By Premasara Epasinghe –
Dudley Senanayake’s 39th death anniversary
Dudley Senanayake, one of the most colourful politicians and a statesman, four times Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, passed away 39 years ago on April 13, 1973, New Year’s day, common to both Buddhists and Hindus. This great leader died at the age of 61. He was a towering figure in our political firmament. A man of impeccable integrity and honesty, his contribution to Sri Lanka was enormous and he was an outstanding leader.
There are many definitions on leadership, according to the Science of Management. Leading Marketing and Management authorities like Keneth Clark, John Gardener, James McGregor, Burns, Gary Yuke, Walter Climer etc, claim “Leadership is one of the most enduring human responsibilities. Leaders must have the craft, and vision to inspire action and empower others. Successful leaders, must be credible. If you do not believe in the messenger, you do not believe in the message. The first principle of leadership is its relationship between a leader and a follower. As Bill Bradley put it, leadership is unlocking people’s potential to become better”.
Dudley Senanayake possessed all these ingredients of a leader and unlocked the people’s potential for the betterment of the country. He was a Prime Minister of the people.
There were honest committed great political leaders in Sri Lanka, during Dudley’s era. The late Dr. N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. De Silva, Philip Gunawardene, Dr. S. A. Wickramasinghe, Peter Keuneman, D. A. Rajapaksa, D.S. Goonesekera, SWRD and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, W. Dahanayake, like Dudley Senenayake entered politics to serve the people.
These genuine politicians sacrificed their time, energy and wealth, for the welfare of the people. They were thorough gentlemen. They never accumulated wealth for generations, like some of the present day politicians do. For example, when Dudley and NM died they had a bank balance of less than Rs. 1,000 in their bank accounts. It’s an open secret.
Dudley Senanayake was a fine human being, kind and compassionate. He was a charismatic leader. He had the desire and empathy or ability to imagine and share another person’s feelings. A leader must have a following. He must build an effective team and be a good listener and a democrat. His astuteness as a parliamentarian was marvellous. He was quick to sense and grasp a situation while others were hesitant and groping. His quick-wittedness was remarkable.
What is leadership?
According to Prof. Kenneth Clark, it is an activity or set of activities, observable to others that occurs in a group, organization or institution involving a leader and followers, who willingly subscribe to a common purpose and work together to achieve them.
Harry S Truman, stated “Leadership is the ability to get men to do what they don’t like to do, and like it”.
John Harvey Jones expressed his sentiments about leadership qualities thus: “The prime characteristic detected in top leaders are toughness; demanding time; concentration; sheer grinding brain power.
In short, leadership is a dynamic personnel process. To be a leader one must have a following. Successful people or successful leaders are highly action oriented. The best example is our own dynamic President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who brought Sri Lanka under one parasol, crushing terrorist activities. His decisiveness, courage, analytical brain and strategies helped him to free the country from terrorism. Like Dudley Senanayake, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also a fine human being and a good listener. They are both charming personalities who are servants of the people.
Dudley was born on June 19, 1911, as the eldest son of that majestic personality, the late D. S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Ceylon and Mollie Dunuwille, of Botale Walauwa, Mirigama. His younger brother was the late Robert Senanayake. Both studied at the leading Anglican public school S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. His illustrious father was also a Thomian. They played cricket for the College and wore the prestigious CAP – Blue – Black and Blue.
Dudley Senanayake, after a brilliant all-round performance, proceeded to Corpus Christy College Cambridge University and returned from England in 1936. He took to politics following in the footsteps of his father D. S. Senanayake. He was elected to the State Council to represent the Dedigama constituency. He became the first Minister of Agriculture in Ceylon’s first Cabinet. After Independence in 1947, he has been the Prime Minister of Ceylon four times, a unique record. His political career at the tail end was not at all a bed of roses. The people loved him. He too loved his people and the country. It was unfortunate that this great leader in the last stages of his life died broken- hearted due to opposition from his own ‘party big wigs’. The very people he helped to climb the ladder, to gain their own personal ends opposed this compassionate leader.
This great leader took victory and defeat in his stride. Probably, this must be the ‘Transfer of Training’ he gained in the playing fields of S. Thomas’ College. His motto in life was in defeat – defiance; in victory-magnanimity; in peace – goodwill.
He was a devout Buddhist and a great social service worker.
Sincere – honest – charming
Dudley Senanayake was one of the significant political leaders of the 20th century. His greatest strength was his sincerity and personal charm. He was an eloquent speaker, good debater and successful orator. He never attacked an individual personally. He maintained close relationship with the great ‘Political Giants’, Opposition leaders such as, N. M., Colvin, Peter, Bernard, Dr. Wickramasinghe and Maithripala Senanayake. When Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the Prime Minister, she consulted Dudley, who was the Leader of the Opposition on important national issues. He always believed that politicians should be servants of the people, not vice versa.
When D. S. Senanayake became the first Prime Minister, the Governor General Sir Henry Moore invited him to form the country’s first Cabinet on September 24, 1947. In the 14 member Cabinet, Dudley Senanayake was Minister of Agriculture and Lands.
Even after D. S. Senanayake’s death, the UNP under the leadership of his son Dudley was able to muster a majority. However, in the long term, his resignation brought about a change in Sri Lankan politics. After D. S. Senanayake’s demise, Dudley Senanayake was appointed as Prime Minister. Immediately after his appointment he went to the country, to prevent any impression in the public that he reached the top through the back door. Dudley Senanayake secured a decisive majority in the House of Representatives.
His first premiership was dogged by ill-health. An attempt of Dudley’s government to reduce the subsidy on rice, created dissatisfaction among the public. In 1953, the Marxist parties organized a stoppage of work known as ‘Hartal’. These incidents, upset the ailing P. M. Dudley Senanayake, and he resigned. After withdrawing from public life for a brief period, Dudley Senanayake was again Prime Minister in 1960. His longest spell in office was during the years 1965 to 1970. The greatest talent a politician can have is the ability to convey sincerity. Dudley Senanayake possessed this quality in abundance.
Dudley was a radical, unlike his imposing father the late D. S. Senanayake. Dudley, had a modern outlook. He was well read, a fine debater, a witty, pleasant politician and a fine human being. He was a great democrat, a lover of nature and loved photography, driving and golf. His integrity of character and the probity of his public life were never in question. He is essentially a friendly person with a rich sense of humour. His sense of humour was inexhaustible.
A great Thomian sportsman, Prime Minister Dudley played golf. He loved driving. I quote a story to show what a fine human being Dudley was.
One day, when he was driving his ‘Triumph’, he was ‘copped’ for fast driving at Castle Street. He stopped the vehicle. When the constable saw the Prime Minister at the wheel, he apologized to him. The Prime Minister praised the young constable and said “I will not repeat this. You did your duty excellently. I appreciate it.” It shows the calibre of the great gentleman.
Dudley, who wore the proud ‘Blue Black Blazer’ as a member of the Thomian cricket team in the 1920s, loved his ‘alma-mater’. He was a die-hard Thomian. Therefore, I conclude this article with a quotation from S. Thomas’ Warden Buck (1896-1901) an all round sportsman and a sound scholar.
“You belong to one of the best schools in the world, a school with a tradition. Be proud to be a Thomian. Make the College proud of numbering you among its sons. You have learned the best lessons in the world at S. Thomas. I trust not only English, Classics and Mathematics, true manliness and truth, courage, purity and all those things that make a man a gentleman. Try never to forget them. Be men and gentlemen always”.
True to Warden Bucks’ words of wisdom, four times Prime Minister, the statesman was a gentleman par-excellence.