D. S. Senanayake

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The Right Honourable
D. S. Senanayake
Official Photographic Portrait of Don Stephen Senanayaka (1884-1952).jpg
D. S. Senanayake
Prime Minister of Ceylon
In office
24 September 1947[1] – 22 March 1952[1]
Monarch George VI
Elizabeth II
Preceded by Post Created
Succeeded by Dudley Senanayake
Leader of the House
In office
2 December 1942 – 4 July 1947
Preceded by Don Baron Jayatilaka
Succeeded by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike
Minister of Agriculture and Lands
In office
Preceded by Post Created
Succeeded by Dudley Senanayake
Member of the Ceylon Parliament
for Mirigama
In office
20 September 1947 – 22 March 1952
Succeeded by John Edmund Amaratunga
Personal details
Born (1883-10-20)20 October 1883
Botale, Mirigama, British Ceylon
Died 22 March 1952(1952-03-22) (aged 68)
Colombo, Dominion of Ceylon
Nationality Ceylonese
Political party United National Party
Spouse(s) Molly Dunuwila[2]
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Don Stephen Senanayake, PC (Sinhala: දොන් ස්ටීවන් සේනානායක; 20 October 1883 – 22 March 1952) was the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. He emerged as the leader of the Sri Lankan independence movement that lead to the establishment of self-rule in Sri Lanka. He served as Prime Minister from the formation of an independent nation in 1948 until he died in office in 1952. He is considered as the "Father of the Nation".[3]

Early life[edit]

D. S. Senanayake, with brother-in-law F. H. Dias-Bandaranaike, brothers Don Charles and Fredrick Richard, sister Maria Frances, father Mudaliyar Don Spater, and mother Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera

He was born in the village of Botale.[4] He was the son of Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake (1847–1907) and Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera Senanayake (1852–1949). He had two bothers; Don Charles "D.C." Senanayake, Fredric Richard "F. R." Senanayake and one sister Maria Frances Senanayake.[3]

Brought up in a devout Buddhist family, he entered the prestigious Anglican school S. Thomas' College, Mutwal.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

After completing schooling, he worked as a clerk in the Surveyor General's Department, but left work as a planter on his father's rubber plantation.[11]

Political career[edit]

Entry in to politics[edit]

The three Senanayake brothers – Don Charles, Fredrick Richard and Don Stephen were involved in the temperance movement formed in 1912. When World War I broke out in 1914 he joined the Colombo Town Guard, however he and his brothers were imprisoned without charges during the 1915 riots and faced the prospect of execution since the British Governor Sir Robert Chalmers considered the temperance movement as seditious. The brutal suppression of the riots by the British initiated the modern independence movement lead by the educated middle class. Don Stephen and Don Charles were prominent members of the Lanka Mahajana Sabha. Fredrick Richard and Don Charles heavily financed and tirelessly worked for the Y.M.B.A. Senanayake played an active role in the independence movement, first supporting his brother Fredrick Richard. After Fredrick Richard's death, led the independence movement.

Legislative Council[edit]

Fredrick Richard died while on a pilgrimage to Buddha Gaya in 1925, and Don Charles, who was known to be the man behind the scenes, shunned the limelight. Thus, D.S. took his brothers seat in the Legislative Council of Ceylon and entered mainstream politics.

State Council of Ceylon[edit]

Ministers of the Second State Council of Ceylon with the Speaker in 1936

In 1931 he was elected to the newly formed State Council of Ceylon, and went on to become Minister of Agriculture and Lands. He combated Ceylon's agricultural problems effectively, and established the Land Development Ordinance, an agricultural policy that countered Ceylon's rice problems. This policy earned him respect, and he continued to be a minister for fifteen years having been reelected in 1936. He also enforced "Agricultural Modernisation", which increased production output.

