D. S. Senanayake

D. S. Senanayake, (born Oct. 20, 1884, Colombo, Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]—died March 22, 1952, Colombo), first prime minister of Ceylon (1947–52) when the country became independent of Great Britain.
Don Stephen Senanayake respected as the ‘Father of the Nation’, was the first Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) post independence. He is remembered for his leadership in the peaceful political movement aimed at achieving independence from the British. On February 4, 1948, the nation was granted self-rule as the Dominion of Ceylon. Senanayake became the first Prime Minister of independent Ceylon in 1948 and held the office till his death. Prior to premiership, he was elected to the Legislative Council of Ceylon. He represented the ‘Ceylon National Congress’ in the newly created ‘State Council of Ceylon’ and later served as the Minister of Agriculture and Lands. He initiated ‘Land Development Ordinance’ that aided at cultivation of barren lands by implementing various irrigation schemes. He made efforts to modernise agriculture and also stressed on developing cooperatives. He played an instrumental role in effecting many leading hydro-power and irrigation projects such as ‘Gal-Oya’, ‘Inginiyagala’ and ‘Udawalawa’. He later left ‘Ceylon National Congress’ and founded the ‘Union National Party’ (‘UNP’). He was respected as a Prime Minister by all communities including the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.

Childhood & Early Life

He was born on October 20, 1884, in a village called Botale in the Western Province, Sri Lanka. He belonged to a devoted Buddhist family of Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake and Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera Senanayake as one of their four children.
He had two brothers, Fredric Richard Senanayake and Don Charles Senanayake and one sister, Maria Frances Senanayake.
He completed his education from the renowned private Anglican boys school ‘S. Thomas’ College’ in Mutwal.
Thereafter he joined the Surveyor General’s Department as a clerk. Later he left the job to join his father’s rubber plantation.

World War II

At the onset of World War II in the far east, on 1 December 1941 a Civil Defence Department was formed with Oliver Goonetilleke as Commissioner. D. S. Senanayake, as Minister of Agriculture and Lands and a member of the Ceylon war cabinet took an active role in food supply and control. A close relationship developed between Senanayake and the deputy commissioner Dr Ivor Jennings, principal of the Ceylon University College. Jennings, an expert on constitutional law, subsequently became D. S’s adviser on constitutional reforms aimed at gaining independence for the island.


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 he is still known as “The Father of Sri Lanka”.
Statues of D. S. Senanayake have been erected in many parts of the island, including one at the Independence Memorial Hall and at the Old Parliament Building, Colombo. The lake created by the Gal Oya Dam has been named as the Senanayake Samudraya after him. Many schools, libraries and public buildings have been named in his honor and the Rt Hon D S Senanayake Memorial Shield is awarded at the Royal–Thomian in which he played for S. Thomas’ in 1901 and 1902.
Struggle for independence
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.On 26 May 1943, the British Government made the Whitehall Declaration of 1943 on Ceylon constitutional change, which enabled ministers to make submissions. This bypassed the Governor, who called for a commission from the colonial office to halt the activities of the ministers. Senanayake resigned from the National Congress disagreeing with its resolution on independence and instead approached the commission with his proposal of dominion status and they accepted the ministers’ submissions, publishing these in the Sessional Paper XIV of 1944.In 1944, the Soulbury Commission was formed. In 1945, following Labour’s win in the 1945 general election, he proceeded to London and met the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies, George Hall. Senanayake’s submissions were accepted, resulting in self-government short of independence for Ceylon. He resigned his ministry in 1946 to push for full independence. That year he formed the United National Party (UNP) by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-Dominion parties.
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 British government accepted Senanayake’s proposals for constitutional change and independence. parliamentary elections were held from 23 August – 20 September 1947. The “Independence Bill of Ceylon” was passed in December 1947. On 11 December 1947, Senanayake signed agreements with Britain including a defence 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 its independence with a ceremonial opening of parliament.

Political activism

The three Senanayake brothers were involved in the temperance movement formed in 1912. When World War I broke out in 1914 they joined the Colombo Town Guard. The 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. Brutal suppression of the riots by the British initiated the modern independence movement led by the educated middle class. Don Stephen and Don Charles were prominent members of the political party Lanka Mahajana Sabha. Fredrick Richard and Don Charles were committed supporters of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association. D. S. Senanayake played an active role in the independence movement, initially in support of his brother Fredrick Richard.


Senanayake’s proposals included expansion of hydro-electric power but, at the age of 68, he suffered a stroke and collapsed whilst riding at the Galle Face Green on the morning of 22 March 1952.

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