D. S. Senanayake: A leader with extraordinary vision

Today the March 22, 2010 falls the 58th death anniversary of D. S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, falling off the police horse he was riding on the Galle Face Green in Colombo.

He was probably affected by a stroke, which made him lose control of his mount.

Two riders on the green saw his plight and rushed to his rescue.

But it was too late they found him lying on the turf, face downwards and bleeding from his nose.

Thirty hours later he was dead.

He was born to the family of Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake of Botale Walawwa in Mirigama of the Mapitigama Korale and Catherine Elizabeth Perera Seneviratne Gunasekera of Kehelella on October 20, 1884 at the particular Walauwwa. His grandfather was Don Bartholomows Senanayake, born in Botale in 1847 where the ancestral home still stands.

Don Stephen and two brothers and one sister, D. C. Senanayake, F. R. Senanayake and Moraya Francess married to F. H. Dias Bandaranaike.

Senanayake’s came of a land-owing family. The profix ‘Don’ had been used since Portuguese times, by the low country gentry, as it had been in the Liberian Peninsula.

In 1890, Don Stephen was admitted to the St. Thomas’ College, then in Mutwal in the precincts of the Anglican Cathedral on a hill facing the northern wing of the Colombo harbour.

Although he was not as diligent in his studies as his old brother D. C. Senanayake, he entered fully into the various extra-curricular activities of the college.

He was more interested in school games, boxing, wrestling and physical culture than in his studies.

After his school career, he worked in the Survey Department for some time.

After leaving the Survey Department, he applied himself with greater energy and concentration to the management of the family business.

He also frequently visited the Kitulwatte Stores at Kanatte where the plumbago was cured and graded for export. In this way he came in contact with brokers, shippers and Bank shroffs who respected his high integrity and notes his acumen. He managed the Kahatagaha plumbage mines in which Mudliyar D. C. Atygalle had a major share.

In Colombo, he did not avoid the social life of his class. He played club cricket with his school friends. He was a member of the Orient Club where he played billiards, but would not touch any alcoholic drinks, being a practising Buddhist. He was also a member of the Low-Country Products Association.

He married Mollie Dunuwila, on the daughter of R. R. Dunuwila, the then Secretary of the Colombo Municipal Council in 1910 at the age of 26 years. R. R. Dunuwila was the son of James Dunuwila, one of the ablest lawyers of his time, came from an old and respected Kandyan family.

Dudley Senanayake and Robert Senanayake were his two sons born in 1911 and 1913 respectively.

Don Stephen entered the national service through the Temperance Movement. The British rulers started to issue liquor licences countrywide inflicting a terrible blow to the comparatively peaceful social structure and religious feelings.

The struggle he carried out in 1912 with the help and co-operation of people in the calibre of F. R. Senanayake, Arthur V. Dias, A. E. Goonesinghe, Piyadasa Sirisena, Baron Jayatillake, W. A. de Silva, D. C. Senanayake, three Hewavithrana brothers, Amadoris Mondis Martinus C. Perera.

Don Stepehen became a very active member of this movement. In 1915, when martial law was declared by the British government all over the island, the Sinhala leaders who gave leadership to the Temperance Movement were taken into custody. They had to be in jail for about 40 days.

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D. S. Senanayake...

The British rulers opened toddy taverns from Chilaw to Hambantota. However, the Temperance Movement gathered strength and the zest and driving force which the young Senanayake brought to it in his home surroundings at Botale produced spectacular results. The whole of Hapitigama Korale, with its centre at Mirigama, did not have a single tavern when the votes at a local opinion poll were counted.

He was elected unopposed to represent the Negombo electorate in the 1924 legislative Council at the age of 40 years.

Sir James Peiris was elected as the vice-president of the council by a unanimous vote, the governor being the President.

In the first State Council, he became the chairman of the Agriculture and Lands in the Executive Committee in 1931, under the Donoughmore Constitution. In the second State Council inaugurated in March 1936, he became the Minister of Agriculture.

He was not only a dedicated politician but a born manager. He had successfully managed the family estates and plumbago minors. His forceful and genial personality ensured the effective functioning over the ministry, (Executive Committee).

First of all, he visited the Dry Zone where much of the staple food, rice, was grown, opened his eyes to the sad plight of the malaria-striken families who lived there on the edge of starvation when the rains failed.

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.

The passing of the Land Settlement Ordinance in 1931 was a major breakthrough in reversing the colonial government’s traditional policy towards peasant agriculture.

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 as 1926. The economic depression in the 1930s, threw a challenge on 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 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, the last great colonization scheme, which he initiated as the Minister of Agriculture.

He was a great lover of animals. In his Koulwewa estate he had poultry, sheep, goats, deer, buffalos and cattle, of many breeds. He was especially proud of his herd of Ongle cattle, which he himself imported and acclimatised. By establishing farms and encouraging cattle shows, he sought to educate the rural folk in methods of housing, breeding and feeding livestock.

He set up the Ruhuna and Wilpattu National Parks by legislation introduced in 1938.

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 on 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 the 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 the independence, we have seen the end of a struggle but it would be the beginning of another struggle which is mightier and challenging than the one just concluded."

After regaining independence, he introduced a new agricultural policy, a free health system and the free education system.

Travelling extensively in far flung areas in the country, he worked tirelessly and lived with the people.

He never travelled abroad to find solutions to domestic problems.

He possessed an extraordinary vision and skill to give quick pragmatic solutions to the problems of the island.

Sri Lanka became eligible to apply to the UN for membership. She was entitled to appoint her own diplomatic representatives or use those of the United Kingdom if she so preferred.

His cabinet of ministers including himself:

1. D. S. Senanayake - Prime Minister and Minister of Defence and External Affairs.

2. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike - Minister of Health and Local Government, and Leader of the House.

3. J. R. Jayewardene - Minister of Finance.

4. J. L. Kotelawela - Minister of Transport and Works.

5. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke - Minister of Home Affairs.

6. George E. de Silva - Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries.

7. C. Suntheralingam - Minister of Commerce and Trade.

8. Dudley Senanayake - Minister of Agriculture and Lands.

9. T. B. Jayah - Minister of Labour and Social Services.

10. E. A. Nugawela - Minister of Education.

11. A. Ratnayake - Minister of Food and Co-operative Undertakings.

12. L. A. Rajapakse - Minister of Justice.

13. C. Sittampalam - Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.

14. R. S. S. Gunawardena - Minister without Portfolio and Chief Government Whip.

Sir Francis Molamure was the first Speaker of the State Council who was also elected for the meeting of the House of Representatives which was held in October 1947.

At this meeting, all the Marxist members were noticed wearing red ties. The composition of the House of Representatives was as follows:

1. United National Party - 42 members.

2. Lanka Sama Samaja Party - 10 members.

3. The other Treatskyist group (Bolshevist-Lonjnist) - 5 members.

4. Communist Party - 3 members.

5. Labour Party - 1 member.

6. Tamil Congress - 7 members.

7. Ceylon Indian Congress (through the votes of the estate labourers) - 6 members.

8. Independents - 21 member.

Prime Minister Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake was then 63 years of age while his son, Dudley Senanayake the Minister of Agriculture and the youngest member of the Cabinet was 36.

His life had come to a peaceful end at 3.30pm on March 22, 1952, exactly 58 years ago today.

Within a few hours of his demise, messages of sympathy began to flow from all parts of the world.

The Queen's 'Deep regret' to the Government of Sri Lanka:

"I have board with sincere regret of the death of the Prime Minister, who gave such long and devoted service to Ceylon. Please convey my deep sympathy to all the members of his family in their sad loss." (Signed) Elisebeth R.

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