Jennings’ Preface

Soon after Ceylon attained Independence in February 1948, there was a discussion in University of Ceylon about the need for more books, especially source books, on Ceylon History, and several of us agreed to start writing. My task was to cover the transition from the Donoughmore Constitution[1] to Independence. This task necessary fell into two parts. The first covered the period from 1931 to 1943, of which I had no personal knowledge. After making the attempt, I found that I could not improve on the first six chapters of the Soulbury Report[2], which are therefore reprinted with a few notes[3]. The second part covered the period from 1945 to 1948, during which I was advising the late Mr D.S. Senanayake[4]. Though this second part would be based on, and would contain extracts from, the published documents, the material would have to be seen together with a personal narrative, which it seemed desirable to write forthwith, while the events were fresh in my memory. This personal narrative was completed late in 1948 and has merely been edited since.[5] Publication was delayed because the events which it described were matters of political controversy in which I did not wish to be involved. No doubt there is still material which can be used as political ammunition, but that is true of all history.

My aim has been to give the Ceylonese reader the material needed for the study of recent constitutional history, though I have also kept in mind the reader abroad to whom the background and the personalities are unfamiliar. The narrative is based almost entirely on published and unpublished documents, including contemporary notes of my own.  It is, so far as I know, accurate. It does not, however, contain the whole truth because there are aspects of the story unknown to me. Though I have tried to keep autobiographical material to a minimum, the narrative describes events in which I took part or which I saw going on around me. Most of the documents referred to were addressed to or by Mr D.S. Senanayake. There were, however, other events and other documents unknown to me, or known vaguely. There were discussions outside Union Place of which, at best, Mr Senanayake gave only a bare outline. There were discussions involving the Commander–in–Chief, the Governor and the Officers of State which were unknown to us. There must have been a lengthy correspondence between Colombo and London whose contents are not likely to be disclosed for a generation.[6] There will be a file in the Colonial Office which would clear up many obscurities. When this material becomes available to the historian he will be able to provide a narrative which will be not only more complete but also more balanced. Even so, it is better to base history on incomplete material than on legends, and in the past six years the legends have grown.  Moreover the future historian will need my narrative even though all documents will be in the University Library. It is therefore inevitable that some autobiography is included, but at the same time it is necessary to warn the reader that the study is incomplete and out of balance. This is not constitutional history but a contribution towards constitutional history.

Mr Senanayake’s stature as a statesman will be evident from the narrative. What distinguished him was the degree to which he possessed that identifiable quality known as “judgement”. He could take a decision on a most complicated and difficult issue at a moment’s notice.  He rarely asked for memoranda. He liked to have a problem explained orally, and even then he needed no lengthy lecture. He was concerned with principles and not with details; and, being no orator, he never fell into the politician’s temptation of thinking that a problem could be solved by a speech. Those of us who have had a lengthy academic education dislike taking decisions until we get the problem into writing. With Mr Senanayake the opposite process was necessary. Most of the documents referred to in this book were read to him. He followed extremely closely and picked immediately on any point which seemed to him to be dangerous or any expression which might be misunderstood. “ ‘s a matter of fact”, he would remark, or “I mean t’ say” – and then a change was necessary for, even if explanation satisfied him that the point was good, the fact that he disliked it on first reading was a sufficient indication that a different mode of expression had to be used. If he grunted– an expression half–way between a slovenly Sinhalese “yes” and a slovenly English “yes” – all was well.

Though none of his advisers has the slightest difficulty in accepting his judgment, there were times when we thought him wrong. Then we never hesitated to say so. One of the advantages of the “Reforms Ministry”, as we were sometimes called, was that we were such senior and indeed independent people that we simply would not accept a decision merely because he took it. “No, Sir”, one of us would say, “You can’t do that”; and we went on arguing the point until we were all, or nearly all, convinced. We had to remember that in the last resort the responsibility was his, but he treated us as colleagues. Never, so far as I remember, did he give an order. If the rest of us were agreed while he was still unconvinced, he would simply say, “Well, I must rely on my advisers”. On the other hand, none of his advisers was so obstinate as to stand out alone. After all “the old man” was nearly always right. Though he was so inarticulate that he often found difficulty in explaining himself, his judgment infused confidence.

