15th June 1997


Home Page Front Page OP/ED News Business

Two of a kind, with one goal

Dudley Senanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa may share the same b’day but the
two were ‘different’ types.One was a shy and retiring man the other quite the
opposite. Here the writer reveals the contrasting characteristics of these two leaders.
By Buddhika Kurukularatne former Galle District MP

Dudley Senanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa were both born in June: Dudley on June 19th, 1911 and Premadasa on June 23rd 1924.

Much has been said of those two leaders, but there is so much left to be said too.

The two were ‘different’ types. Their approaches were different, their styles were different. But their goal was the same - prosperity for Mother Lanka.

Dudley was a shy and retiring type of person, a trait he passed on to nephew Rukman. Premadasa had a vigorous approach and often sought out the print and electronic media to boost his image.

This perhaps was due to the fact that unlike Dudley, Premadasa hailed from a Middle-class family at Kehelwatta. Dudley was the son of an aristocrat and had a distinguished feudal lineage. He was born into the ruling caste whilst Premadasa was from a minority caste.

Until Premadasa changed the course of history by being the first commoner to go to Temple Trees and then to President’s House every Prime Minister (and President) before him belonged to the majority caste.

Both Dudley and Premadasa knew the ‘power’ the caste wielded in the hands of the people. My one time News Editor at the ‘Janata’ the late Eamon Kariyakarawana was very close to Dudley, functioning as his ‘unofficial’ Press Secretary.

With the demise of T. Quintin Fernando, who was Deputy Chairman of Committees at the time of his death, the Negombo seat in Parliament fell vacant.

Negombo, the ‘Little Rome’ was a bastion of the UNP until its fortifications were breached during the local elections in March this year and it was a foregone conclusion then that whoever secured UNP nominations for Negombo virtually had the MPship in the bag. So, Eamon, brimming with confidence approached Dudley and made known his desire. Dudley’s immediate reply was, ‘No, Eamon, Negombo is reserved for a Karawa Catholic. You are a Durawa Catholic; why don’t you concentrate on Katana, where there is a good percentage of Durawas.’

Premadasa knew that his non-Goigama birth was an obvious disqualification in his quest for leadership. But he turned this disadvantage to an advantage by sheer hard work and total dedication. Premadasa had little time for family life. 24 hours was not enough for him. His officials were ‘on call’ 24 hours of the day.

Neither Dudley, nor J.R. wished for Premadasa to be the Prime Minister or President.

Dudley, made a remark to the writer when the writer was a young law student that he expected Gamani Jayasuriya to carry the mantle of leadership in the party one day. It was significant that he did not mention J.R.’s name inspite of the fact that J.R. was the most senior vice President of the party at the time.

J.R. too was toying with the idea of running for a third term even by resorting to his steam roller majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution for the purpose as was advocated by brother ‘Harry’ Jayewardene Q.C.; but he knew that after the infamous Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and the terror and anarchy that followed only Premadasa could win.

The UNP, notoriously termed the UNGE NEDEYINGE PAKSAYA (Uncle Nephew Party) by that redoubtable ‘Daha’ of my home district was wont to keep the leadership in the ‘family’. J.R. groomed nephew Ranil as a future leader of the UNP and the country and first took him to Kelaniya and then to the Port via the JSS.

If there was one man to out-fox the Old-Fox it was Premadasa. When J.R. himself proposed Premadasa as the UNP’s Presidential candidate Premadasa knew that he was being nominated only because there was no others to successfully run a campaign when both the north and the south were torn asunder. Moreover there was a foreign army in occupation and the mood of the electorate was extremely gloomy.

Premadasa was equal to the task. At Balapitiya on the day of his meeting seven persons who helped to put up the stage were brutally murdered. An unofficial curfew had been declared and when I arrived at the meeting there were only 7 people which included the UNP organiser Deputy Speaker Norman Waidyaratne.

I told Norman, ‘Norman aiya cancel the meeting’ to which he replied, ‘what to do brother. I suggested this to Lokka. He says can you find one man to listen to me’. ‘How can I say no, men. Now the man is on his way from Matara by chopper?’

Premadasa arrived and Weeraratne, the DIG Southern Range quickly got 45 police reservists to form the audience and Premadasa spoke for 1 1/2 hours. All the houses in the vicinity were closed but the inmates listened to Premadasa from within closed doors and Balapitiya was won by the UNP.

Premadasa when his initial attempts failed at arriving at a peaceful solution with JVP even after offering 3 portfolios was compelled to meet force with force and though many lives were lost in the process the country was saved.

Dudley on the other hand was fortunate that he did not have to face an insurrection - only a Marxist oriented Hartal on the 12th of August 1952. Curfew was declared and it is said that Sir Oliver, the Governor General, so unlike his constitutional role which was akin to a mere rubber stamp, had to force the hand of Dudley to declare Martial Law. Nine people were killed and Dudley ‘resigned’ on grounds of ‘ill health’ and went into voluntary ‘political exile’.

Another interest the two had in common was wildlife and photography and both of them would find time in their busy schedules to visit Yala. Here again Premadasa took the lead in confining New Buthawa to himself and also making a controversial ‘Helipad’ which many thought was not ‘environment-friendly’.

Dudley though by nature shy was by no means a coward. A boxer in his day at St. Thomas’, Dudley boldly carried the fight into the Government when in Opposition and vice versa. When the infamous Press Bill was promoted by the Sirima Bandaranaike Government, Dudley mustered the support of his arch political rivals in the opposition to lead a common onslaught on the Government.

