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Sunday, 22 March 2015





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Today is the 63rd death anniversary of D.S. Senanayake:

Remembering the Father of the Nation

Don Stephen Senanayake is a name that is inextricably entwined and written in gold with the history of Sri Lanka. His name has, within the course of time emerged larger than life in the minds of the people. Today on his 63rd death anniversary the greatness of the man who earned the title Father of the Nation is felt more than ever before.

“That mighty heart lay still, that mighty frame sleep forever,
While the multitude moved in a ceaseless stream of pious grief
Amid the silent eloquence of flowers
Today he will be borne through the doleful streets
Past those who throng to pay him reverence.
Their guide, their guard, their father and their friend
And when he comes to his last journey's end,
Where sad mortality to ashes must be burned by fires unrelenting,
From Freedom consecrated ground will rise,
The flaming beacon of his deathless name.”

These heartrending lines by Burgher poet Hilaire D. Jansz, then Editor-in-Chief of the Ceylon Observer aptly expressed the sorrow of a nation at the time Don Stephen Senanayake's mortal remains were cremated at Independence Square on March 29,1952, at the very place he received the gift of freedom for his country.

The Observer reported “Up to 3.30 p.m. today over 500,000 persons had filed past the remains of the late Mr. D.S. Senanayake at the assembly hall of the house of representatives.

At 10.p.m yesterday the queue stretched over three miles. It wound past along Lower Lake Road, Elephant House and through Ingham Street in Slave Island to Parsons Road. The end of the queue was opposite the Regal Theatre. There are tentative arrangements for the funeral procession of the late leader which is due to start from Parliament House for Independence Square at 3.p.m. tomorrow. Policemen from all parts of the island will be on duty at various points on the route”.

Don Stephen Senanayake, the great statesman of his day, died on March 22, 1952 following a fall from his horse ‘Chitra'.

Sixty three years later today, the tragic memory moves the nation.

During his lifetime, through the giant strides he made, Don Stephen Senanayake gave this country the pride of nationhood - he gave it independence.

He was the main architect, the strategist of the bloodless transition of the country from a colony to self-rule and formed the United National Party and became the First Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.

D.S. Senanayake’s contribution cannot ever be summed up in one small article but with the space that we can utilize I make an attempt to give a peek, a skeleton sketch the least, of the gargantuan life of the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.


The name sans blemish, one that all generations after him can look upto with great pride, Don Stephen Senanayake hailed from the village of Bothale.

He was the son of Mudliyar Don Spater Senanayake and Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera Senanayake.

Although brought up in a devout Buddhist family, he entered the prestigious Anglican school S. Thomas’ College, Mutwal.

How true he made the words that the schools at the time “maketh the man”. The education he had with Warden Buck and subsequently with Warden Stone nurtured his inherent qualities which were reflected in later life.

It is reported D.S. Senanayake was witness to Buck’s famous farewell speech “You have learned the best lessons from STC (S. Thomas’ College)... true manliness and truth, courage, purity and all those things that make a man a gentleman...”

As most in his generation and a few after were to experience and witness later, his college had inculcated a self-confidence to him which had enabled him to deal with statesmen of the highest intellectual levels and to be admired by them for his intrinsic noble and decent character traits in life. D.S Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, with whom he had two sons, Dudley Shelton Senanayake (19 June 1911 - 13 April 1973) and Robert Parakrama Senanayake (8 April 1913 - 26 April 1986).


He also had two brothers and a sister. The two brothers, Don Charles Senanayake and Fredrik Richard Senanayake were also involved in politics.

But it was D.S. Senanayake’s who went the stretch in politics. Don Stephen Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake were prominent members of the Lanka Mahajana Sabha, the latter shunned the limelight although he became a prominent and very influential member of the Temperance Movement founded in 1912. On his guidance D.S. Senanayake entered public life as an active member of the Movement achieving success after success in receiving mass support from the people. Fredrick Richard Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake were also the founders of the Y.M.B.A.

D.S. Senanayake initially worked on his father's plantation, and also the Survey General’s Department. When World War 1 broke out in 1914 he joined the Colombo Town Guard.

