By Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne
The hundredth birth anniversary of this great statesman falls on the 19th of June this year. We should look beyond politics to honour him as a National figure of significance. It is indeed a pity, than in our country, political barriers prevent honour beng given to those who deserve it. A respected political writer, during Dudleys lifetime wrote ‘how many know the qualities he possessed of head and heart which were rarer than one in a million.’ The late Dudley Senanayake, as a statesman and as a man, was not made of common stuff.
We live today in a land of paradox – dirt of one sort or another, dust and crystal clarity. Noise, tumult, violence side by side; with the Buddha’s message of peace and tranquility. As one watches from the sidelines, one sometimes feels as if it is part of an ancient ritual, of which one has no knowledge and can never comprehend.
As we look back in retrospect at the life of Dudley Senanayake, those of us who were privileged to know him; are aware that the things which mattered most to him, as a statesman were ethnic amity, his unwavering belief in an agricultural economy and law and order. He strove hard and long through the curves and junctions of his life on all three counts. He believed in telling people the truth rather than in false promises which are inevitably, a surefire passport to popularity .I’m glad that the present UNP Leader is following Dudley in this and in his high standards of integrity.
The word ‘politics’ is derived from the Latin ‘politicus’ and the Greek ‘politikos’; both of which mean; belonging to the people. Dudley Senanayake was a man who truly belonged to the people. Although a reluctant politician, he sensed the true gait of politics, and never strayed from the straight path. Although the ordeal of war is long over, the experience of suffering to millions, death and loss of loved ones to others, are like the aftershock of an earthquake. Reconciliation and unity are still a dream; celebrations go on with unprecedented grandeur, but the root of the problem lies unsolved. Dudley Senanayake did not believe in grandeur in any form whatsoever. He enjoyed the finer things of life but lived a simple life. Even as Prime Minister, he would be seen driving his little Triumph Herald around. Politicians of all hues, in much less important positions travel in luxurious vehicles today, causing chaos on the roads with their security vehicles. Photography, music and reading were his hobbies and he was happy with them and his little dog, Pixie. Although educated at Cambridge and a reluctant politician, he was able to travel the rough road of politics with distinction. If we had continued with his agricultural economy, we would have been self sufficient in rice by now. He wanted to free people from poverty, which is a kind of enclosure; and lead them to unity, economic independence and freedom. He did not indulge in revenge, imprisoning opponents behind bars. He didn’t believe in inflicting pain on the innocent, or even on those who did wrong; and was totally against bloodshed and mayhem. His gentle, amiable manner and sharp inquisitive mind, shied away from the endless charades of politics, practised by those jockeying for power and positions before their time. To him, the taking of a human life, under any circumstances whatsoever, was an act of murder which he would not condone.
Law and order were priorities to Dudley Senanayake. He thought of it as the cement that held everything together; and the only thing we could cling to when we reach the final line. He would hate to see the lack of law and order prevalent today in every nook and corner of the country that he loved so much. He was an excellent speaker in Parliament, on political and other platforms; and could hold his own among the shining array of stars that were his peers in Parliament at that time. That was undoubtedly the creme a la crème of Sri Lankan Parliaments. Dr N.M. Perera, Dr Colvin.R. de Silva, Philip and Robert Goonewardene, Dr S.A. Wickremesinghe, Pieter Keuneman; all of them educated at British Universities. Deeply instilled in them were qualities of justice and fairplay. Arguments, there were in abundance; but all in good spirit and they were the best of friends both in and out of Parliament. Dudleys hearty laugh, wit, humour and powerful voice are legendary in Sri Lankas parliamentary history. He would be devastated to see the low standards of behaviour, in this most august assembly; sunk to the lowest levels ever, now.
A beacon of light, throughout his political life was his loyalty to his party. Even when he resigned, caused by enemy orchestration resulting in circumstances beyond his control, he refused to join or support another party. This was in spite of being offered the choice of any office that he chose. Whether in or out of the party, or as a backbencher, he never hurled abuse or attacked those who had succeeded him as Leaders of the UNP. These are good lessons for those who do so today, causing disunity and chaos. This and his integrity are to me his outstanding qualities; which I think any Leader should possess. In today’s context of people crossing the floor, and accepting office for perks and privileges; his is an example that any young aspiring young politician should attempt to follow. This is the only way one can command respect in life and after it. Just before his death, he was heartbroken by sections being formed within the party which caused discord and strife.
My father, who was at St Thomas’s at the same time, my paternal uncle Harry, who was his classmate, my maternal uncle, the late Bishop Lakdasa de Mel and my late husband, to whom he was a role model and political mentor, all admired and respected the late Dudley, like they did no other. He was to them an exemplary Statesman; perhaps too fine a gentleman for politics and one who commanded great respect, nationally and internationally. I got to know him well, after my marriage, but I count it as the greatest privilege of my life to have had this opportunity as any conversation with him was an education. There were absolutely no allegations of dishonesty thrown at him; be it commissions, missing state treasures or any hint of fraud or amassing wealth. He was never self seeking and power obsessed, always full of innate kindness and a love for humanity. His funeral was a testament to these qualities.
Never in the Nation’s history, had such a vast mass of humanity, gathered together on a single day, for a single purpose. They came from all over the country, irrespective of political affiliations, weeping openly, no crackers were lit at his death. The people seemed aware that they had lost a rare national treasure; there would never be another quite like him. This is why he still remains a political icon today, unsurpassed in Honour and Integrity; words which have unfortunately, lost their meaning today. Our country is now a Paradise lost through greed, limitless ambition and false pride. Will we ever regain it? That is the question; it appears to me, to be a conundrum without a solution.