Once again, as we approach the birth anniversary of Dudley Senanayake on June 19, my thoughts go back to his qualities, of head and heart, which were described as rarer than one in a million, by a much respected political writer of his time. We live in a country, when victory at war is celebrated [...]

Sunday Times 2

Dudley the knight in shining armour of Lankan politics


Once again, as we approach the birth anniversary of Dudley Senanayake on June 19, my thoughts go back to his qualities, of head and heart, which were described as rarer than one in a million, by a much respected political writer of his time. We live in a country, when victory at war is celebrated with much fanfare, time and time again, but reconciliation still remains unachieved. This brings to mind, a speech made by the late Dudley Senanayake in Parliament, during the debate on the Throne Speech, on April 22, 1960. He said: ‘There are two issues in the country which to my mind should be taken up above party politics. One is the minority Tamil issue and the other is the Indian issue. As long as these two issues remain items of party politics, I do not think we shall ever have satisfactory solutions to these questions in Ceylon.’

Dudley Senanayake

Yet another memorable speech he made, was in defence of his party against allegations that it supported acts of terrorism. On May 4, 1971, in the debate on the Throne Speech, he said , “There is no occasion in the history of the United National Party, whether in Government or in the Opposition when it has advocated or organised violence. The men who are votaries of bloody revolution, who took advantage of difficult situations in the country to rouse people to violence, who under the guise of trade unionism instigated and encouraged private and public sector employees to sabotage, whose common cry was ‘destroy’ are all in the government today, preening themselves as advocates of peace. How ill do the feathers of the dove mask the mind and bodies of vultures.”

These speeches portray the mind and eloquence of a man, who was a supreme believer in democracy and law and order, who believed that every citizen of Sri Lanka should have equal rights, freedom to practise the religion of their choice or anything else, which would make each one of them proud, to be a citizen of this country and proclaim, loud and strong ‘This is my own, my native land’. He believed in upholding law and order which again is in total disarray today.

He was a champion of social justice and was repelled by senseless violence. Right through his time; in politics or otherwise, he was propelled by a moral imperative to help the less fortunate, and was a champion of the people; always fighting for truth and freedom, which were his bywords. As a politician, he was astute, and a man alert to the mistakes and consequences of history.

Dudley Senanayake was a man of incredibly high standards and principles. He was a devout Buddhist, practised the tolerance of Buddhism towards other religions and races, believed in scholarship and music, adhered to a rigorous work ethic, in fields like agriculture, which he believed in, considered charity an obligation and was exceptionally loyal, to those who were part of his inner cadre. But he never believed in favouring family members. His unchallenged integrity, made him demand it from those close to him, through birth or friendship. He did not believe in isms of any kind, often bombarded the blasphemy of communism, swiped at the hypocrisy of the system and the dense forest of false promises, made by those who were in power.

His was an articulate voice, courageous enough to constantly challenge what he felt was unjust and unfair. Being at the top, to him represented a chance to do something worthwhile, something that would benefit the people, and improve the quality of their lives. If he lived today, he would have been appalled, at the abuse of power and revelations of corruption; as he believed that politics, above all other, must be before self, and be a mission of goodwill to the people one governed.

His political knowledge and experience was inspired by drive and integrity, combined with a fierce loyalty, to democracy and all it meant. His political thinking was that of a liberal democrat, in its intellectual thrust; with a belief that a question asked should be honestly answered. He believed in a world, dedicated to freedom and peaceful co-existence, even between enemies. He was loyal to his party and its leaders, even when he was harassed and pushed out at one stage, he stayed quietly in the background , never fighting or attacking the leadership, until such time when he was requested to return and lead the party again.

On a more personal note, Dudley was a man of cultivated tastes, enjoyed reading, music, photography, dogs and his food. He loved spending time with his favourite nephew Rukman and his two nieces, Ranjini and Lala. He had a hearty laugh with the rare ability to laugh at himself. He was thoughtful, considerate and had a golden heart, reaching out time and time again to those in need. He should have lived longer, to save us from the Presidential system, which he was totally against and his visionary thinking, has been proved right on its ills.

He lived a simple life in his father’s house, with no wrongfully amassed wealth. Unfortunately, his last illness was fatal, a heart attack, caused by stress as his sensitivity, found it unable to cope with the hurt of betrayal. Sri Lankans unfortunately, have a tendency to flock around those in power, like bees round a pot of honey and to kick people when they are down and out of power, forgetting all they have done and what they stood for.

His funeral with the homage paid to him in death is unforgettable. Everyone in the country, came together, in an unprecedented show of sorrow for a wonderful man. This was proof that his exceptional qualities were appreciated, far and wide, even by those who were against him politically.

Dudley Senanayake’s life and deeds, will live forever, in the hearts and minds of all those who had the privilege of knowing him and in the generations to come, as the knight in shining armour of Sri Lankan politics. To end, I quote his own words ‘Millions have strived to serve their fellow beings, lesser still are those who leave their footprints in the sands of time. Of which only a handful have managed to change the destiny of mankind.”

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