He was imprisoned without charges during the 1915 riots and faced the prospect of execution. All three Senanayake brothers were arrested at one given time with the other freedom fighting leaders and held in inhuman conditions in 'Penal Cells' which were worse than the ordinary cells occupied by convicts. The authorities tried their utmost to implicate them in the riots but short of any evidence released them after 46 days of incarceration.

Senanayake’s initial role as an independence activist was to support his brother Fredrick Richard Senanayake.

While on a pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya in 1925, F. R. Senanayake met with his death, after which Don Stephen Senanayake took his place on the Legislative Council and led the independence movement.

In 1931 he was elected to the State Council, and went on to become the Minister of Agriculture and Lands.

He took up the challenges of the Ceylon's agricultural problems effectively, and established the LDO, an agricultural policy that countered Ceylon's rice problems which earned him much respect. During his tenure as a minister for 15 years, he also enforced 'Agricultural Modernization', which reportedly increased production output. During World War II he was a member of the Ceylon war cabinet.

In 1946, after he resigned from his cabinet post to fight for Ceylon's independence, he founded the United National Party (UNP) the same year by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-Dominion parties. Within a year of its formation he succeeded, and was elected as Ceylon's first Prime Minister in the general election held in 1947.

He refused a knighthood, but maintained good relations with Britain and was a Privy Counsel.

He boldly made plans to spread out the population, and his Gal Oya scheme relocated over 250,000 people.


He steered the nation on the path to freedom without shedding a drop of blood, geared the country to achieve self-sufficiency in food by restoring almost all the ancient irrigation tanks and initiated colonization schemes to boost agriculture, which were and still are the main source of income of the rural masses.

D.S Senanayake was widely respected by Sinhalese and most Muslims. However there was dissent among the Tamil community due to his citizenship laws, which disenfranchised virtually all Tamils of Indian origin living in the central highlands. His bold agricultural plans and pro-Western policies drew criticism for their modern and nontraditional nature.

His other plans included the increase of hydroelectric power, but he couldn’t implement same as he suffered a stroke and fell off the Police mare ‘Chitra’, while riding at the Galle Face Green on the morning of March 21, 1952. He died at the age of sixty-seven.

His eldest son, Dudley Shelton Senanayake, succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1952, followed by another relative, Sir John Kotelawala (1897–1980) in 1953, but this nine-year family dynasty was ended by a landslide victory for Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1956, campaigning under the 'Sinhala Only' slogan.

However Dudley Senanayake regained the Prime Ministership in 1960, and served again from 1965 to 1970.

Under his family's leadership, Sri Lanka's economy flourished.

To mark his death anniversary last year, one of his grandsons, a former parliamentarian, one-time cabinet minister, chairman of the UNP, and Assistant Leader of the UNP, Rukman Senanayake authored and launched a comprehensive book on the father of the nation titled, D.S. Senanayake, the Reflection of Parakramabahu, which is a befitting tribute to his grandfather.

I wish to draw the attention of D.S. Senanayake’s feat achieved not only in our island nation but the world stage, I quote The Daily Herald that wrote of his death, “He will be remembered not only as the “Father of Ceylon” but also as a great world statesman.“ In Sir Winston Churchill’s words, “The Commonwealth is poorer without him and the wise counsel he always gave”.


As his grandson notes, “Sri Lanka has followed a chequered path in the post-independence era. From being the envy of the world, it has moved to the brink of a failed state, only to inch back to a slow path of progress. Eras of different leaders have brought diverse results to the country.

Some have taken the country on the path of progress, keeping the people content while others have driven the country to the brink of destruction.

It is a sad fact that those who are responsible for such misfortunes seldom suffer themselves, but only expose the innocent masses to unbearable suffering simply because they happen to live at that time”.

He further states, “Mr. Senanayake may have been the reincarnation of Parakramabahu.

He undoubtedly is Sri Lanka’s greatest visionary of the twentieth century. Such men are worthy of veneration”.

Such men are indeed worthy of veneration.

Finally while time has endorsed that D.S. Senanayake, the prodigious first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon is an unparalleled colossus, and I join in the thoughts of the statement issued by the Ramanya Nikaya at the time of his death, pondering….” whether a leader of this stature will ever be born again in this country?...

The writer is the niece of late P.C. Imbulana, senior politician and founder member of the United National Party and former President of the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society.

Charnika is currently a Media Advisor to several service-oriented organisations.

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