Sri Lankan statesman Dudley Shelton Senanayake, whose 109th birth anniversary fell on Friday, June 19, was one of the noblest sons of Sri Lanka. He was born in the village of Bothale at Mirigama in the Gampaha District. Bothale means the village of the Bo sapling. Born on June 19, 1911, he was a brilliant, [...]

Sunday Times 2

Dudley: Leader with a human touch

Honest, dignified all-time gentleman in politics

Sri Lankan statesman Dudley Shelton Senanayake, whose 109th birth anniversary fell on Friday, June 19, was one of the noblest sons of Sri Lanka. He was born in the village of Bothale at Mirigama in the Gampaha District. Bothale means the village of the Bo sapling.

Dudley Senanayake: People's Prime Minister

Born on June 19, 1911, he was a brilliant, genuine and compassionate person. Incidentally June 19, 1911 was also Poson Poya and the day on which the land owned by the Senanayake family was ceremonially offered to the village temple.

Dudley Senanayake was the eldest son of the “Father of the Nation”  and Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, and Molly Senanayake. His younger brother was Robert Senanayake. Both of them studied at Mount Lavinia S. Thomas’ College, a leading Anglican school where his illustrious father D.S. Senanayake also studied from 1882 to 1902. All three of them, played cricket for the College.

Dudley became the Head Prefect, captained the college cricket team at the Royal-Thomian big match and gained colours in hockey, boxing and athletics. To pursue his higher education he joined Corpus Christi College at Cambridge to read for Natural Sciences. After his graduation, he was admitted to the Middle Temple as a barrister.

His most admirable trait was the quickness of perception. The way in which he was able to master a subject was outstanding and unbelievable.

After returning to Ceylon, Dudley was elected to the vacant seat of Dedigama as a member of the State Council while his father was Minister of Agriculture. He served as a back-bencher for 10 years. He succeeded his father as Minister of Agriculture in 1946 and held the post after Independence. He was serving as agriculture minister when his father died unexpectedly. Four days later, on March 26, 1952, to the surprise of many, Dudley was chosen as Prime Minister by Governor General Lord Soulbury over his cousin Sir John Kotelawala. He called a general election, which his United National Party won.

A year later, in 1953, the price of rice was raised and subsidies were cut. The government became unpopular. Dudley resigned as Prime Minister and left politics. This was because he had a sympathetic outlook and understood the issues affecting the ordinary people.

He returned to politics in 1957 after the UNP lost the general election. In March 1960, the UNP managed to form a government after the general elections and Dudley became Prime Minister again, but the coalition government collapsed and Dudley resigned as Prime Minister after only four months in office.  The general elections were held again but this time the UNP lost. Dudley became the Opposition Leader and later helped force early elections in 1965 by persuading 14 supporters of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to defect.

Agriculture projects

The Gal-Oya scheme, the country’s first multi-purpose project for the transition to mechanised agriculture, was Dudley’s brainchild. His unchallenged integrity ensured that there were no allegations of corruption levelled at him. Gal-Oya flowed where it had to flow and not into private companies.

He was a humble leader. Even when he was Prime Minister, he drove his little Triumph Herald. This is in contrast to today’s scenario, where those in power move about in luxury vehicles with security officials accompanying them and their families. Dudley had a great sense of vision and mission and shunned pomp and pageantry. His transparent honesty of purpose was the rich tapestry of his life. A modest man and a gentleman to his fingertips, he was an accomplished parliamentarian; his interventions in debates were studied and polished. The great man who was elected by the people taught a great lesson to politicians by resigning from the post of Prime Minister, the leadership of the UNP and politics altogether.

Dudley Senanayake served his longest term as Prime Minister from March 1965 to May 1970. His coalition government originally consisted of six other parties and included both Tamil and Sinhala nationalists. His government had been credited with reviving the country’s economy. However, his party was defeated in the 1970 elections. He remained active in politics until his death, which occurred after a brief illness on April 13, 1973.

Each time, Dudley formed a government, his priority and main commitment was to uplift agriculture as he believed that agriculture was the fundamental development drive for a country like Sri Lanka. He was a firm believer in democratic practices, free and fair elections, freedom of expression, respect for human rights and the independence of the Judiciary.

In economic policy, he believed in growth but not at the expense of social justice. He believed that if the poor were to participate in development, they had to be empowered first — the landless had to be given land and state assistance to become independent. Dudley was almost helpless when the plantations, the main lifeline of the country, were in serious decline. Then he struck upon the idea of reviving the economy through an upsurge in domestic agriculture. If agricultural colonisation schemes were D.S. Senanayake’s pet project, the cultivator’s Premier, Dudley Senanayake, revived the interest in domestic agriculture with the inauguration of the food production drive and the ‘green revolution’. He met with unexpected success in this regard and it can safely be said that Dudley’s food production drive in the late sixties was the most successful medium-term economic plan ever to be implemented in this country. Rice production alone doubled in just four years.

Like his father, Dudley believed that the nation’s wellbeing was linked to food security, and he travelled the length and breadth of Sri Lanka to provide the proper impetus to agriculture. The Mahaveli diversion scheme was a massive irrigation feat. It was inaugurated during his time with the foundation being laid for a reservoir in Polgolla.  But before its completion his government was defeated at the 1970 elections.

Anyone who knew or worked with Dudley would say he was a true liberal democrat, who would never tread any other path than the path of democracy through free and fair elections. He never made false promises to come to power.

Both he and his father, the late D.S. Senanayake, had always stood for a united country, where all our citizens were treated as equal citizens. This is what the very name of the United National Party stands for. Once, Tamil political leader V. Anandasangaree told a meeting that the country would not have faced the problems it had been burdened with, if the policies of DS and Dudley had been followed to the letter.

Dudley was an avowed believer that public funds should not be utilised for the private use of a public official. Throughout his tenure as Prime Minister, he resided at his private residence and insisted that expenses incurred in his private residence must he financed by his private funds. As Prime Minister, he once travelled to the United States and to the United Kingdom for medical reasons but the expenses incurred by him and his doctors who accompanied him, were met by his private funds.  The Prime Minister’s Secretary, Bradman Weerakoon, highlighted this and it is something that is unheard of today.

Dudley Senanayake was a devout Buddhist, but he believed that everyone should have the right to practise the religion of his choice in peace and freedom. That is true tolerance as preached by the Lord Buddha.

At the time of his death his personal bank account showed a balance of only a few hundred rupees.

When Dudley Senanayake passed away he was neither the ‘Prime Minister’ nor the ‘Leader of the Opposition’. He was only a Member of Parliament representing the Dedigama electorate, the electorate he represented throughout as a parliamentarian. Having lost the general elections of 1970, he declined to accept the post of the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ and decided to remain only as a Member of Parliament.

His untimely demise came as a shock to the nation. Hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life started pouring to Colombo to pay their last respects to this great man. Almost every house carried a white flag to express grief. According to the then Police Chief’s report, more than four and half millions people queued up for eight days and nights to pay their last respects and attend his funeral at the Independence Square. At the Battaramulla bazaar, a prominently displayed banner read, ‘Bath Dun Piyata Nivan Sepa Labewa’. It had been put up by the ‘Battaramulla Janathawa’. It was remarkable indeed that the people had sunk party differences to honour a great Ieader. Dudley Senanayake was arguably the foremost democratic leader this country has had since Independence.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!

Ranga Sri Peiris

Media Secretary – Senanayake Foundation

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.