Both Dudley and Premadasa first recognised who their friends were. This made it easy for them to fight or tackle the enemy.

Dudley, briefly, though had the TULF in his Cabinet and was considered a friend of the minority communities although the SLFP opposition at the time paraded the streets of Colombo one May Day chanting ‘Dudlige Bade Masala Wade’. Now the stomachs of the very same people not only contain wade, but also ‘Thosai’ and ‘Thawakkal’ as well.

Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike alarmed at the crowds thronging to UNP meetings wherever Dudley went, gave instructions to the police not to issue loudspeaker permits for UNP meetings.

It was well nigh impossible to address a UNP rally at the time without loudspeakers and the Government of the day was intent in preventing the UNP going to the people.

Dudley gave one week’s notice to the Government. ‘If you do not lift this ban on us forthwith, we shall on such and such Sunday at 3.00 p.m. at Shrubbery Gardens in Bambalapitiya openly break the ban’, thundered Dudley. UNP had rallies every Sunday at the time.

As the ban was not lifted, Dudley along with his lieutenants, J.R., Premadasa and I.M.R.A Iriyagolla amidst police protest openly and brazenly spoke ‘into’ the microphones of the public address system for which permission had been sought from the police, but refused.

They were promptly charged before the Magistrates Court of Mt. Lavinia and the road in front of the courts from College Junction to Mt. Lavinia junction was gaily decorated with green flags and buntings by party supporters lead by S. de S. Jayasinghe.

Dudley and his co-accused pleaded guilty to the insignificant charge of using loudspeakers without a permit. Though the accused pleaded guilty on their own volition an array of leading Queen’s Counsel (for there was no President’s Counsel then) very eloquently demonstrated to a packed court house that the ban was illegal, immoral, undemocratic and teeming with Mala Fides (bad faith).

That was the end of the notorious loudspeaker ‘Ban’.

Compared to Dudley, the better orator was undoubtedly Premadasa. Premadasa was not known as an English speaker earlier in life though his Sinhala was a treat to listen to.

Dudley though an able debator and an orator with a ready wit, which sadly is lacking in today’s orators, was not a speaker in the same mould of the silver tongued Bandaranaikes - both Senior and Junior.

In later life Premadasa too came to be an able speaker in English, holding many a national and international audience spellbound. But he missed occasionally in pronunciation and whenever he referred to the LTTE, always said, "Al-Tee-Tee-Eee." But then Dudley could never pronounce ‘Sahodara Sahodariyani in his mother tongue for he always said ‘Sahodara Sahodari.’

It is said that Premadasa fully aware of the importance of being an eloquent and elegant speaker in English did his ‘homework’, aided by his able staff ‘Brad’ and ‘K.H.S.’

A knowledgeable source once told me that he would practise his speech if it was an important one in the privacy of his home or office with either ‘Brad’ Weerakoon or K.H.S. Gunatilake in attendance. After he had ‘narrated’ his speech, he would ask the serene and soft spoken Mr. K.H.S. Gunatilake, ‘Kohomada? Hondada?’ referring to his speech-narration, of course.

The pious Mr. Gunatilake, my friend said would say, ‘Good! Good!!’ But Premadasa was not going to be content with a remark like that and would insist. ‘No! No!! Mr. Gunatilake, Kiyanna Axellent da? Axellent da?’ (Mr. Gunatilake tell me, is it ‘Axellent?’)

Premadasa’s leadership qualities were amply and aptly demonstrated when he addressed Parliament after the Impeachment. He advised us in the Government Parliamentary Group to keep our cool in the worst of provocation offered by the then opposition. ‘I am a seasoned War-Horse. I can handle them anyway,’ he insisted. When he arrived to address the House the opposition was missing, but trooped in midway through his address led by - the then National Organiser of the SLFP Mr. Anura Bandaranaike.

Anura pretending to wipe off some imaginary ‘charmed’ oil from his seat loudly accused Premadasa of applying charmed oil. ‘Premadasa hooniyan karala’ echoed the opposition which hurled abuse, threats and vulgar obscenities at Premadasa.

Premadasa was unruffled and proceeded to deliver his Presidential address though keeping his mouth close to the microphone so that only his voice was carried to the packed House and Galleries.

I remember the year President Premadasa was chief guest at a Prize Day at St. Thomas’ Mt. Lavinia. I was then on the committee of the PTA of the College and was therefore involved in its many activities.

When President Premadasa arrived many ‘Kultur’ friends of mine teased me ‘Ade, Umbalage President ada Sinhalenda Kata Karanne?’ (Hey! Is your President going to speak in Sinhala today?)St. Thomas’ Prize Day, has always been graced by the cream of intelligensia of the day. People who had excelled in Oxford or Cambridge not a ‘dubious’ old Josephian or a product of Lawrence College Maradana.

But Premadasa gave such a superb and masterly display of oratory sans any ‘Al tee tee ee’ or ‘Axellant’ stuff that every one was stunned and amazed.

Premadasa never forgave his enemies. When there were moves to bring Jinadasa Niyathapala, who was political Guru to hundreds of people like us from the village, Premadasa opposed the move - because according to him Niyathapala let him down at the controversial convention that followed the reuniting of the two leaders Dudley and JR who had even taken their battle to court.

Like his party symbol, the Elephant, Premadasa never forgot either his friends or his enemies for he was a good friend and a bad enemy.

Continue to Plus page 4 -That journey of hope and frustration: A medical faculty with a new vision

Return to the Plus contents page

Read Letters to the Editor

Go to the Plus Archive



Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to or to