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Sunday, 19 June 2016

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105th birth anniversary:

Dudley Senanayake - noble colossus of Sri Lankan politics

The 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.

Sportsman

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 politics.

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 others.

Truth

Dialogue today, has been replaced by name calling that is little related to truth.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.

Bear

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.

Emotion

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.'

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