World war II[edit]

With the on set of World War II in the far east, on December 1 1941 a Civil Defense Department was formed with Oliver Goonetilleke who was the Auditor General at the time being appointed as Civil Defence Commissioner. Dr Ivor Jennings, Principle of the Ceylon University College was appointed Deputy Civil Defence Commissioner. D. S. Senanayake as the Minister of Agriculture and Lands as well as a member of the Ceylon war cabinet began to work closely with Civil Defense Department in particular with Goonetilleke and Jennings in terms of food supply and control. This lead to the development of a close relationship between D. S. and Jennings, as a result an expert on constitutional law Jennings became D. S.'s adviser on constitutional reforms aimed at gaining independence to the island.[12]

Struggle for independence[edit]

In December 1942, Senanayake became the Leader of the House and Vice Chairman of the Board of Ministers in the State Council, upon the retirement of Sir Baron Jayatilaka, Minister of Home Affairs. In May 1943, the British home government passed the Declaration of 1943, which enabled the Ministers submit submissions for constitutional changes. This by passed the Governor, who called for a commission from the colonial office halting the activities of the ministers. In 1944, the Soulbury Commission was formed. Senanayake approached the commission members carefully and they accepted the Ministers submissions publishing these in the Sessional Paper XIV of 1944. In 1945, he proceed to London, following the labor win in the 1945 general elections, he met the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies, George Hall. Senanayake submissions were accepted and the home government was willing to grant self-government short of independence. He resigned in 1946 as Minister to push for full independence, that year he formed the United National Party (UNP) by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-Dominion parties.[12]

With the granting of independence to India in 1947 and the appointment of Sir Arthur Creech-Jones as Colonial Secretary, gave a new window for Senanayake to push for his case using the new constitution that was recommended by the Soulbury Commission. In the negotiations that followed, the home government accepted Senanayake changes to the constitutional changes for independence and parliamentary elections were lead in from August 23 to September 20, 1947. The "Independence Bill of Ceylon" was passed in December of 1947, on 11 December 1947, Senanayake signed agreements with Britain including a defense pact that paved the way for independence of Ceylon. Senanayake's UNP fell short of a majority at the general election, but was able to form a government in coalition with the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and he became the Ceylon's first Prime Minister. On 4 February 1948, Ceylon marked it gain of independence from British rule with the ceremonial opening of parliament.[13][12]


D. S. Senanayake as Prime Minister with his Cabinet

With his accession, Senanayake began the process of establishing institutions needed for an independent state. Most domestic institution existed, however Ceylon was depended on British for triad, defense and external affairs. He turned down a knighthood, but maintained good relations with Britain and was a appointed to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 1950.[14] He boldly made plans to spread out the population, and his Gal Oya scheme relocated over 250,000 people. He healed the ministry of defense and external affairs, he also assumed the ministry of health and local government in 1951. He obtained of the Commonwealth membership, launch of the Colombo plan and the commencement of diplomatic relations with several other countries. The renovation of sites with historical importance in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa also took place during this time period.

D. S. Senanayake visiting the 1st battalion of the CLI at the Echelon Square
D. S. Senanayake laying the foundation stone of Poramadulla Central College


His other plans included the increase of hydroelectric power, but he suffered a stroke and fell down whilst riding the Police mare ‘Chitra’ at the Galle Face Green on the morning of 22 March 1952.[15] He died at the age of sixty-eight.


D. S. Senanayake is respected by Sinhalese and some Muslims. However, Tamils were not happy with his citizenship laws, which disenfranchised virtually all Tamils of recent Indian origin living in the central highlands. His bold agricultural plans and pro-Western policies drew criticism for their modern and untraditional nature. Under his family's leadership, Sri Lanka's economy flourished, and D.S. Senanayake is still known as "The Father of Sri Lanka".


D. S. Senanayake married Molly Dunuwila, with whom he had two sons, Dudley Shelton Senanayake (19 June 1911 – 13 April 1973) and Robert Parakrama Senanayake (8 April 1913 - 26 April 1986). His eldest son, Dudley Shelton Senanayake, succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1952, followed by another relative, Sir John Kotelawala (1897–1980) in 1953, but this nine-year family dynasty was ended by a landslide victory for Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1956, campaigning under the "Sinhala Only" slogan. Dudley Senanayake regained the Prime Ministership in 1960, and served again from 1965 to 1970. Rukman Senanayake, one of his grandsons, is a former cabinet minister, former chairman of the UNP, current member of parliament, and Assistant Leader of the UNP.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Prime Minister of Ceylon
Succeeded by
Dudley Senanayake