissa was 29 and Cuda 18.
A wrestler who became the first Prime
Minister of Ceylon, Don Stephen Senanayake - "Jungle John" - led his
country in its campaign for Dominion status.
But it was not until he was 42-25 years ago -
that Senanayake took an interest in politics says the British United Press.
A giant of a man, he spent the biggest part
of his life farming. Apart from being a wrestler, he was also a good boxer and a
hard hitter on the cricket field. He was educated at St. Thomas' Church of
England College and although a devout Buddhist later became a director of the
He first took part in public life as a
temperance reformer but his brother Frederick the first leader of the Ceylon
Independence Party, was then the politician of the family.
In 1925 Frederick died and Don Stephen was
called from his farm to take his brother's place. He entered the Legislative
Assembly and, as a farmer, became Minister of Agriculture, a post he held for 16
As head of the Independence Party, he worked
to give his country Dominion status. In 1946 came success. The British
Government framed the new Constitution.
Senanayake, who had become leader of the
State Council had the biggest say in Ceylon in the drafting - and in the
following year he became the first Prime Minister of the country.
But the struggle was not over. He sought to
rid public life of corruption and a judicial inquiry he set up in 1949
recommended the dismissal of six high officials.He set up new hydro-electric
stations, developed new mineral resources and strengthened the country's trading
Many have been the tributes paid to this
friend of Britain, but none more accurate than that once paid by Lord Soulbury
Governor-General of Ceylon who said:"He is a man of unfailing courtesy,
kindness, tolerance and moderation and a statesman of judgment: sagacity and
At ninety-second intervals, a life-or-death
call for help for an injured Premier was broadcast 6,500 miles to London last
Radio Ceylon said: "Urgent message
....Will B.B.C. contact Sir Hugh Cairns at Oxford 58136 and ask him to phone Dr.
Peiris, Colombo 9351?
"It concerns the health and life and
death of our Prime Minister. If he cannot telephone, ask him to cable or use
some other means of communication."
The Premier, Don Stephen Senanayake, had been
thrown by a bolting horse, and still was unconscious.
B.B.C. monitors at Caversham picked the call
up. An official passed it to Sir Hugh, who is a leading brain specialist. The
G.P.O. at once opened a radio-telephone link between Oxford and Colombo.
And late last night a spokesman for Mr.
Churchill said: "Every effort is being made to fly Sir Hugh out as soon as
possible - in the fastest plane available."
By telephone from the hospital where Mr.
Senanayake lay, Dr. Peiris told the Daily Mirror: "I understand that Mr.
Churchill is providing a jet plane so that Sir Hugh can fly here straight-away
High British Government officials meanwhile
worked on arrangements for sending an assistant, two nurses, and the High
Commissioner for Ceylon - Sir Cecil Syers - with him.
Minutes after the call was monitored,
short-wave enthusiasts all over England who had heard it, were telephoning the
B.B.C. And a cable telling of the SOS came from Sierra Leone, West Africa.
One of the first short-wave men to ring up
Broadcasting House was Mr. A. Hare of Lyndhurst avenue, Twickenham.
Sir Hugh, 55, returned to Oxford a few days
ago, after convalescing - he had undergone an operation.
Sixty-seven-year-old Mr. Senanayake, an
expert horseman, somersaulted twice after he was thrown.
In the sphere of Sri Lankan
politics, the Senanayakes from Botale Walauwa, Mirigama, have continued to be a
significant factor. They have represented the Sri Lankan legislature for three
advent of this family into the socio-political arena dates as far back as the
1920s. A significant contribution was made by F.R. Senanayake in propelling
organizations such as the Y.M.B.A and the Temperance Movement, the latter which
was introduced to him by his father, Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake.
