ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 23, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 43
Funday Times - Our Heritage funday times logo


Lucky March for a Prime Minister

Glancing through the records, Gaveshaka realized that the last week in March has been of special significance to a particular individual. He is Dudley Senanayake, who sat on the Prime Minister's seat three times. And all three times it happened during this week.

First it was March 26, 1952 – four days after the death of his father, first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake. Although there was at least one minister (Sir John Kotelawela) senior to him, Governor-General Lord Soulbury who rushed back from London hearing of the Prime Minister's death (the acting Governor-General was Chief Justice Sir Alan Rose) appointed Dudley Senanayake. Obviously he thought he would have better support from the other ministers. He was then Minister of Agriculture & Lands, the portfolio his father had, prior to becoming Prime Minister.

A month later the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament and called for a general election which he won handsomely. However, on grounds of ill health he resigned in October 1953, making way for Sir John to take over as Prime Minister. He moved out of politics and watched his party, the United National Party (UNP) being routed at the 1956 general election and with Sir John quitting politics, staged a comeback to lead the party.

On March 23, 1960, Dudley Senanayake appointed his Cabinet after becoming Prime Minister but when the Speech from the Throne outlining the programme of the government got defeated, Parliament was dissolved a month later. He lost the election which was held in July 1960.

He once again became Prime Minister on March 25, 1965 after winning the general election and formed a 'National Government' with leaders of four other parties. Exactly five years later, after completing the full term of five years, he advised the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament on March 25, 1970. When the UNP failed to win a majority, he took a back seat, allowing J. R. Jayewardene to become the Leader of the Opposition. He died on April 13, 1973.

Having had his early education at S. Thomas' College, he proceeded to Cambridge University where he completed the natural history tripos. He qualified as a barrister and practiced for a while before returning to Sri Lanka. He was elected to the State Council as member for Dedigama in 1936, which seat he continued to win in the subsequent elections held to elect members to the House of Representatives.


Father of Marxism passes away

Philip Gunawardena (1901–72) regarded as the father of Marxism in Sri Lanka died on March 26, 1972, having been a prominent figure in local politics for nearly four decades. He was instrumental in forming the ‘Lanka Sama Samaja Party’ (LSSP) in 1935. During his political career he had moved from the extreme left to the extreme right passing through the 'middle way' during his political career.

He was jailed along with the other LSSP leaders during World War II. Although they escaped to India, they were arrested and kept imprisoned till the end of the war.

A split in the LSSP saw him forming the ‘Viplavakari Sama Samaja Party’ (VLSSP) in 1950, and joining S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike to contest the 1956 general election under the ‘Mahajana Eksath Peramuna’ (MEP) banner. He served as Minister of Food & Agriculture (1956 – 58) in the Bandaranaike Cabinet and introduced reforms including the Paddy lands Act which gave greater security for tenant farmers. After moving out of the coalition in 1959, he sat in the opposition benches until 1963, when he brought his party (he retained the name MEP) into an alliance with the LSSP and the Communist Party to form the United Left Front which did not last long.

In 1965, he joined the Dudley Senanayake government serving as Minister of Industries, when he expanded the state sector in industry.

His wife, Kusuma and his brother, Robert were also leading figures in the left movement in the country. His eldest son Dinesh leads the party (MEP) and is presently a minister in the Mahinda Rajapakse government. As a member of the Communist Party, the second son Indika served under President Chandrika Bandaranaike. A third son Geethanajan is the present Deputy Speaker.

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