Remembering Dudley


By Garvin Karunaratne

I served as the Additional Government Agent at Kegalla in 1968 and 1969. Premier Dudley Senanayake was the Member of Parliament for Dedigama, and every weekend he happened to be either in his electorate or somewhere else in the Kegalla District. His supporters, members of the Rural Development Societies etc., laid out a number of meetings every weekend and greeted the Premier. The programmes run by the Government Agent too had many occasions where meetings were graced by the Premier. At each meeting there were speeches by him, his supporters, and invariably the Government Agent too had to make a speech. The speeches had to be in Sinhala and Mr. Maralanda, the Government Agent, was generally fighting shy at public speaking in Sinhala and invariably I was functioning in his shoes those two years. Premier Dudley hardly left the island, so almost every weekend on Saturdays and Sundays I was at the Warakapola Rest House by 8.30 AM in the morning to greet him. He was never late and sharp to time; his Humber Hawk would turn up. We always had a pot of tea and started on the visits to various places where the people were ready to greet him.

Thus, every Saturday and Sunday, I accompanied him in his car, seated in the back seat with him. Generally, he asked various questions about the District organizations, about the progress of the paddy cultivation programme in the District. I had to know everything including every little detail. He had lunch at his estate and was away at meetings till late in the evening and I was with him throughout with my writing pad, as he met everyone that wanted to meet him, and dictated to me what had to be done. On the next day, it was my task to look into each and every instance, sort out the problem and keep him informed.

He had a vast knowledge of agriculture and this came out again and again in the various discussions I had with him. It is not an easy task to meet the Head of the State, for a short period, when there would be a discussion on a programme where we have had prior notice of the subject and had ample time to read papers. But here I was with him for some five hours every Saturday and Sunday answering various questions raised by him. It was no easy task. I had to see him out of the District, and usually accompanied him back to Warakapola, from where his Humber Hawk left for Colombo.

Premier Dudley was always approachable and he had time to speak to everyone that wanted to meet him and tell one’s tale of woe. It was I that had to sort out the problem and keep him informed.

He stood to reason, and many a time when I could not do certain things which were conveyed to me through Nanediri, his Personal Secretary, I would be told that I will have to explain to the Premier. This I did many a time meeting him at Temple Trees. He would allow me time to explain and I did till he was convinced.

The one time I failed was in the Youth Employment Programme, which his Government started in 1968, where unemployed youths were enlisted to attend to infrastructure development work in the rural areas where they were paid a pittance for heavy earth work and given a promise of various trips etc. In the formulation stage I made representations to the Premier that this youth employment programme would kill our shramadana programme, where people in the area worked on no payment on tasks that will be beneficial to the people . At that time in the entire District we had a vast programme of shramadana activities where meals were prepared for the people with aid from donations from well wishers, and also aid from the World Food Programme. Cement and iron for culverts and small bridges were provided on the Rural Development Vote but this was never sufficient, and I initiated a scheme where I handed over fish and cheese coming from the WFP to the Multipurpose Cooperative Union of the area, which they would sell this and give us cement and iron with the funds realized. This was done throughout the District and people in their hundreds worked on Saturdays and Sundays. I mentioned that the proposed youth employment scheme would kill this shramadana movement. I suggested that instead we should have a programme of training for self employment. He listened carefully and said that that programme was being done by Minister J.R. Jayewardene and he would prefer not to have anything to do with it. This was the time when there were problems between the Premier and Minister Jayewardene. True to my words the Youth Employment Programme killed the shramadana movement and also left the youth disillusioned. Most of the youths ended up in the ranks of the JVP and were participants in the 1971 uprising.

Another day I remember is a meeting at Tolangama Central. Premier Dudley presided and I was by his side on the stage. It was I think a Rural Development Programme meeting. The welcome speech was concluded and normal rural development officials spoke. Premier Dudley was very attentive to what was spoken and would ask me to jot down certain points to look into and to report to him. The speaker was castigating someone whom he did not like and referred to him as "mu". "What is that word "mu" asked the Premier. I replied that it was a term used in a derogatory sense. The speaker went on and in the next sentence used the word "aru". "What does "aru" mean G.A". asked the Premier. It is a derogatory word I explained. "Stop him from speaking, now," ordered the Premier. I walked up to the speaker grabbed the microphone away from him and ordered the speaker to leave the stage. "Apologize to the people for the use of such derogatory language at this meeting." He ordered me. I grabbed the microphone and said, "The Premier has ordered me to apologise to all of you for the language that was used." That was Premier Dudley at his best.

