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D. S. - ‘Father of the Nation’



D. S. Senanayake (C) who initiated the first Youth Committee discussion with President of the committee Minister Wijayapala Mendis (R) and Minister M.P. de Z. Siriwardena (L).

The 122nd birth anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister late D. S. Senanayake fell on October 20. It was the late Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake who opened the gates of freedom for Mother Lanka which was under the British Colonial yoke. This heroic son of Sri Lanka born for the nation’s good fortune was able to drive away the colonial rulers without shedding a single drop of blood.

Don Stephen Senanayake was born at Botale Walawwa in Hapitigama Korale on October 20, 1884 as the third in the family of Don Spater Senanayake and Mrs. Kehelelle Catherine Elizabeth Perera. D. S. who had his early education at S. Thomas’ College, Colombo was more keen on sports than education during his school days. Leaving school after passing Grade 8 he earned fame as a skilled boxer. A winsome youth with great vitality popular among the inhabitants in his village he married Miss Molly Dnuwille in 1910.

D. S. whose prime objective was to drive away the British who were suppressing the Sinhala nation with their iron heel instead of taking them on directly, started his campaign indirectly by joining hands with his elder brother F. R. Senanayake and forming a front. This front was named the Amadyapa Sabha or Temperance Movement. First they called upon the British to close down all taverns in Hapitigam Korale but the British rulers completely ignored the request. Undeterred by this setback the Senanayake brothers were able to awaken the people not only in Hapitigam Korale but the whole country. White rulers who got a bit jittery relaxed their stand. They called Temperance Leader F. R. Senanayake and informed him that they would grant into their request if 75 percent of the people in Hapitigama Korale approved it at a referendum. D. S. and F. R. who took this challenge visited every village and succeeded in garnering not just 75 percent but nearly 85 percent of the peoples vote. This forced the British rulers to close down all taverns in Hapitigam Korale.

The islandwide protest campaign seeking the closure of all taverns gained momentum as a forceful peoples movement. The British who considered this as a potential threat to their rule in future waited impatiently for a good opportunity to suppress it.

A Buddhist Bhakthi Geetha procession parading the streets of Kandy on Vesak Poya Day in 1915 was attacked by a group of Muslims sparking off Sinhala-Muslim riots. British rulers became active instantly. That declared martial law and directed the police shoot at sight anyone engaged in riots.

The British took this opportunity to arrest all leaders of the Temperance Movement including D. S. and F. R. Senanayake saying that the Temperance Movement was fomenting this trouble. A rumour spread throughout the country saying the arrested leaders would be shot dead in prison. Meanwhile Lt. Henry Pedris was shot dead in Welikada Prison on a Court order for breaking Marshal Law and Army discipline. Prison officials wielding firearms showed the blood stained chair of it. Henry Pedris to D. S. and other Temperance leaders warning that they would suffer the same fate.

It was during such a fearful environment that the Lanka Jathika Sangamaya was born. It was the year 1920 when a movement for Sinhala self rule gathered momentum under the leadership of D. S. Senanayake. Among other pioneers of this movement were D. B. Jayatilleke, James Peiris, Victor Corea, E. W. Perera, C. W. W. Kannangara, Ponnambalam Ramanathan and George E. de Silva. This Movement drove fear into the minds of British rulers who decided to increase the membership of the Legislature Council to 42 though State reconstruction proposal. Several temperance leaders became unofficial members of the State Council on October 15, 1924.

D.S. Senanayake was sworn in as member for Minuwangoda in the State Council and appointed its secretary and Agriculture Minister. This youth’s struggle became more strident with this appointment. His oratory not only awakened the people but also sent vibrations across the British administration.

