What caused the rift between D.S. and Sir Baron

By Drene Terana Sariffodeen
D.S. Senanayake's association with Sir Baron Jayatilaka was solid and longstanding. It began as early as 1912 in the days of the 'Temperance Movement' and was strengthened during their imprisonment after the riots of 1915. They were members of the Ceylon National Congress from 1919, the Ceylon Legislative Council from 1924, and the Ceylon State Council from 1931.

Although Sir Baron was the Leader of the State Council from its inception in 1931, and 16 years his senior, D.S. Senanayake was the dominant personality who called the tune and who had a stronger influence and the support of the State Council. Nevertheless, they formed a duumvirate and dominated Ceylonese politics for many years.

However, a decline in their close association transpired during the late 1930s, resulting in Sir Baron's retirement from politics in 1942. The most important factor that brought about this decline was Sir Baron's inability to cope with the responsibilities as the Leader of the State Council and the unpopularity he gained from his incompetence. As a result, D.S. Senanayake rose to dominate the political atmosphere further, and became astute in matters that Sir Baron had failed to identify as important to the future of Ceylon.

The strain of World War II and the responsibilities of the State Council posed a huge challenge to the aging Sir Baron. The Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott, complained that Sir Baron was “too senile, too casual, too lazy and too flabby to lead the Council or even his Executive Committee,” while his committee members found him to be”dilatory and somnolent”. When Sir Baron's incompetence began to threaten certain constitutional benefits hitherto enjoyed by the Ceylonese Ministers and the people of the country, the younger guard of the State Council demanded a change in the leadership.

The first such incident took place in 1939. When war broke out in Europe, the Governor considered it necessary to form a Local Defence Committee and he invited Sir Baron, Minister of Home Affairs, to join this body. Sir Baron, without consulting his colleagues, subscribed to an article in the Internal Security Scheme, which contained certain elements that were criticized as detrimental to the Ceylonese by a committee that was formulated in 1928.

Mr. Senanayake, as a member of this committee, together with a few other European members, had advised the alteration of these harmful elements, particularly the superfluous powers granted to the Police and to a Special Force, whose services would be mobilised in case of an emergency.

Those who were victims of the riots of 1915 were critical of these arbitrary powers that were delegated to the Police and the European planters. Sir Baron by subscribing to this scheme permitted local emergencies to be dealt with, by European planters either as Unofficial Police Magistrates or as Special Police Officers. Mr. Senanayake who was astounded by Sir Baron's course of action, openly criticised him and demanded the revelation of the scheme. When the Bill was tabled in the State Council, Mr. Senanayake vehemently opposed the scheme in toto.

The second episode that brought Sir Baron's leadership capabilities into question was the 'Mooloya incident' of January 10, 1940. This incident involved the shooting and killing of a plantation labourer by a team of Police personnel who were sent to suppress labour unrest in the Mooloya Estate. When the shooting occurred, the Communists of Ceylon - the Sama Samajists - attempted to seize the stage for propaganda and political advantage. However, under the direction of D.S. Senanayake, the Ministers skilfully contained the incident and appointed a commission to inquire into the incidents.

Sir Baron, had directed P.N. Banks, the Inspector-General of Police, to instruct his Police personnel, who were conducting the prosecutions, not to oppose applications for postponement of court proceedings until the Mooloya Commission had completed their investigations.

However, Banks refused to carry out Sir Baron's instructions on the grounds that his direction had neither been authorised by his Executive Committee of Home Affairs, nor received ratification of the Governor. Banks used Article 45 of the State Council order-in-council of 1931, to make his case.

This article required that a Minister receive prior approval of his Executive Committee before issuing instructions to a Head of a Department. It was rarely adhered to by the Ministers, for they often issued instructions without procuring prior approval of their respective Executive Committees. This article therefore was declared moribund.

In any event, on February 13, 1940, Sir Baron wrote to the Governor accusing Banks of “insubordination and indiscipline” and requested the Governor to take disciplinary action against the IGP. The Governor refused to do so and his decision precipitated the resignation of the Ministers from their portfolios on February 27, 1940.

