ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 24, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 30

He stood by the country when democracy was in peril

18th death anniversary of the 7th post-independence IGP ~ Stanley Senanayake

I consider it singularly fortunate to have known Stanley Senanayake. He was arguably one of the most humane and understanding gentlemen to have donned the uniform of the Inspector-General of Police since Independence.

His period of stewardship marks a significant watershed in the contemporary history of the Sri Lanka Police. It marks the end of the era that slavishly followed the norms set by the colonial police administrators and the beginning of a new cultural reformation consequent to the sweeping socio-political changes of 1956. As the Inspector–General of Police he had to countenance the radical changes of the time, the impact of which necessarily had implications of varying ramifications in the Police. It is remarkable indeed, that he as the custodian of the Police was able to face these challenges with equanimity and ensure that even the lowliest constable was able to perform his duty fearlessly with a sense of dignity and pride.

Although he had joined the Police in the mid-forties as an Assistant Superintendent straight from the University of Ceylon, and held several postings of responsibility, it was in 1962 that he came into public notice in the country. This was when he held the coveted post of Superintendent of Police Colombo, nearly a decade before he became the Inspector-General.

It was in Colombo that the attempted Coup d’etat was planned and mapped out by a group of senior officers of the armed services and the police – a few “somebodies and nobodies" as described by E.F.C. Ludowyk. The master strategist was Douglas Liyanage, a member of the Ceylon Civil Service. Hence, the case in which the plotters were tried and convicted, though subsequently quashed by the Privy Council, has come to be known as Liyanage vs the Queen.

What motivated Liyanage and others to overthrow the government of the day was the overriding feeling of loss of power and status that they had enjoyed in full measure as the upper crust of the ruling class. They were unable to, or refused to comprehend that the pendulum of power had swung to the ordinary folks with the Bandaranaike reforms of the late fifties.

Senanayake’s superiors as well as his equals in rank were all officers who had risen in this mould. Burghers and Christians were dominant. These officers comprised a closely knit brotherhood and were virtually entangled in a web of loyalty to one another. Senanayake though a Buddhist belonged to this brotherhood under compelling circumstances. He was also the head of the Colombo Police; and the key police figure in the conspiracy was his own-immediate superior C.C. Dissanayake. He was immensely trusted and his loyalty to his superiors was never in doubt. Naturally he was to be privy to the plan to overthrow the state, at the final stage. But most significantly it was his decision to tip off the government that stalled the impending calamity!

He was roundly condemned by his colleagues and friends and for years he was a virtual recluse whiling away his time in the Dept. Of Immigration and Emigration. What made Senanayake let his friends down? The answer in short is ‘Not that he loved the Police and his friends less, but that he loved his country more.’

He was an exceptionally handsome and dashing young officer passionately fond of tennis, swimming and equestrian sports. At that massive extravaganza ‘The Pageant of Lanka’ which culminated the Independence celebrations of 1948, he had been specially selected to play the role of Dutugemunu. But behind this façade was a man with a burning sense of patriotism. With his village birth, schooling at St. John’s Panadura which was well known for its liberal education and discipline and marriage to the daughter of Kularatne, a doyen of the nationalist revival it is unimaginable that his conscience would have rejected the loyalty to his country in preference to the police and his friends. Not many in public life would have encountered such a dilemma.
The conflict within his inner self was so intense on the day that he made this critical decision, that in his official weekly diary, inter alia, he had quoted Macaulay’s famous lines:

For how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the Temples of his Gods

Indeed his love for the country won the day.

Senanayake was the beneficiary of this remarkable, unenviable experience when he assumed duties as the Inspector-General in 1970. Many of the reforms that he brought about reflect the love and understanding he had towards his fellow human beings. He will be remembered as the IGP who dismantled the colonial ethic of police administration eradicating tyrannical attitudes and creating avenues for the small man to be heard and taken notice of. He believed that education, training and exemplary leadership were paramount for discipline and efficiency and not punishment and coercion. He realized that it was only by upgrading the status of the Inspectorate and compassionately viewing the problems of the lower ranks that the status and standing of the upper echelons of the service could be enhanced.

Towards the fulfillment of these noble objectives, whilst introducing new measures he revamped and gave new life and meaning to the time tested mechanisms that had slipped into oblivion. The Police Ombudsman was made a meaningful officer for resolving grievances. The Police Savings Association which over the years had accumulated a sizeable fund was directed to adopt a liberal policy for the granting of housing loans. As the Hony. Secretary of the PSA I remember the spate of grants that followed. For the first time even members of the Inspectorate became proud owners of property in Colombo 07. This was in addition to the relentless lobbying that he carried out with the government for police housing.

The Police Families Welfare Association which he pioneered, ably headed by Mrs. Maya Senanayake was indeed a giant step forward in the extension of police welfare activities. It was a novel concept at the time and could justifiably be labelled the forerunner of the Seva Vanitha Movement. With its limited resources the PFWA launched on programmes such as the tailoring of uniforms by the spouses of policemen, vocational training for the children of police officers, health clinics, outlets for essential food and clothing items and the organizing of fairs and Salpilas for police families to purchase these at reasonable prices during the festive seasons.

Senanayake’s desire to give a hearing to the rank and file of the police in all matters of administration that affected them resulted in the Central Welfare Council and the Inspectors’ Association becoming meaningful advisory bodies.

The Inspectors’ Association should be eternally grateful to Senanayake for the courageous stand he took when the Association complained to him that junior officers of the armed services refused to admit them to their messes that were set up during the 1971 JVP uprising. The police had no such facilities. The OIC of police stations had to bear the brunt of the initial onslaught of the insurgents and armed units of the services acted only as a support services to the police. I am personally aware of how Stanley Senanayake met Gen. Attygalle and the Cabinet Secretary G.V.P. Samarasinghe and convinced them that the Inspectorate was in no way inferior to the command ranks of the armed services. It was as a direct result that he decided to rename the Inspectors’ Mess as the Officers’ Mess. Taking a step further he re-named the Sergeants and PCs Mess as the Junior Officers’ Mess.

The most visible change that he effected was the radical transformation of the police uniform from short trousers, tunic, boots and putties to the present day uniform of shirt, slacks, shoes and peak cap.

He was also intensely committed to the improvement of the standards of policing, increasing the establishment and the development of sports. Better training was a subject close to his heart. Apart from setting up the Police Higher Training Institute, he encouraged regular seminars and workshops with inputs from outside the police. A police journal of a professional nature was commenced and albeit without success he made several attempts to get membership for the police in the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA).

Criminal investigation was a subject close to his heart. But he fervently disapproved of torture or inhuman methods to obtain results. The Colombo Detective Bureau (CDB) which he started was developed into an exemplary detective unit under the able stewadship of R. Sundaralingam.

The resounding success of the police operations connected with the Non-Aligned Summit Conference of 1976 will remain an unforgettable achievement of his regime. Never had so many heads of state met in an Asian capital. The complexity of the task demanded an organizational effort of the highest magnitude. The trust and confidence that he had in his senior officers was such that he fearlessly delegated this huge responsibility to a man who could not have faltered, Rudra Rajasingham. Dr. Vernon Mendis who was in overall charge of the conference arrangements in a congratulatory message to the IGP described the police operations as a ‘superhuman effort’. Stanley Senanayake in his report to the Prime Minister magnanimously gave all credit to Rajasingham and his team.

Stanley Senanayake was indeed a rare human being. He will have a place in history as a man who courageously stood by the country when democracy was in peril and as an Inspector-General of Police who cared for the well being of the lower ranks.

By Edward Gunawardena

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.