Don Stephen Senanayake

Don Stephen Senanayake

Senanayake, Don Stephen, 1884-1952, prime minister (1947-52) of Ceylon (later Sri Lanka). He entered politics in 1922 and became a prominent leader before independence from Great Britain (1948), serving as minister of agriculture and lands (1931-47) and as leader of the council of state (1942-47). He was succeeded as prime minister by his son Dudley Senanayake, 1911-73, who had followed his father as minister of agriculture and lands (1947-52). Dudley Senanayake served three times as a right-of-center prime minister (1952-53, 1960, 1965-70) and led the opposition United National party in 1960-65.

Don Stephen Senanayake (October 20 188422 March 1952) was an independence activist who served as the first Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) from 1947 to 1952.

Early life

Born at Botale, Negombo to Mudaliyar Don Spater Senanayake and Dona Catherina Elizabeth Perera Gunasekera Senanayake. Brought up in a devout Buddhist family, he entered the Anglican school S. Thomas' College on his father's wishes, and converted to Christianity. He later converted to Buddhism. An intelligent student, he found work in the Surveyor General's Department, but left work as a superintended 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 Sinhalese Muslim Riots (known as the 1915 riots) and was faced the prospect of execution.


Senanayake played an active role in the independence movement first supporting his brother Fredrick Richard Senanayake and after his untimely death in 1926, D. S. took his place Legislative Council and lead the independence movement. In 1931 when he was elected to the State Council, and went on to become Minister of Agriculture and Lands. He combated 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 2 he was a member of the Ceylon war cabinet.

However, he resigned in 1946 from his cabinet post to fight for Ceylon's independence. That same year he founded the United National Party (UNP) by amalgamating three right-leaning pro-dominion parties, which is still one of the main political parties and perhaps the largest single party in Sri Lanka. In only a year he succeeded, and was elected as Ceylon's first Prime Minister in the general election held in 1947. He refused a knighthood, but maintained good relations with Britain and was a Privy Counsellor. 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 March 22 1952. He passed away shortly at the age of sixty-eight.


D.S Senanayake is respected by Sinhalese and some Muslims. However, Tamils were not happy with his citizenship laws that disenfanchised virtually all Tamils of recent Indian origin living in the central highlands. His bold agricultural plans and pro-Western policies, however, attracted 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 again from 1965 to 1970. Rukman Senanayake, one of his grandsons is a former cabinet minister, current member of parliament and chairman of the UNP.

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