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D.S Senanayake’s 121st birth anniversary falls today
DS hobnobbed with the mighty but kept the common touch
The 121st birth anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D.S Senanayake falls today. Born on October 20th 1884 at Botale, a village in the Negombo District, Senanayake journeyed through Sri Lanka’s pre and post colonial political arena like a colossus. From a playful schoolboy at S. Thomas’ College (then situated in Mutuwal) Don Stephen Senanayake grew into a mature, honest and formidable leader, who made an indelible impression on the history of his country.

D.S. Senanayake with his first cabinet in 1947

D.S Senanayake has oft been described as an ordinary man with extraordinary achievements. His illustrious life and evolution into a great Statesman is most vividly captured in the biography written by eminent journalist and former Editor of the Ceylon Daily News H.A.J. Hulugalle. As pointed out by one of our readers Lt. Gen Denis Perera, his birth anniversary would provide the ideal opportunity to highlight some important factors in the contribution to the country of this great leader, as chronicled in Hulugalle’s 350-page volume. The author, who as a journalist closely observed D.S Senanayake’s ascent to power, captures some of the special qualities and wisdom of the man so reverently referred to as the ‘Father of the Nation’.

The fact that D.S Senanayake was a dominant political figure of his time is undisputed. He was chiefly responsible for the country peacefully gaining independence from the British after over four and a half centuries of colonization. He made significant changes in the country’s politics and agriculture while also commanding the respect and trust of all those he dealt with. Furthermore he strove to establish a viable democracy in Sri Lanka, all the while recognising the importance of developing the nation’s economic resources to meet the needs of a fast growing population. In his book ‘Agriculture and Patriotism’ D.S Senanayake warned the country against the consequences of rapid population growth without corresponding economic production. Senanayake came into mainstream politics through the Legislative Council in 1924 at the age of forty. Although lacking in academic qualifications and not being the greatest of orators, he rose effortlessly in the political arena outstripping his seniors and peers to attain the highest office in the country. And this was at a time when men of great talent and ability adorned the political stage.

He had many qualities of a great leader but despite his success he remained simple and friendly. He had a magnetic personality and always remained dignified. He was also a keen Buddhist but managed to win the support of leaders from all ethnic and religious groups in gaining independence.

One of his main principles as a leader was that there could not be proper self-government without a sound and viable economy. Throughout his 21 years as a national leader his main efforts were directed towards national unity and the development of the economy. One of the main ingredients of such strengthening of economic policy was to get the entire rural population to participate in economic development. For this D.S Senanayake strove to introduce a new dimension to the country’s agriculture.

As Minister of Agriculture from 1931 to 1947 he initiated land reform and established a migration scheme for landless peasants. The thinking behind this was to make the country self sufficient in food. He also restored old irrigation works, while building new ones. He didn’t forget the three main export industries of tea, rubber and coconut either. He improved research facilities into these crop industries, and sought cooperation with foreign countries growing these products, all the while concentrating on sustaining prices and improving quality. Other significant developments while he was holding public office were the introduction of adult franchise and free education.

Senanayake’s amiable personality and willingness to respond with goodwill when goodwill was shown to him were the key factors leading to the transition from Colonial rule to independence smoothly and orderly in Sri Lanka. It was after he and his two brothers were imprisoned in 1915 along with a group of Sinhalese, for communal clashes between Sinhalese and Muslims, which they had nothing to do with, that he was convinced Sri Lanka needed self-rule. He was filled with indignation over the conduct of the British Governor and officials, and was thereafter convinced that until the local population had full responsibility for the government of their country they would not be able to prevent blunders arising from the lack of communication between the ruling power and the people.

He maintained this policy as a member of the Legislative Council and even as Prime Minister. D.S Senanayake never allowed for a lack of communication with the common man and never missed an opportunity to visit poor farmers and the irrigation schemes he had started. During these visits he would talk to cultivators and field officers, explaining what he was trying to do. Sir John Kotelawela once said, “No one was too small for his attention if he had the time. No man who ever went to see him can ever forget the sincerity with which he promised to look into his grievance”.

D.S was a great leader who united the people in their quest for independence. He was successful in convincing the State Council to accept the Soulbury Constitution. Before independence there were conflicts over communal representation and the balance of power in the legislature. However Senanayake’s dream was for a united people to gain the heritage of an independent country. He was successful in winning over the minorities to his way of thinking and also had a firm understanding of the responsibility that came with political independence, after the initial euphoria had died.

One morning in March 1952 D.S Senanayake fell off his horse while riding on the Galle Face green. It is believed that he suffered a stroke, which made him lose control and fall off his mount. Thirty hours later he was dead. At the time of his passing away he was 68 years old.

His contemporary Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru India’s First Prime Minister said of Senanayake- “We of this generation, wherever we may live, have passed through this great period of transition and have seen the face of Asia change in the process. The change continues. Leading personalities in different countries become the symbols of this period of transition and thus become in some ways the agents of historic destiny. In Ceylon Don Stephen Senanayake was such a personality, who impressed himself not only on Ceylon but also in a wider sphere. He should be remembered as a person who helped to bring about the transition to freedom, and then to consolidate the freedom that had come”.

 

 

 

 


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