D.S. Senanayake was the first to resign, doing so without consulting any of his colleagues. When the Ministers met the Governor on February 26 to discuss the Jayatilaka-Banks debacle, among other reasons, Caldecott maintained that Sir Baron had failed to adhere to Article 45. Conversely, the Ministers argued that Article 45 had never been strictly followed through and that it had become more or less a convention. They further argued that the Ministers frequently gave orders to heads of departments without either securing authorisation of their respective Executive Committees or obtaining the ratification of the Governor.

During this spirited discussion an angry Caldecott accused D.S. Senanayake of being “a liar” and “banged the table in a fury”. D.S. Senanayake, who did not appreciate the accusations and the attitude adopted by the Governor, tendered his resignation on the eve of February 26. When D.S. Senanayake's action was made public, the rest of the Board of Ministers followed suit.

The Ministers' resignations put pressure on the application of the Governor's reserve powers that were vested on him under the Ceylon Constitution of 1931. According to one such prerogative, the Governor had the authority to take over any governmental department if he considered there was a state of emergency. However, in this instance, he did not exercise this power. After the Ministers' resignations, although he defended the use of Article 45, Caldecott did not pursue the implementation of the powers vested in him. One of the reasons for this course of action was his desire to avoid further disorder. Britain, during this time, had plenty of problems with India and Burma and wished at all costs to avoid discord with the Ceylonese Ministers. If Caldecott had failed to get this chaotic situation under control, Whitehall would have pulled him out and sent in a replacement. This was Britain's general solution towards disorder in a colony and Caldecott needed to avoid such an ignominy.

Therefore, instead of using his gubernatorial powers over the Ministers, he offered them an amicable settlement, which was to appoint a commission to look into the properties of Article 45.

Until then, the status quo of Article 45 was maintained. After this compromise, the Ministers were re-elected to their respective Executive Committees on March 6.

These incidents and their aftermath exemplified D.S. Senanayake's leadership qualities and the influence he held over his colleagues. His colleagues, who were familiar with his political approach, had supported him without demur. When the remainder of the Board followed his lead in resigning, it sent a strong message to the State Council and the country in regard to Sir Baron's position as the Leader. As a result, the younger members of the State Council perceived Sir Baron as an aging statesman who was “permitting Officers of State to encroach upon his powers as a Minister, and that his control over heads of departments was weak and his policy with regard to that department [Home Affairs] vacillating.'

Although the State Council was back in session, it remained leaderless, for there was disagreement within the Board of Ministers and the State Council with regard to Sir Baron resuming leadership. Four out of seven Ministers - S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, G.C.S. Corea, J.L. Kotelawala, and C.W.W. Kannangara - requested Sir Baron to step down as a Minister, or to give an assurance that he would resign within a year if he were re-elected to the leadership. Furthermore, a proposal was drawn up to be tabled in the State Council against Sir Baron asserting his incapability of leading the State Council. They claimed that Sir Baron had “lost the confidence of the State Council and is unfit to be the Chairman of the Committee for Home Affairs or the Vice-Chairman of a Board of Ministers”.

These developments strained D.S. Senanayake's relations with Sir Baron. Governor Caldecott perceived D.S. Senanayake's intervention in the Jayatilaka-Banks affair as an attempt to wrest the leadership from Sir Baron. He believed that “nothing would give Senanayake greater satisfaction than to help push Jayatilaka off the ministerial raft with one hand and to throw dung at Banks with the other”.

This, however, was not the case.
During the Jayatilaka-Banks incident, Sir Baron was holding the Presidency of the Ceylon National Congress. Members of the CNC anticipated Jayatilaka's resignation, for he had quite openly stated that he would “not continue as Home Minister in the event of Mr. Banks resuming duties”. After the incident, when Sir Baron did not resign, a motion was passed in the CNC calling for his resignation. D.S. Senanayake, however, opposed this motion and stated that demanding Sir Baron's resignation at that moment in time would be disadvantageous to the future of the island.

