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
Minister of Defence & External Affairs
In office
24 September 1947 – 22 March 1952
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 (Sinhala: දොන් ස්ටීවන් සේනානායක; 20 October 1883 – 22 March 1952) was an independence activist who served as the first Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1947 to 1952.

Early life[edit]

He was born in the village of Botale.[3] He was the son of Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake (1847–1907) and Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera Senanayake (1852–1949). Brought up in a devout Buddhist family, he entered the prestigious Anglican school S. Thomas' College, Mutwal.[4][5][6][7][8][9] Though an intelligent student, at school Senanayake did not excel. The education which he had with Warden Buck and subsequently with Warden Stone nurtured his inherent qualities which were reflected in later life. He was witness to Buck’s famous farewell speech: "You have learned the best lessons from STC (St. Thomas’s College)... true manliness and truth, courage, purity and all those things that make a man a gentleman..." The college had inculcated a self-confidence to this sturdy villager from Botale, which enabled him to deal with statesmen of the highest intellectual levels and to be admired by them for his intrinsic noble and decent character traits.


D. S. Senanayake laying the foundation stone of Poramadulla Central College

The three Senanayake brothers – Don Charles, Fredrick Richard and Don Stephen – were all heavily involved in politics. 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. 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, the direct involvement in politics and affairs of the state fell upon Don Stephen's shoulders. He found work in the Surveyor General's Department, but left work as a superintendent on his father's plantation. When World War I broke out in 1914 he joined the Colombo Town Guard, however he was imprisoned without charges during the 1915 riots and faced the prospect of execution.

Senanayake played an active role in the independence movement, first supporting his brother Fredrick Richard. After Fredrick Richard's death, Don Stephen took his place on the Legislative Council and led the independence movement. In 1931 he was elected to the State Council, and went on to become Minister of Agriculture and Lands. He combatted Ceylon's agricultural problems effectively, and established the LDO, an agricultural policy that countered Ceylon's rice problems. This policy earned him respect, and he continued to be a minister for fifteen years. He also enforced "Agricultural Modernisation", which increased production output. During World War II he was a member of the Ceylon war cabinet.

He resigned in 1946 from his cabinet post to fight for Ceylon's independence. That year he founded the United National Party (UNP) by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-Dominion parties. In only a year he succeeded, and was elected as Ceylon's first Prime Minister in the general election held in 1947.[10] He refused a knighthood, but maintained good relations with Britain and was a Privy Councillor. He boldly made plans to spread out the population, and his Gal Oya scheme relocated over 250,000 people.


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.[11] He died at the age of sixty-eight.

D. S. Senanayake as Prime Minister with his Cabinet
D. S. Senanayake visiting the 1st battalion of the CLI at the Echelon Square


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]

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


External links[edit]

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