Despite the hard work pertaining to much
needed social reforms of the time by the three Senanayake brothers (D.C, F.R.
and D.S), whether it be through the Lanka Mahajana Sabha where D.S. and D.C.
were prominent members or through the Y.M.B.A. which F.R. and brother D.C.
heavily financed and tirelessly worked for, the direct involvement in politics
and affairs of the state fell upon D.S's shoulders. There were two reasons for
this. Firstly F.R. (Frederick Richard) expired while on a pilgrimage to Buddha
Gaya in 1925, and D.C. (Don Charles) who was known to be the man behind the
scenes shunned the limelight. The youngest brother D.S. therefore became the
1931 proved to be a significant year in the
history of Ceylon and that of the Senanayake family. It was the year that the
country gained universal franchise and the elections to the State Council were
held. Don Stephen Senanayake was returned as the uncontested representative of
the Minuwangoda electorate. He had the distinction of being the first Minister
of Agriculture in the post-independence era. During this period D.S. achieved
phenomenal success. The numerous irrigational schemes completed by him and the
many colonization settlements established with a view to securing Sri Lanka's
agro-industry and self-sufficiency in essential foods, is largely if not wholly
the brainchild of D.S. The Senanayake Samudra, the Parakrama Samudra,
Nachchaduwa, Padaviya, Minipe, Minneriya, are just a few of the projects
undertaken by him.
When in 1936, Sir D.B. Jayatilleke decided to
accept the post as Ceylon's representative in India, his position as Leader of
the House, in the State Council fell vacant and the natural choice for
leadership fell on D.S. In the very same year Dudley Shelton Senanayake had
returned from England, when he had not only obtained a natural science tripos at
the University of Cambridge, which was followed by an M.A,. but had also
qualified as a Barrister-at-Law. Immediately after his return, he had been
coaxed by friends, family and constituents to contest the Dedigama electorate,
in which constituency, the Senanayakes owned considerable estates. Dudley only
24 at the time was elected with a majority of 8,299 votes. The Dedigama result
was as follows.
Mr. Dudley Senanayake 17,045
Mr. N.H.Keertiratne 8,746
Mr. Richard Nugawela 737
Mr. T.B. Dedigama 560
Mr. T.B. Udalagama 179
Following his victory, he stated "I saw
that those who sought election were all new-comers to politics. As I had decided
to devote my whole life to politics, I saw here an opportunity to start early. I
saw no reason why my youth should be a hindrance to an early beginning."
proved a momentous year for Sri Lanka and the Senanayake family. The country was
metamorphising from colony to sovereign state, and the Senanayakes, father and
son were to contest their respective seats Mirigama and Dedigama. D.S. who lead
the U.N.P to victory defeated his opponent with over 16,000 votes, polling in
excess of 26,000 votes. Dudley too met with success.
After the formation of the first Parliament
in 1948, under the premiership of the grand old Senanayake, Dudley assumed the
office of Minister of Agriculture. In 1952, D.S expired after suffering a stroke
while riding on the Galle Face Green. Lord Soulbury in his capacity as
Governor-General appointed Dudley as the new Prime Minister. This lead to some
controversy amongst senior U.N.P members, especially Sir John Kotalawela. In
order to quell the various accusations hurled by certain factions, Dudley acted
both honourably and democratically by immediately dissolving Parliament and
calling for fresh elections. The outcome was an overwhelming victory for the
U.N.P, which gained 54 seats and a personal one for Dudley securing Dedigama
with a massive majority of 16,000.
Following the Hartal of 1953, instigated by
the opposition Dudley resigned allowing Sir John to realize his long awaited
ambition of becoming Ceylon's Prime Minister. Sir John himself was married to
D.S's sister's daughter and Dudley's first cousin Euphemia. Quite apart from
this connection he was also the son of Mrs. F.R. Senanayake's sister.
Dudley re-entered politics subsequently, and
his final period as Prime Minister from 1965-1970 was by far the most
significant. A unique achievement during these years was the strong co-operation
he received from several parties such as the M.E.P., The Federal Party, and
other independent groups. Unlike most coalitions the 1965-1970 Government
functioned smoothly without dissension and this is generally known to be one of
the most peaceful periods in Sri Lankan politics.