Although D. S. Senanayake was aware that Sir Baron's influence was declining and that he was no longer capable of leadership, he also believed that a change in the leadership would be untimely. Therefore, he took heed of Caldecott's advice that forceful measures demanding Sir Baron's resignation would make retirement with honour impossible for him. As a result, D.S. Senanayake campaigned for Sir Baron's re-election, which occurred on April 2, 1940, enabling him to resume responsibilities as the leader. These actions proved to Caldecott that D.S. Senanayake “still felt a debt of loyalty to his old Chief”.

The final indication of D.B. Jayatilaka's incapacity as leader was revealed in December 1941. A 'Police Internal Security Scheme for Planters' was revealed and, to D.S. Senanayake's dismay, Sir Baron as the Minister of Home Affairs was unaware of its existence. The scheme involved certain measures taken by the IGP “to increase the number of persons willing to be enrolled as Special Police Officers in case of necessity”. To Senanayake's chagrin, the recruited number exceeded 18,000 persons and the formulation of such a scheme had never been placed before the State Council nor had it the ratification of the Home Affairs Committee. He discovered that the necessary personnel had already been recruited, registered and instructed as to how to act during an emergency. As aforementioned, D.S. Senanayake was against local emergencies being dealt by a section of people who were not in touch with the inhabitants of the country. He accused Banks and the Europeans planters of acting conspiratorially. Together they had formed a force to act in case of an emergency to protect the women and children of the European planters. An exasperated Senanayake asked: “Was it the concern of the Police to look after this section of the people [Europeans], when there are about 6,000,000 people in Ceylon?…Is that the internal security they are going to provide for us?”

Before action could be taken against this scheme, war raged in Asia. Ceylon's state affairs seemed insignificant in comparison to the fall of Singapore and the Japanese penetration into Burma. At a time when strategically Ceylon became a vital point of concentration for British forces and for defence communications in the Indian Ocean, unity among the Ceylonese Ministers was deemed a necessity. Therefore, under D.S. Senanayake's guidance the Ministers put aside their differences and concentrated on the war overwhelming the world. Furthermore, in order to make the running of Ceylon's administration more smooth and effective, Caldecott entertained the thought of forming a de facto Cabinet. The Executive Committees were persuaded to delegate their powers to the Ministers in all matters of defence, hence internal security of the island became the responsibility of this 'de facto Cabinet'.

The aftermath of these events created a renewed sense of respect and admiration in Governor Caldecott's mind for D.S. Senanayake. He was taken aback with D.S. Senanayake's performance: his ability to take control of a crisis, to gain support from the State Council and to gain political and constitutional advances out of it. He thus had to revise his estimation of the man. Previously, to him, Senanayake was a 'Sinhalese village bully, whose characteristics (like the spots on a black panther) occasionally show through the ministerial veneer of ‘Jungle John’” There were times when Caldecott demanded D.S. Senanayake's resignation, and others when he criticized his loud and harsh despatches, claiming that it was “the language of the mud-buffalo to snort and bellow”. However, after the dust had settled, Governor Caldecott was “really glad to welcome D.S. Senanayake back”. The Ministers' decision to follow D.S. Senanayake had sent a clear message to the Governor: his ability to muster forces even though he was not the official leader of the State Council. Therefore, despite his “lack of education, hedgelawry, and tiresome blustering,” Caldecott accepted that D.S. Senanayake was “big and vital and a man”.

After these crises, Sir Baron continued to be the leader, but in name only. D.S. Senanayake emerged as the bona fide leader representing Ceylon in national and international negotiations during this phase of blatant war emergency. Finally, in December 1942, the duumvirate in the national leadership of D.S. Senanayake and Sir Baron came to an end. Sir Baron retired from Ceylonese politics and was appointed Ceylon's representative to India. This gave Sir Baron the ability to retire with honour and D.S. Senanayake the opportunity to resume leadership with honour, for he was unanimously appointed the Leader of the State Council. When he assumed leadership, D.S. Senanayake marked a turning point in Ceylon's history. He supported the election of a Tamil, Arunachalam Mahadeva, to Sir Baron's ministry. Mahadeva's appointment brought an end to the Sinhalese monopoly of the Board of Ministers.


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