105th birth anniversary:
Dudley Senanayake - noble colossus of Sri Lankan politics
late Dudley Senanayake was famed far and wide as the political colossus
of his time. Thoughts of him have never left the hearts of all those who
loved him, and come to the fore as the anniversary of his birth
approaches each year. He was far above the usual norm of politicians,
was a Statesman extraordinaire, even known as such, far beyond our
shores. Much has been written of his unchallenged integrity, his modest
unassuming personality, his excellence as a speaker, whose wit and off
the cuff responses in Parliament, were unsurpassed, despite the fact
that the Parliament of that era, was full of political giants, most of
them educated at British universities, masters of the English language
and British wit and humour. His speeches were noted for the rolling
fluidity of language and the power to move and inspire.
He was also a sportsman in every sense of the word, which I think was
the base of his insistence on justice and fairplay in all he said and
did, and his unwavering belief in democracy, the rule of law and freedom
of speech and religion.
All through his life, he was known to abhor violence, lies and
deceit. His schooling at S. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia, the discipline
instilled at home and at school, the example of his father and his
University life at Cambridge, endowed him with perhaps the most
endearing qualities, among all politicians, that were obvious in every
path he trod, right through his life.
Other qualities, which shone like a beacon, right through his life,
were his total loyalty to his party at all times, whether in or out of
All his life, Dudley strove hard and long to achieve ethnic amity. He
refused to believe in labels and categories. Our political scenario
today is filled with divisive labels which seem to be designed to wound
Dialogue today, has been replaced by name calling that is little
related to truth. Loose talk and malice, reduces different issues to
slogans, and stops us regarding others as worthwhile individuals. Dudley
Senanayake, always held firm to the belief that all ethnic groups had
similar hopes and dreams. He knew that labels and categories, often hide
the truth; injure and wound, create fear and manipulate people.
He did not believe in loose talk, which many politicians indulge in
glibly today; words that make us suspicious of other nations, races and
creeds, can create enemies and adversaries, which is why he refrained
from such talk all his life.
The great statesman that he was, he knew that any label or category
that diminishes the worth of another also diminishes the worth of those
who use such terms. He was a steadfast believer, that each one should be
honoured according to their own worth, not categorised, penalised or
suspected because of their race or creed.
I recently heard some amusing anecdotes about him from Indira
Kulatilleke, whose father, the late Chandra Senanayake was the bodyguard
to both the late D.S. and the late Dudley Senanayake when he first
succeeded his father as Prime Minister. On a visit to the jungle, Dudley
had been seated outside reading a newspaper, when he felt something
rough, rubbing against his knee.
When he looked he saw that a bear was licking his knee, which by then
was bleeding owing to the roughness of the bear's tongue. But the bear
did not attack but fled in fear when he saw Dudley put the newspaper
down and look at it! Another is when the late D.S. and son were in
London, Dudley wanted to eat rice and curry. They gave the slip to the
Scotland Yard detective assigned to them and escaped to Veeraswamy's,
then the only Sri Lankan restaurant in London.
The British newspapers carried the story how the Prime Minister of
Ceylon and his son, the Minister of Agriculture gave the slip to
Scotland Yard, all for the sake of a rice and curry meal! On another
occasion, the late D.S., Dudley, the late Chandra and the late R.G.
Senanayake had been in a lift in the House of Lords, someone rang for
the lift which stopped and they found a member of the House of Lords
wanting to get into the lift. He took one look at the four large men
inside and said 'I thought Ceylon was an underdeveloped country,' and
took off seeing that there was little room in the lift for anyone else.
Dudley believed strongly and firmly, in the advantages of an
agricultural economy. He told the truth, rather than indulging in false
promises, which would have been a surefire passport to popularity. Famed
as a reluctant politician, he walked the straight path, never deviated
from this route and never used power, to inflict pain on anyone.
As a man, he lived a simple life; hated grandeur in any form
whatsoever. He loved listening to music, reading, photography, escaping
from bodyguards to drive his little Triumph Herald around on his own,
even as Prime Minister, relaxing with his miniature dachshund and with
close friends. His love for food is legendary, as is his appetite. He
filled a room with his presence, his hearty laugh, his geniality and his
charisma, added to his natural charm, which charmed both friends and
opponents. He loved the good things of life, which all cultured people
do, and never made a secret of it.
These words by John Buchan on Raymond Asquith, the brilliant son of
Anthony Asquith, a former British Prime Minister, seem to me to describe
the late Dudley.
'He disliked emotion, not because he felt lightly, but because he
felt deeply. He most sincerely loved his country but he loved her too
much to identify her with the pasteboard goddess, or the music halls and
the hustings... Austerely self respecting he had been used to hide his
devotions under a mask of indifference and would never reveal them
except in deeds.
To him, politics was still the greatest and most honourable
adventure. Our roll of honour is long but it holds no nobler figure, He
will stand to those of us who are left as an incarnation of the spirit
of the land he loved.'