When speaking of the Senanayakes and politics
one tends to forget Richard Gotabhaya (R.G). This razor-sharp politician was the
eldest son of D.S's older brother F.R.
His impact on Sri Lankan politics was
enormous. R.G. contested the 1947 election and was returned as the member for
the constituency of Dambadeniya. He served Ceylon's first Parliament as Deputy
Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs and in 1952 as Minister for Trade and
Commerce. In 1956, on the eve of elections, he was banished from the UNP on the
grounds of criticizing the party. It was at this point that R.G. posed his
challenge to his arch enemy J.R. Jayawardene. R.G. contested two seats as an
independent, his own constituency of Dambadeniya, and that of J.R's Kelaniya.
R.G. was victorious in both and still holds the distinction of winning two
constituencies at an election. In fact the main election slogan adopted by the
opposition in 1956 was "The UNP that R.G. rejected, the nation shall also
R.G. continued to serve his Mother Lanka, in
the SLFP Government headed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, as the Minister of Trade.
He is still referred to by the political nickname of 'China Dicky', a reference
to his successful negotiations with China of the bi-lateral rubber-rice pact.
The third generation Senanayake, Rukman first
entered Parliament in 1973 at the Dedigama by-election, the seat being left
vacant after the demise of his illustrious uncle Dudley. His stint in Parliament
was however brief. Today after much wandering in the political wilderness, he
finds himself one of the UNP's senior most members representing the Polonnaruwa
District where he polled nearly 50,000 votes.
It may be of incidental interest to note that
former minister, General Ranjan Wijeyratne was a close relative of the
Senanayake family. His mother Rosalind Senanayake was the first cousin of D.S.
we prepare to celebrate half a century of Independence, the question could be
asked whether we really fought for our Independence or whether we had no freedom
fighters as such. What this country had were really reformists.
These most admirable gentlemen wanted only
political reforms. And these reforms culminated with the State Council and the
Executive Committee system which was given to us by the British on the basis of
the Donoughmore Commission report. This report brought in its wake Universal
Adult Franchise which came into effect in 1931.
E. W. Perera, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam, F. R. Senanayake, D. S. Senanayake, E. W. Jayewardene,
H. J. C. Perera, D. R. Wijewardene and others were men who fought for a greater
measure of freedom and political reforms wider than what prevailed then under
the old Legislative Council. It was the riots of 1915 which stirred our leaders
to campaign for political reforms. These riots which began in Gampola over an
incident in which Muslims and Sinhalese figured spread all over the country.
They assumed such proportions that the then Governor, Sir Robert Chalmers and
his Colonial Secretary, Edward Stubbs mistook it to be a rebellion against the
The fist World War was on and the Governor
proclaimed Martial Law and imprisoned many influential Sinhalese and Sinhalese
political leaders such as F. R. And D. S. Senanayake, A. E. Goonesinha,
Boralugoda Ralahamy, the farther of Philip and Robert Gunawardena, Capt. D. D.
Pedris of the Colombo Town Guard who was later executed at Welikada Prison and a
host of others.
Punjabi soldiers were brought down from India
and many innocent Sinhalese were shot at sight. It was in those dark days that
E. W. Perera, an Advocate from Kotte who gave up his practice to campaign for a
greater measure of political freedom, braved the German mine-infested seas and
submarines to carry a secret Memorial in the soles of his shoes to the Secretary
of State to the Colonies, pleading for the repeal of Martial Law and describing
the atrocities committed by the Punjabis, the local Police led by the then IGP,
Sir Herbert Dowbiggin and British troops on his Sinhala brethren.
E. W. Perera canvassed his case with
influential members of the British Government in Whitehall and the British
Parliament winning success for his case. Soon after Governor Chalmers was
recalled, Martial Law was repealed and a new Governor was sent here. He was Sir
John Anderson who endeavoured to undo the evils committed by his predecessor and
win the hearts and minds of the people.
