ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 20
Front Page Funday Times - Our Heritage

The role of the Senanayakes of Botale

The Senanayakes from Botale near Mirigama is a well known family in Sri Lanka. Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake (1848-1912) was a land owner and plumbago (graphite) merchant. He had his own plumbago mine at Botale.

Prime Minsiter D. S. Senanayake hands over the Speech from the Throne to Governor-General Lord Soulbury at the ceremonial opening of the first Parliament. It was customary for the Prime Minister to indicate the government's future prorgamme of work to Parliament at the beginning of each session.

He had three sons - Frederic Richard (better known as F.R.), Don Stephen ( D. S.) and D. C. Starting with the temperance movement, the family was in the forefront of the nationalist movement in the country in the early part of the 20th century.

October 20 was a significant day for the Senanayake family. On October 20, 1882 the eldest of the three brothers, F. R. was born. Two years later, on October 20, 1884 D. S., was born.

F. R. Senanayake was educated at S. Thomas' College and went over to Cambridge University where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Law (LLB) degrees and later qualified as a barrister. On his return, after practising as a lawyer for a few years, he joined the temperance movement along with his father and the two brothers. This was the entry to the political life for the two brothers F. R. and D. S. As leader of the Sinhala Mahajana Sabha founded in 1919, he mobilised the support of the rural intelligentsia to promote nationalist sentiments. While remaining as leader of the Mahajana Sabha until his premature death when he was only 44, he also served as President of the Buddhist Theosophical Society (1923-25) and the YMBA (Young Men's Buddhist Association).

He was among the Buddhist leaders who were arbitrarily arrested by the British authorities following the Sinhalese-Muslim riots.

Thereafter he was in the forefront of the reformist movement and played a leading role in organising the agitation for constitutional changes. His untimely death on January 1, 1926 while on a pilgrimage to India prevented him from reaching the top in politics.


Father of the Nation

D. S., the younger brother of F. R., took off from where the elder brother stopped and having entered the legislature in 1924, he remained a member of the Legislative Council, State Council and Parliament until his death in 1952. His active role as a reformist, his shrewd political acumen and leadership qualities made him the first Prime Minister of independent Sri Lanka in 1948 earning him the title 'Father of the Nation.'

F. R. Senanayake

Agriculture and irrigation were his main interests. Having begun life as a clerk in the Surveyor-General's department, he resigned quite early to manage family properties, which made him interested in agriculture. As a member of the Land Commission from 1927, he was actively involved in working towards improving the lot of the landless peasants. In 1932 he wrote: "Colonization of the dry zone is the only way out," and proceeded to set up the Minneriya scheme marking the rehabilitation of the Polonnaruwa district.

It was his great achievement as Minister of Agriculture and Lands in the mid-1930s. He was responsible for the massive Gal Oya Scheme, the first major project since the days of the Polonnaruwa kings.

After becoming Prime Minister, he ensured the continuity of his agricultural policy by appointing his son, Dudley as minister in charge of the subject.

Having worked with Sir Baron Jayatilaka in gaining independence from the British, he assumed leadership after Sir Baron's retirement from politics in 1943 and guided the country towards gaining independence. He formed and led the United National Party (UNP) to victory at the general election of 1947 under the Soulbury Constitution becoming, Prime Minister.

A fall from the horse he was riding on Galle Face Green on March 22, 1952 led to his death.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.