Another day that I will never forget was when he came to Rambukkana to preside at a number of meetings organized by my staff. It included the opening up of the Office of the Divisional Revenue Officer at Rambukkana, a public meeting in the town where our development programmes were to be laid before the people. The Premier was to be taken on foot in a procession from the office to the venue of the meeting on the main road. The Premier had just arrived and was having an informal discussion when the Assistant Superintendent of Police called me aside and informed me that he had just got information from a special police motor cycle messenger (that was a time when no mobile phones were used) that the Premier was to be assassinated at Rambukkana and some one had overheard the assassin chatting about it. The assassins had left towards Kegalla from Warakapola. The ASP wanted me to cancel all appointments. He added that he was dragging in policemen from all stations and will flood Rambukkana with police personnel within a few hours. He added that all vehicles entering Rambukkana will be checked.

I discussed the information with the GA Maralanda and Minister Hurulle who were present. The three of us decided that none of the meetings will be cancelled and the programme will go on as planned. Maralanda and I told this to the ASP who did not agree. However, we said that it will be a vast come down if the meetings were cancelled and added that we will go though it all. The DRO was Sarath Indatissa, a reliable officer who had a good command over his officers. I discussed with him and decided that he orders his Grama Niladharis and other kachcheri staff to surround the Premier and to stay put hogging the Premier at all times. We ensured that no one unknown to us was in the gathering. This tactic was possible at the meeting in the office as well as at the other meetings.

The problem was the procession on the main road. We selected officers who were tall, taller than the Premier, to surround him, and the few of us- that included me, Maralanda, Minister Hurulle and the ASP who were in the inner circle. We were at times treading on the toes of the Premier and he felt uneasy but did not mind. Indatissa was all over ensuring that the circles of officers we had built up never broke down. It was our intention that a sniper could not even spot the Premier amongst us. This plan worked well. At the meeting, as planned no outsider was allowed into the inner circle. We managed the day and the police provided a special guard back to Colombo.

The Premier was a good orator in both Sinhala and English, and it was very interesting to listen to his speeches. I can remember at the District Sports Meet in Kegalla, when I introduced all the District Departmental Officers, he always had more than a handshake. He spoke to them in detail, though very briefly. He had a vast knowledge of the working of every department, which at times mesmerized officials.

I happened to be a Sunday school student at Vajiraramaya and was also a close student of Ven Pannasiha. Many are not aware as to why Premier Dudley Senanayake did not go ahead with the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact he had tentatively agreed with Chelvanayakam. Ven Pannasiha once told me that when the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact was being finalized, Mr. Dudley Senanayake had inquired from him about the Pact when they met at a function. Ven Pannasiha had replied that in his opinion the Pact was detrimental to the Sinhalese. Mr Senanayake had asked him to explain. The Ven. had replied that it was not possible to explain in a few minutes and requested for a few hours. Mr Senanayake had immediately given him an appointment. . On that day Ven Pannasiha had spoken for a few hours detailing why the provisions of the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact were detrimental to the Sinhala people. It was this that made Premier Dudley drop that Pact. This shows that Premier Dudley acted in the interests of the majority community- the Sinhalese, at all times.

In the 1953 Hartal, when the Rice Ration was reduced, the administration came to a halt, with people showing their objection by closing down roads in the Matara, Galle and Kegalla Districts. The people felled trees across roads. Premier Dudley when he came to know of this situation opted to resign the Premiership. This decision shows that he was never wanting to cling to power.

Another fact was the cordial relations that he maintained with members of the Opposition. In the 1960 June General Election I was working as an Assistant Returning Officer in Kegalla. While the counting of ballots was proceeding he was having a close, cordial chat with Dr N.M.Perera.

His untimely death was a great loss to our country and had he lived the future of our country could have been different. This I conclude purely because he would allow time for anyone to submit arguments and he would listen carefully, question you when necessary, and come to a conclusion. During my period I have had many meetings with many Ministers and generally found that they never allowed administrators to put forward a different opposing point of view for consideration. They never allow you sufficient time to explain. With Premier Dudley, one could discuss anything provided you give a reasoned presentation in a logical manner.

To my mind, he was a real statesman. He was a legend and will forever be remembered by the officers as well as the people at large. I think he is the greatest Prime Minister we have had.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...