|Tuesday, 5 November 2002|
Remembering the 'Father of the Nation'
by Wilfred M. Gunasekara
Fifty years ago, on March 22, 1952, we lost one of the chief architects of our country's freedom. If we join to do honour to his memory today, it is because the country must learn to cultivate, preserve and cherish the kind of leadership he gave it as the visible embodiment of the world's struggles and aspirations for independence.
He had his education at St. Thomas' College, then situated at Mutwal, where he excelled more as a sportsman than as a scholar. After a brief apprenticeship at the Surveyor-General's Department, an appropriate beginning for a man who spent the greater part of his life dealing with land problems, DS moved into politics through the Temperance Movement. Ref. R. D. Gunawardena, 'The Reform Movement and Political Organisations in Ceylon with special reference to Temperance Movement and Regional Association, 1900-1930 (unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Sri Lanka, Peradeniya, 1976), pp.14-73. When the 1915 riots broke out, the British rulers who considered this movement as an anti-government activity, jailed DS as one of the key leaders of the movement.
Every age fashions its own heroes. Time puts them to the test. Don Stephen Senanayake, a bit rugged man, often stood in his lifetime with his feet firmly planted in the soil. The years have not dinned his massive outline nor shaken the firmness of his stance.
DS was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee of Agriculture in the State Council in 1931 and thus became the First Minister of Agriculture.That was the time when a bag of Mutthu Samba was only Rs. 6.25. DS in his unfailing vision clearly realised that every bit of our requirements were imported from foreign countries. He visualised the tragedy that would overcome this country should a war break out in the rice-growing countries.
This prompted him to embark on his colonisation schemes in the dry malaria-stricken areas of this country. He cleared the jungles against all odds, restored the old tanks repaired ancient water channels and gradually the forest infested with wild animals gave away to flourishing paddy fields. He planned the building of the Senanayake Samudra the great man-made lake at Inginiyagala, then the Gal Oya. It is the largest tank that was ever built in Sri Lanka. In fact it is more than three times the largest tank that was ever built by a Sinhalese King in the past. He worked relentlessly to make Sri Lanka the "Granary of the East". His dream was to make the country self-sufficient in rice - a dream that was nearing reality under President J. R. Jayewardene's Government.
The most difficult phase of his political career was not over. That was in the crucial year that followed the grant of independence. He assumed the leadership of a free nation at a time when communal tension threatened the unity of the nation. It is a tribute to his practical commonsense and statesmanlike sagacity that within a year of his assumption of office as the prime minister, he was able to heal these differences and win the confidence of his adversaries.
He was not alone in his struggle. He met and associated with other stalwarts of freedom; giants in the cause of liberty and suffrage: Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, H. J. C. Pereira and E. J. Samarawickrema were some of the bold brave spirits who fostered the flame in this hardy man. From them he imbibed these qualities of wise statesmanship, the art of incisive analysis and penetrating vision.
Immediately after World War II, DS strove to gain independence for Sri Lanka. This he achieved without causing an upheaval or shedding a drop of blood. He created a new Nation with national unity and the birth of the United National Party was a result of his endeavours. It is not an exaggeration to say that no man had suffered more than he in the struggle for freedom. In fact his whole life was dedicated to the cause. The Europeans lowered our national flag five centuries ago and the Father of the Nation D. S. Senanayake made a European prince hoist it once again.
DS the Prime Minister was also our Foreign Minister. He therefore shaped his Foreign policy to preserve that freedom - when the British surrendered all power.
"I cannot accept the responsibility of being Minister of Defence unless I am provided with the means of defence" he declared in Parliament. "If we could not defend ourselves, the next best thing was to look for sincere friends who could", he added. He felt that the Commonwealth of Nations was the one organisation which would preserve the freedom of this country. He, therefore, put his heart and soul to promote the ideals of the Commonwealth. He did everything possible to promote friendship with other nations. He worked incessantly to preserve the peace of the world.
His speech at the Commonwealth of Nations in 1952 advocated the middle path. He said:
"My Government reiterates its firm faith in the democratic way of life in which the rule of the moral law holds sway, and in which, instead of force as the arbiter of international disputes mutual confidence and co-operation arise as a pre-requisite to peace.
In order to safeguard freedom and peace my Government will continue to maintain the closest relationship with all peace-loving nations, and especially with the other governments of the Commonwealth." When D. S. Senanayake, a keen horseman, fell off his horse whilst riding on Galle Face Green in the early hours of 20th March 1952, and never recovered, the Nation was plunged into mourning. A much-loved Prime Minister was no more.
Don Stephen Senanayake's mortal remains were cremated on 29th March 1952 at Independence Square, almost at the very spot where he received the gift of freedom for his country. On that occasion it was a Burgher poet Hilaire D. Jansz, then Editor-in-Chief of the "Ceylon Observer" whose poignant lines most aptly expressed the sorrow of a bereaved nation with these words:
"That mighty heart lay still, that mighty frame
Their guide, their guard, their father and their friend
On 20th October 2002 Sri Lanka celebrated the 118th birth anniversary of a great man - a man who now belongs to fame and freedom. The man who has grown immortal and whose tenacity of purpose, whose grit and determination, whose love of country and pure patriotism echoed deeply in his contemporary the late first President of Sri Lanka, J. R. Jayewardene.
Sri Lankans still remember Don Stephen Senanayake as the Father of the Nation, the great humanist who understood the aspirations of the people and worked for the uplift of the downtrodden.
The name of D. S. Senanayake will inevitably be enshrined not merely in granite and bronze, but in the hearts and minds of our people whom he loved and whom he tried to serve throughout his long and eventful life.
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