D. S. SENANAYAKE A NATION'S FATHER and Undisputed Leader | Daily News

D. S. SENANAYAKE A NATION'S FATHER and Undisputed Leader



‘The Death of a great Commonwealth statesman

A wise statesman looked upon by his countrymen as “The father of the Nation” ; The late Mr. D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of the dominion of Ceylon. Who died on March 22 from injuries received when he was thrown from his horse on the previous day.”

Both Ceylon and the Commonwealth have suffered a grievous loss in the death of Mr. D.S. Senanayake, Prime The flight was cancelled. Educated at a Church of England College in Ceylon, Mr. Senanayake remained a devout Buddhist. As minister of Agriculture for fifteen years under the Donoughmore Constitution, which granted a modified form of self-government, he transformed the agricultural system of the country. In 1942 he was appointed leader of the state council, and subsequently organised Ceylon war effort. In 1950 he became the first Ceylonese to be appointed a member of the Privy Council. He came to London in January last year for the meeting of Commonwealth prime ministers. Dr. Senanayake’s sagacity, foresight, judgment and tolerance were unexcelled, and under his leadership Ceylon has been the most untroubled country in Asia.

Sri Lanka has followed a checkered 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.’


On the morning of March 22, 1952, the first Prime Minster of Independent Ceylon, Don Stephen Senanayake was on a Police mare, Chithra, at the Galle Face Green, as he was known to often ride for a while in the early hours, after he wakes up every day at 4.00 AM.

Another known daily ritual was, immediately prior to setting off for official work of the day, he would visit his orchid house situated in front of his home in Woodlands where he had a large and rare collection of orchids which he treasured and tended himself. He would pick on an orchid that would secure pride of place on his buttonhole that day.


But he couldn't make it to his orchid house on this fateful day of March 22 in 1952, as he fell off the police horse Chithra, after suffering a stroke brought on by vigorous riding. His riding companion Sir Richard Aluvihare, riding behind him, witness to the fateful incident, had seen the Premier lilt in an uncharacteristic fashion, and then fall off the horse.

He was admitted to the Central Hospital Colombo where he died several hours later. He was 67 at the time of his death.

The entire country plunged into grief and deep mourning and from all corners of the world, poured words of sympathy and sadness.

Here was a man, who during his lifetime, through the giant strides he made, emerged main architect and prime strategist of the transition from colony to self-rule; who formed the United National Party, and gave his country the pride of nation - Independence; and became the First Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon.

The nation, faced with the unexpectedly loss of a Father who was considered a humanist who understood the aspirations of the people and worked to uplift the downtrodden, struggled to come to terms with the loss of such a man.

This is one part of the saga of D.S. Senanayake that my uncle P.C. Imbulana who spoke volumes of him day in and day out, related the most. A usually cheerful P.C. Imbulana, founder member of the United National Party who considered D. S. Senanayake his mentor, visibly re-lived his sadness whenever he spoke of this tragic death, even 60 decades after.

However his eyes would sparkle with great admiration and reverence when he spoke of the life and times of the man whom he would describe as an unparalleled colossus.

It was upon the invitation of D.S. Senanayake that P.C. Imbulana, entered politics, and it was to D.S. Senanayaka that his gratitude lay for the principles on which his politics was conducted.

It was at this time of the year that as the President of the D.S. Senanayake Memorial Society, a position he held until his demise four years ago, that P.C. Imbulanahe was busiest in his retired years; meticulously planning the death commemoration of D.S. Senanayake, to military precision. He would be up at the crack of dawn to personally call all in the D.S.S.M. committee members to check on arrangements for the remembrance function.

Each year close upon the death anniversary date he would sit down to pen his annual tribute to D.S. Senanayake for publishing in the newspapers. He would explain that this was so that the younger generation would know their facts. After his demise four years ago, the D.S.S.M. committee invited me to write the article on his behalf. Since then it has been an annual honour to successfully fulfilled this task on his behalf. D.S. Senanayake's contribution to the country cannot ever be summed up in one small article but I will attempt to do him justice.


His name is one that can be looked up to with great pride. Don Steven 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.

Through him was exemplified how 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 that D.S. Senanayake was witness to Warden 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, his college inculcated a self-confidence in him that enabled him to deal with statesmen of the highest intellect and be admired by them for his intrinsic noble and decent characteristics. D.S Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, with whom he had two sons, Dudley Shelton Senanayake (June 19, 1911 - April 13, 1973) and Robert Parakrama Senanayake (April 8, 1913 - April 26, 1986).


D.S. Senanayake 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 who went the mile. Brothers, Don Stephen Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake were prominent members of the Lanka Mahajana Sabha. F.R. Senanayake shunned the limelight although he was a prominent and very influential member of the Temperance Movement founded in 1912. With his guidance, D.S. Senanayake entered public life as an active member of the Movement achieving much success and 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 later the Surveyor General's Department. When World War I 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 time together with other freedom fighting leaders and held in inhuman conditions at the 'Penal Cells' which were worse than the ordinary cells occupied by convicts. Authorities tried their utmost to implicate them in the riots but being short of evidence they released after 46 days of incarceration. Senanayake's initial role as an Independence activist was to support his brother F. R. 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 in the Legislative Council and led the Independence movement.

In 1931 he was elected to the State Council and went on to become the Agriculture and Lands Minister where he took up the challenges of Ceylon's agricultural problems effectively, and established the LDO, an agricultural policy that countered Ceylon's rice problems and earned him much respect. During his tenure as a minister, he also enforced 'Agricultural Modernisation' 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 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 onto the path to freedom, geared the country to achieve self-sufficiency in food by restoring almost all the ancient irrigation tanks and initiated colonisation schemes to boost agriculture, which were and still are the main source of income to the rural masses.

Upon his untimely death in 1952, his eldest son, Dudley Shelton Senanayake, succeeded him as Prime Minister, followed by another relative, Sir John Kotelawala (1897-1980) in 1953, but this nine-year family dynasty ended with the landslide victory for Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1956, who campaigned 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. Incidentally the baton has passed on to the fourth generation and his great-grandson, Vasantha Senanayake is today a legislator and received the highest number of preference in the polls.


I wish to draw the attention of D.S. Senanayake's feats achieved not only in our island but on the world stage. To this end, I include the following:

The New York Times on his struggle for Independence for Ceylon: 'The Ceylonese statesman possessed a rare blend of determination with benevolence that was in large measure responsible for his country's obtaining its' independence with exceptional speed in a friendly atmosphere.' The Daily Telegraph described him thus: 'Kindly, shrewd and courageous, he proved an able parliamentarian. He not only wielded his own party with the independents to form a powerful coalition government but conciliated his most formidable opponents, the Tamil Congress, to the point of securing their active support.'

In the Times of India, on his death: 'Mr. Senanayake's passing at this juncture might conceivably shift the delicate balance of power and change the political pattern at a time when stability was never more urgent.'

The Daily Herald, London: 'He will be remembered not only as the 'father of Ceylon' but as a great world statesman.'

In Sir Winston Churchill's words: 'The Commonwealth is poorer without him and the wise counsel he always gave.'

And this, the following published in The Illustrated London News on March 29, 1952.....

D.S. Senanayaka is an unparalleled colossus, I join with the sentiments expressed in the statement issued by the Ramanna Nikaya at the time of his death, pondering..." whether a leader of this stature will ever be born again in this country?...

The writer, Chamika, is the niece of P.C. Imbulana, late senior politician and Founder Member of the United National Party. She is a Senior Journalist and media advisor to several service oriented organisations. 


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