By Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne
Dudley Senanayakes’ 101st birth anniversary is on June 19th
The birth anniversary of the late Dudley Senanayake, is always tinged with nostalgia. It is inevitable, that the thoughts of those of us who knew him, should linger on all that he was and what he did during his lifetime. He was far above the usual norm of politician and was a statesman extraordinaire, even known as such, far beyond our shores.
As media headlines today reek of violence of one sort or another, of rape, of murder, of abductions; which all speak of a total breakdown of law and order, one is reminded time and time again, of the late Dudley and all he stood for.
All through his life, he was known to abhor violence, lies and, deceit. His schooling at S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, the discipline instilled at home and at school, the example of his father and his University life at Cambridge, all this combined with his skills as a sportsman, had ingrained in him, a respect for law and order, justice, freedom and fairplay. The other quality, which shone like a beacon right through his life, was his total loyalty to his party at all times, whether in or out of politics. The modern trend, of switching parties and loyalties at the drop of a hat with dazzling footwork, for perks and privileges, would have shocked and disturbed him immensely.
All his life, Dudley strove hard and long to achieve ethnic amity. He refused to believe in labels and categories. The air today is filled with divisive labels which seem to be designed to wound others. Dialogue today, has been replaced by name calling that is little related to truth. Loose talk and malice, in the arena of politics, reduces different issues to slogans, and stops us regarding others as worthwhile individuals. Dudley Senanayake, always held firm to the belief that all ethnic groups had similar hopes and dreams.
He knew that labels and categories often hide the truth; injure and wound, create fear and manipulate people. He did not believe in the loose talk that many politicians indulge in glibly today; words that make us suspicious of other nations, races and creeds, can create enemies and adversaries, which is why he refrained from such talk all his life. The great statesman that he was, he knew that any label or category that diminishes the worth of another also diminishes the worth of those who use such terms. He was a steadfast believer, that each one should be honoured, according to their own worth, not categorized, penalized or suspected because of their race or, creed. I quote speeches made by him in Parliament in this context.
“I am glad that circumstances have enabled me to form a National Government, which might have been denied me if I had obtained more seats. I am glad that I have been given the opportunity, I believe for the first time in this country, of making a sincere and genuine effort to solve the divisions among us racially. To those who say that they are genuinely and sincerely interested in the solution of those differences, I hope I will have their support. Our economy is in such a state that rapid development is the only cure. I believe—and you must agree with me–that no development can take place without the unity of the communities. I conclude with the hope that I may be the instrument of bringing the communities of Ceylon together.
“Let us cast all isms aside. I say that I and my Government whatever the ism, will seek the greatest good of the greatest number.”
He saw the good in all human beings and forgot the bad. His thinking, right through was that of a liberal democrat He believed in the importance, of the freedom of the individual; that each one be free to follow, whatever path he believed in. This was obvious even in the last year of his life, when a separate front was formed within the party. But I believe that although he tolerated this with his special brand of tolerance, he suffered within, because of his sensitivity, and that this was one of the reasons behind his fatal heart attack, leading to his untimely death.
Apart from those qualities mentioned above, Dudley believed strongly and firmly, in the advantages of an agricultural economy. He told the truth, rather than indulging in false promises, which would have been a surefire passport to popularity. Famed as a reluctant politician, he walked the straight path, never deviated from this route and never used power, to inflict pain on anyone.
His wit and humour, were unsurpassed in Parliament; although his fellow MPs at the time, on both sides of the House were political giants. They were in a class by themselves as speakers, most of them, educated at British Universities. Their standards, values and principles, were different to what one sees around us today. The speeches in Parliament in that era were outstanding, the use of language at its very best, unlike the low standards in speech and behaviour which frequently erupt in that most august assembly today. But even in this arena of political giants, Dudley outshone them all with his instant, off the cuff responses, wit and humour.
As a man, he lived a simple life; hated grandeur in any form whatsoever. He loved listening to music, reading, photography, driving his little Triumph Herald around, even as Prime Minister, and relaxing with his miniature dachshund, Pixie. His love for food is legendary, as is his appetite. He filled a room with his presence, his hearty laugh, his geniality and his charisma, added to his natural charm, which charmed both friends and opponents. He loved the good things of life, which all cultured people do, and never made a secret of it.
To me, the most important things about him, which I believe all leaders should possess, are his unchallenged integrity and his loyalty to his party. No allegations of dishonesty, ever slurred his name. No accusations of commissions, of missing state treasures, no hint of fraud or of amassing wealth.
His funeral remains today, an unprecedented event, by the vast mass of humanity which mourned his loss, with true sincerity and genuine sadness. Never in the history of our nation, have we seen, such a mass of people of all races, gathered together for a single purpose.
To those of us present through it all, it was a crowd, that rose above political affiliations and no crackers were lit at his death. One and all, the people of Sri Lanka seemed aware that they had lost a national treasure, and that our weeping nation would never, ever, be the same again. He lived all his life in his father’s house, never built mansions or purchased any abroad. Integrity is the greatest possession one can have and lives on even after death. Dudley Senanayake, lives on in the hearts and minds of people, because of this quality, and his loyalty to his party, ‘through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.
‘There is no God higher than truth’—–Mahatma Gandhi