Maithripala Senanayake - an illustrious leader of Sri Lanka



by Walter Wijenayake


July 12th, every year, is set apart for the commemoration of an illustrious leader of this island who recorded a service of 47 years in the House of Representatives - Mr. Maithripala Senanayake. This day in this year (2010) falls his 12th death anniversary.

This gentleman politician was born on 17.7.1916 in Kivulakada, a village in the Anuradhapura district, and had his education at St. Joseph’s College, Anuradhapura, St. John’s College Jaffna, and finally at Nalanda College, Colombo. A tri – linguist, proficient in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages, he joined the Government Service as a Cultivation Officer in Anuradhapura in June 1941. He resigned his permanent and pensionable government employment at the age of 31 to engage in active politics. He joined the United National Party and contested the Medawachchiya constituency at the general election held in October 1947.

He won the seat, defeating three independent candidates, polling 3283 votes out of a total of 11,400 registered votes. His majority was 1879 votes.

Again in 1952 he was re-elected from the same seat with a majority of 6073 votes receiving 8112 votes, and was appointed as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Home Affairs Ministry, in the Dudley Senanayake Government. This was the position of a Deputy Minister and the next stop was to be appointed a Minister.

In 1953, he resigned his post, as well as the party, opposing the increase in the price of rice and sugar and sat as a back bencher and enrolled in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, led by Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, in 1955. He was appointed as Minister of Transport and Works when Mr. Bandaranaike formed his first Cabinet of Ministers in 1956. This post had been held by Sir John Kotalawela and Major Montague Jayawickrema until 1956.

It was in the year 1957 that he introduced the Motor Transport Bill in Parliament to nationalise the passenger transport bus services which were held by the private sector, led by Sir Cyril de Zoysa, Ebert Silva, Sir Leo Fernando, Mudliyar David Mendis and others.

In the same year, he introduced the Port Cargo Corporation Bill which nationalised the cargo handling operations of the Port of Colombo.

He became the Minister of Home Affairs, Cultural Affairs and Industries when Mrs. Sirima Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike came into power in July 1960. He was also the Minister of Commerce and Industries, in May 1963, and also the Minister of Rural and Industrial Development, in June 1963. The Prime Minister Mrs. Bandaranaike again appointed him as the Leader of the House of Parliament, in December 1964.

He devoted attention on the expansion of the Public Sector industries and the Ceylonisation of several other industries. He introduced the Grama Sevaka System, abolishing the Village Headman system, in 1962. The exercise of the Nationalisation of the Petroleum industry, commenced by T. B. Illangaratne, was completed by Maithripala’s Senanayake.

He established the Ceylon Steel Corporation, the Tyre Corporation, the Hardware Corporation, the State Engineering Corporation and several other corporations. He also started the Pugoda Textile Mill, which was later shifted to Thulhiriya. When he was appointed as the Minister of Irrigation, Power and Highways, and also the Leader of the House, he paid much attention on the development of the Mahaveli Scheme, which was commenced by Mr. C. P. de Silva.

He wanted the people of Rajarata to be free from the shackles of feudalism. When he started to serve Medawachchiya, it had no hospital, but had only two dispensaries. Patients had to be carried for 15 miles to a hospital. He was close to the people. That is vouched for by the fact that he stepped down from the post of Parliamentary Secretary because the prices of rice and sugar were increased. He wanted a better price for the local rice farmer.

He was a simple man. He kept his cool, was calm, collected and very well-mannered. He kept the dignity of the House. He had no communal frontiers about him. His thoughts were not fragmented by communal consideration.

He moved with the kings and yet kept the common touch. He acted for the head of Government. He participated in international conferences. His contribution to making Rajarata fertile and to bring back the past glory of Rajarata was remarkable. He served this country as a member of Parliament for 47 years and had he been nominated as a member of Parliament after that, his would have been a record not only in Sri Lanka but anywhere in the world.

Mr. Senanayake was not merely a politician but a statesman. He entered Parliament and continued till 1994. He held the post of Governor in the North Central Province.

He was a very exceptional person and his was a household name. He was a person with a very good personality. He had a deep voice. In a nutshell, he had all qualities that a national leader should have.

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