28 May, 2022


A towering Figure In SL’s Political Firmament

By Premasara Epasinghe –

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.

Charismatic leader

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.

SWRD, Lord Soulbury and Dudley

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.

Fine debater

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    It’s really sad that the writer failed to include our loving leader Junius R. Jayawardena, the great Buddhist, among the greats..

    • 0

      JR was different in way.JR paved the way for the existing authoritarian Presidential system. Indo -Sri Lanka relations were worse during his period.

    • 0

      JR govt benefited greately from the profits of the SLFP land grab & prefered to keep them than give them back to the owners/developers of that plantation economy who were mostly UNPers (some friend/capitalist)

      He also grabbed 100 acres of the best coconut land for himself and son.

  • 0

    I didn’t know that you are becoming a political commentator too now! Anyhow well done for your wonderful report!

  • 0

    Noticing a tribute paid above to Phillip Gunawardene as an honest committed political leader in the past, I respectfully differ. Phillip Gunawardene is nothing but a Big Humbug. He is responsible for the utter distruction of the amity that existed in this country among the people. He brought in the Paddy Lands Act to create disharmony in the villages, to put the ande(tenant) cultivators against the landlords, although his Paddy Lands Act claimed that the tenant cultivator will be made king. The stock of the tenant cultivators remains same or worse as they have lost out on the goodwill of the owners. Then he brought in the Grama Sevakas to replace the old Village Headmen. Again it was an act to give the Youth recognition, to curry favour for the vote, thus spite the old respectable senior citizens. PG the Humbug along with Sewala Banda put this country back espousing the vernacular education denying opportunity to the Sinhalese youth to gain an English knowledge who are starving for employment and many have been sacrificed at the altar of ‘rebellion’ already. Banda educated all his children abroad, but this humbug could not do so as his children were too small then. Thereafter this great Boralugoda Weeraya, the Revolutionery, Anti Capitalist meekly accepted a Cabinet Portfolio under a Capitalist Govt. of the UNP. Thanks to Dudley Senanayake this Humbug managed to secure Scholarships for all his children under the Colombo Plan to eduacte them in the Eastern European Countries as the degrees were sure for his children being a Socialist. This he did for his children bending himself for the Capitalist UNP, but not for the masses in the country who had to study in the vernacular. These are the curses of these Humbugs, that the present generation are still paying.

    • 0

      I agree, this man was also very communal, vocal and changes colour from marxist to racist.
      Also, when his sister/niece Vivian married the other LSSP leader; Leslie Goonarwardne, his marxism and comradeship disappeared. Leslie was not only a quiet, decent man, who always won for the party, he was (with Colvin, NM) strongly against the Sinhala only Act. Boralugoda Marxist veeraya was confused with some communal theory not knowing Leslie’s ancestor was one of the Chiefs that signed the Malwana convention.
      (Additionally, the Panadura debate that attracted Col. Olcott and the resulting Buddist revival, education, independence, etc..was held between the Rankoth Viharaya gifted by some of his extended family, and the Methodist Church gifted by his doctor father).

  • 0

    Late Hon. Dudley Senanayeke was a through gentleman and also we saw him as an honest politician in Sri Lanka. We never saw a humble character like him after his departure and will never see someone of that forever with thanks to present leaders.

  • 0

    Dudley was a good man
    Father never approved his true love, a Tamil girl
    He was not in to rice-board policies or against free education to the masses, unlike the father

  • 0


Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.