The following excerpt was adapted from the official biography of late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayaka, published by the Senanayake Foundation and Sarasavi Publishers. Dudley Senanayake was known as “the reluctant politician.” It was never his intention to pursue public office immense pressure brought on him by friends and relatives forced him to enter public life. He entered into politics at the age of 24 years and became four times prime minister of Ceylon (Sir Lanka) during the 37 years of his political career. He is perhaps the only leader in recent history who voluntarily gave up power when one was at one’s peak, and perhaps the only ex-leader to be persuaded back to revive the flagging fortunes of one’s party.
Dudley Senanayake, the second Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, the man who led his party to a resounding victory at the 1952 General Election, for the first time obtaining a two-thirds majority in Parliament, resigned from the post of Prime Minister on 12th October 1953 and handed the reins to Sir John Kotelawala. This was the first and the only time a head of State has renounced power in Independent Sri Lanka. The only other parallel in our long recorded history is the renunciation of the kingdom by King Siri-Sangabo whose name transpires at the commencement of this book. Just one and half years after being elected as the head of the Government, Dudley resigned as Prime Minister and chose to remain as a backbencher until the Parliament was dissolved in 1956. Citing ill-health, he issued a statement pleading with the Nation to release him from his responsibilities. In his statement he stated,
“I have endeavoured to fulfil the heavy responsibilities of the important charge entrusted to my care with all the conscientiousness that is possible to a human being and it is the same spirit of conscientiousness which makes me feel now that at a trying time like the present there should be at the helm of affairs a person unhampered by any ailment such as has dogged me in recent months.
It is exactly 18 months since having scarcely recovered from the shock of the sudden loss of my father, I yielded not without hesitation to the persuasion of my colleagues in the Cabinet in the Parliamentary Party to undertake to carry on the work from where my father left it. Almost immediately thereafter I decided to dissolve Parliament and go to the country for a clear mandate. Though the result was most gratifying, the effort which I had to put into it left little room for any recovery from the earlier strain.”
He went on to say,
“The ‘unexpected misfortune of my not being able to continue to share in the service of my Motherland in an important capacity I must bear as best as I can. But I take my leave of you with firm faith that our Party and our new Government will work in unison for the welfare and happiness of Sri Lanka”
Plagued with illness and intrigue all Dudley wished was to lead a quiet life. There were also rumours that Dudley was going to become a Buddhist monk, but it was never to be. Even though he wanted to give up politics permanently, little did he realize that in a few years’ time he would lead his party once again like a colossus dominating the entire political arena.
RE-ENTRY TO POLITICS
The General Election of 1956 witnessed the debacle of the United National Party. The Party that held a two-thirds majority in Parliament was reduced to a mere 8 seats. Sir John’s leadership was clearly rejected by the masses and the U.N.P. was beaten to a pulp. Unable to fathom this pathetic performance, the elders of the U.N.P. were looking for ways and means to repair the damage done to the Party. J.R.Jayawardene who was considered the deputy lost his own seat. He was contested by R.G.Senanayake, one of his erstwhile colleagues, who left the U.N.P. to contest as an independent and was successful in winning not only his own seat in Dambadeniya but also defeating J.R.Jayawardene in Kelaniya and in both instances by huge majorities. The United National Party could not even become the largest party in Opposition. Dr. N.M.Perera, the leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, became the Leader of the Opposition.
Most people began to say and the U.N.P. itself began to think that the Party was finished politically. In sheer desperation, the elders of the U.N.P. decided to ask Dudley Senanayake to lead the Party again. After much persuasion, Dudley consented to lead the Party on condition that Sir John resigns from all positions held by him. Although many compromises were forwarded, Dudley rejected them all. Finally, Sir John stepped down and Dudley Senanayake found himself leading the U.N.P. once again.
S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, who won the general election of 1956 and became Prime Minister, was assassinated in 1959 and one of his Ministers W.Dahanayake succeeded him.
However, after numerous cabinet reshuffles and being unable to command the majority in Parliament, the Prime Minister dissolved Parliament and held a general election in March 1960.
The United National Party was led by Dudley Senanayake and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was led by C.P.De Silva, the deputy of late Mr. Bandaranaike. The incumbent Prime Minister W.Dahanayake contested from his own party, the Lanka Prajatantravadi Pakshaya and not only did he lose the election but also lost his own seat — Galle. The U.N.P. became the largest Party in Parliament winning 50 out of 151 seats in Parliament. Dudley in the absence of an overall majority formed a caretaker government in March 1960 and became Prime Minister for the third time.
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