It was due to this fear that the British Government decided to appoint a State Commission to consider administrative Reforms for Sri Lanka. This led to the appointment of the Donoughmore Commission in 1927. Several proposals were made under the leadership of D.S. Senanayake and they were approved in the State council with a majority of 19 votes. It was under the leadership of D.S. Senanayake that a proposal requesting “a system of government with full responsibility for Sri Lanka at the conclusion of the world war” was approved by the State Council. This Draft Bill approved after a prolonged debate was submitted to the British Governor by D.S. Senanayake in his capacity as leader of the house in 1944. Initial discussions regarding the request for full independence began in July 1947. The Colonial Secretary represented the British government at these talks where Sri Lanka was represented by D.S. Senanayake. D.S. was able to convince the chronical secretary by presenting his arguments with the aplomb of a world renowned legal expert.

Following these talks the British Colonial Secretary making a statement in the British Parliament said Sri Lanka should be granted full independence. The Governor who summoned a meeting of the State Council on June 18, 1947 announced that the British Government had decided to grant Sri Lanka Dominion Status. Accordingly the House of Representatives consisted of 89 seats. Political parties were allowed to field candidates. The LSSP led by Dr. N.M. Perera, Bolshevik LSSP led by Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Communist Party of Sri Lanka led by Dr. S.A. Wickramasinghe and the labour party led by A.E. Goonesinha put forward 362 candidates to contest for these 89 seats.

It was at this juncture that the UNP was formed. Former Secretary General of Parliament Sam Wijesinghe once said that although the UNP started its campaign under this able General who had the will to march towards his objective even in the face of death the party had no economic strength to face the hustings. There were two people who came forward to offer financial support towards building up the UNP.

The UNP which contested all 89 seats under the leadership of D. S. Senanayake captured 42 seats.

The agreement granting full freedom to Sri Lanka was signed on November 11, 1947 by Sir Henry Monk Mason on behalf of the British Government and by D. S. Senanayake on behalf of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Dominion Status Act received Royal assent on December 1, 1947 and implemented on February 4, 1948. This time D. S. entered Parliament from Negombo District and became Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister. It was following this victory that the UNP Yovun Peramuna was set up for the first time at Negombo. I wish to recall with deep humility that I had the privilege of becoming the founder President of that Yovun Peramuna set up by D. S.

Although the North Central and Eastern Provinces with their fertile and verdant paddy fields became the habitat of a prosperous population during the time of Sinhala kings they became vast expanses of forest infested with dangerous animals due to foreign invasions and subsequent neglect by European rulers. As Minister of Agriculture D. S. formulated plans to renovate neglected tanks and transform this region to a prosperous farmland once again. After becoming Prime Minister D. S. appointed his son as Agriculture Minister and launched a grand program to make the country selfsufficient in rice as during the days of the Sinhala kingdom. D. S. reviewed the agricultural plans formulated during his stewardship as Agriculture Minister personally and saw to their implementation by visiting the country’s backwoods personally to inspect neglected tanks, anicuts and paddyland himself without depending on reports submitted by officials from the ivory towers in the city.

He trudged miles daily in the Rajarata, traversing through animal infested jungle. Certain leaders in Sri Lanka at that time not only scoffed at D. S.’s effort in a derisive manner but also scared away farmers who were awaiting to settle in newly cleared land in the NCP and East by accusing D.S. of devising plans to exterminate entire families in the South by taking them to the Malaria infested Polonnaruwa, Minneriya and Hingurakgoda areas. They said Raja Rata forests had malaria mosquitoes large as crows. A large number of low country farmers who ignored these baseless accusations went and settled down in the new colonisation schemes to ensure their own welfare and the territorial integrity of the nation.

It was D. S. who laid the foundation to the Mahaweli Diversion Scheme which had become a reality today fulfilling people’s dreams. At that time D. S. expressed his shock for allowing such a mass of water flowing into the sea without being harnessed for the benefit of the country and its people.

People who opposed him then for preventing foreign forces invading those areas are today talking good of him. May D. S. Senanayake be reborn in Sri Lanka throughout his journey in Sansara until he attains the bliss of Nibbana to help us realise our dream of transforming this nation into a heaven.

Vijayapala Mendis

Vice President, D. S. Senanayake Commemoration Society.

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