A tribute to Maithripala Senanayake who reaches 50 years of political life on September 13
That alliterative phrase Raja Rata is the name of the birthplace of Maithripala Senanayake. He comes from the royal territory where reigned great monarchs such as Devanampiyatissa and Dutugemunu. Maithripala Senanayake, as his first name suggests is the young man from the North Central Province with that virtue immortalized in the Buddhist Scriptures as loving kindness.
Maithripala Senanayake came from a respected middle class family owning land and paddy fields in the Kunchuttu Korale in Medawachchiya Electorate. Young Maithripala chose to be a Cultivation Officer at Medawachchiya, a backward village in those days which today is one of those borderline areas where Prabhakaran's Tiger threats loom large.
Born during the first World War on July 17th, 1916, at Kiulekada in Kunchuttu Korale, Maithripala grew up to be so popular in the area that when D.S. Senanayake was on the lookout for a young man to contest the Medawachchiya seat, one of his talent scouts reported to him that there was an immensely popular cultivation officer who would certainly win the seat. That was in 1947 when then Ceylon held its first parliamentary elections.
Maitripala did not come from any of those elite schools such as Royal, Trinity or St. Thomas'. He first studied at St. Joseph's College, Anuradhapura, and later at St. John's Jaffna, where he attained a mastery in the Tamil Language and ended up at Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo. When Maitripala entered Parliament in those restless forties in the full flush of freedom and parliamentary government he did not for a moment think that he would be anchored to parliament for almost half a century . A quiet man with a winsome way about him, success came without effort. Power sat lightly on him. When D.S. Senanayake picked his Cabinet in 1952 he did not hesitate to give a place for the promising young man from Raja Rata, Maithripala Senanayake was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
That was verily the turning point in his life. A man of the people with his feet firmly planted in the soil, the new Junior Minister just could not resist reacting against a government which flouted Queensbury rules. When in September, 1952, the UNP government increased the price of rice and sugar, Maithripala Senanayake submitted his resignation not only from the post he held, but also from the UNP, to Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake. At the following General Election, he retained the Medawachchiya seat as an Independent.
Then followed those momentous years when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was biding his time after he had resigned from the UNP and making plans for the future with his nascent Sri Lanka Freedom Party. And looking around for smart young men for his team, he offered a place to Maithripala Senanayake, who was then an Independent MP in Parliament. That was the beginning of his career in the SLFP, which has been marked by resilience and determination unmatched.
This unique man of many summers has held many portfolios and created many records that enumerating them might well be tantamount to another feat of endurance. Mention a number of major operations or projects undertaken in both the Bandaranaike eras and Maithripala was there. Some of them are the Ceylonization of Industries, the complete takeover of the internal Petroleum distribution system, completing the second stage of the nationalization of the petroleum industry by the late T.B. Illangaratna, the establishment of the Steel Corporation, Flour Milling Corp., the Tyre Corp., the State Engineering Corp., the State Construction and Development Corp., the establishment of Laksala where rural folks could market traditional arts and crafts, and a host of other state enterprises.
A Parliamentarian of eminence, he has been Leader of the House, Chief Government Whip, and Deputy Leader of the Opposition at various times. In the realm of Foreign Affairs, Maithripala Senanayake has also played a role. When the then Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was President of the Non-aligned Movement, he led the Sri Lanka delegation to the Non-aligned Conference held in Colombo.
A difficult question to answer is which other politician in any part of the world has been Acting Prime Minister 19 times and capped it all as the Governor of his home province. Not since the late H.R. Freeman, the former British Government Agent who made Anuradhapura his home and spent every cent of his earnings on the peasants of the NCP has a personality been so loved and respected as Maithripala Senanayake still is.
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