Some of the leaders behind E. W. Perera's
mission to London were Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and his brother Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam, F. R. Senanayake, D. R. Wijewardene, A. A.
Wickremasinghe of Kegalle and quite a number of other patriots.
In these days of communal strife, it is well
to remember the heroic manner in which Ponnambalam Ramanathan and his brother
Ponnambalam Arunachalam braved the might of the British government and boldly
addressed public meetings and gatherings on behalf of the persecuted Sinhalese
people. In those days they appeared as brethren of the Sinhalese.
The movement for a greater measure of
political freedom gathered momentum with the Ceylon National Congress and its
leading lights like Sir James Peiris, E. W. Jayewardene, D. S. Senanayake and
others participating in the agitation. Leaders of the calibre of D. R.
Wijewardene and E. J. Samarawickrema who was considered the country's greatest
It was Wijewardene and Samarawickrema who
operated behind the scenes freely giving their opinions and drafted many of
these letters and memorials to Whitehall presenting the case for political
reforms and a more responsible share of the government with the people's
Many people today, especially the youth might
not know that the "Daily News" of those early days was the organ with
which its owner D. R. Wijewardene fought and campaigned for reforms in the
It could be also recalled that the
"Daily News" which came out with its first copy on January 3, 1918
carried on its first page a message from the great Tamil Leader of the day, Sir
Ponnambalam Arunachalam exit extolling the virtues of freedom.
Times have changed and today, the once free
"Daily News" has become the faithful mouthpiece of whoever is in
To come back to the celebration of 50 years
of freedom, a gift which we received without shedding a drop of blood, it must
be mentioned that those who actually fought for freedom were the political
leaders of Indian leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra
Prasad, Chakravarthy Rajagopalachari, Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Wallabhai
Patel, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu and members of the Indian National Congress
languished ties without number in jail and suffered the lathi blows of the
British-controlled Indian Police.
The name of V. K. Krishna Menon, Nehru's
brilliant Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs who in those days when Mahatma
Gandhi, Nehru and others fought for Independence through the weapon of
"Satyagraha" or non-violence, he as leader of the India League did the
spade work for India's Freedom through his lectures, speeches and contacts with
liberal-minded British parliamentarians and those with influence with Whitehall,
the seat of Britain's government.
Menon and his India League in London
attracted many socialist-minded young men who were students in London at Harold
Laski's celebrated London School of Economics. Among them were Dr. N. M. Perera,
Philip Gunawardena, Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, Ghana's Nkrumah and a host of other
talented men who later either became leaders or prominent political leaders in
their own countries.
When England's Labour Government came into
power and Mr. Clement Attlee was Prime Minister Sri Lanka, then Ceylon was
member of the Package, not Dr. G. L. Peiris much - touted package, through which
the Labour Government granted Independence or compete "Swaraj" as
Mahatma Gandhi wanted without any restrictions whatsoever.
So Ceylon also just had to follow suit or be
part of the package. And after partition Pakistan was also there.
About our own story of winning freedom, the
Soulbury Commission has to be mentioned because it was this Commission that laid
the framework for our first Constitution based on complete political freedom
called the Soulbury Constitution. It was Sir Ivor Jennings, that world renowned
constitutional lawyer who was in a big way responsible for drafting this
Our first Prime Minister, Don Stephen
Senanayake leaned heavily on Sir Ivor for his advice on constitutional matters
and matters of governance.
In fact, Prime Minister Senanayake admired
Jennings so much that he offered him the post of first governor-general of
Ceylon which was politely turned down by Sir Ivor, apparently he opted more for
the more congenial surroundings of Cambridge from where he could continue with
his writing and research than Queen's House.
There was also an interesting story doing the rounds of the early days of the Galle Face Parliament that our Independence Day also happens to be the Birthday of Sir Ivor Jennings. D. S. Senanayake who was determined to honour the man is said to have fixed February Fourth on that score.