One cannot work with a man for five years without finding out whether he is honest. D.S. was fundamentally honest. He never posed, either in public or in private. It would not be true to say that he was a Sinhalese in the same way as an Englishmen is an Englishman. Communalism runs deep into the social history of Ceylon and cannot be eradicated by a generation of nationalism. Nevertheless, his professions of friendship and indeed affection for other communities were entirely sincere. He could quite easily have achieved “Sinhalese domination” had he wanted it; for he would have secured a sufficient following. In spite of the attacks made upon him while the Soulbury Commission was in the Island, he refused to retaliate. One example of his generosity, which had nothing to do with the Constitution, may be quoted. While some of his colleagues were attacking the Christian schools, he was asked to preside at the centenary of such a school. He came to my bungalow to ask if I would write a speech for him, expressing the thanks of the people of Ceylon for the educational work of the Christian missionaries. There could be no question of political advantage in this gesture. Obviously, too, he came to me because he thought me unlikely to be unsympathetic with his intention. That speech was read exactly as I wrote it. Nor must it be forgotten that in a country where caste divisions are still important, the minority castes went to him to ask for his assistance. After he became Prime Minister, in fact, reliance upon his judgment became too heavy. Far too many problems, having nothing to do with the government of the country, were presented to him, at all hours of the day and night.

In the preface of a book on the Ceylon Constitution, written in November 1948, I expressed the view that, but for Mr Senanayake and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke[7], “Ceylon would still be a colony”.[8] That opinion was criticised because it was said to ignore the efforts of other patriots and the influence of Indian agitation. I am unable to accept the criticism. It is no doubt true that, but for the efforts of other patriots, to which Mr Senanayake rendered thanks in his speech of November 1945[9], he could not have set the train which led to independence in 1948. It may even be true, though on this there is greater doubt, that the work of the Indian National Congress[10] helped Ceylon towards independence. Nevertheless, the achievement of independence was deliberately planned by Mr D.S. Senanayake, with the assistance of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, in 1942. He formulated the strategy, and he worked out the tactics from week to week. He almost won in 1945, and his failure then was due to fact the Indian politicians were – at least in my opinion – using much less judgment in their methods, His efforts were bound to succeed because they depended on a correct appreciation of the attitude of my fellow–countrymen. He knew much less about them, in their home environment, than Mr Gandhi[11] or Mr Nehru[12], and yet he knew more about them because, generally speaking his judgments about men were as sound as his judgments about measures. He did make mistakes in individual cases, both among Ceylonese and among “Europeans”, but in the main he was right. No doubt Ceylon would have attained independence at some time or other if he had not taken the load. What I said was that Ceylon would not have attained independence in 1948 but for him and Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.

I am indebted to the Prime Minister (the Hon. Dudley Senanayake[13], M. P.) for permission to use confidential material, to the controller of Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, London, for permission to publish extracts from official papers of the United Kingdom; and to the Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, Colombo, for permission to publish extracts from official papers of Ceylon.

W.I. J.

University of Ceylon
Peradeniya
3rd April 1953.

[1] The Donoughmore Constitution was in operation from 1931 to September 1947. The key features of the Donoughmore Constitution were that it established universal adult suffrage (Ceylon became the first Asian country to do so); abolished communal representation, which was replaced by territorial representation to a legislature named the State Council; transferred substantial control over internal policy to elected representatives of Ceylon; and established a system of executive committees. Despite provisions for certain areas of legislative and executive power reserved for the Imperial power, the measures were substantial and as the Colonial Secretary eulogised at its passing in 1947, it was an ‘experiment in adult suffrage and in responsible democracy, and it contributed much to the political maturity and drive for effective democracy of the people of Ceylon’. It was, however, also notoriously difficult to operate due to its committee system especially since it deviated significantly from the “traditional” paths to responsible and cabinet government in the British Empire. 
The Donoughmore Commission’s report was published as Colonial Office, Ceylon: Report of the Special Commission on the Government of Ceylon, [Donoughmore Report], Cmd. 3131, London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1928

[2] Formally Colonial Office, Ceylon: Report of the Commission on the Constitution, [Soulbury Report], Cmd. 6677, London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1945.  The Soulbury Report will be covered extensively below.

[3] Reproduced in Appendix III

[4] Don Stephen Senanayake, commonly referred to as ‘D.S.’. First Prime Minister of Ceylon, 1948–1952; founder–leader of the United National Party (U.N.P.), which was created by him in 1946.   Senanayake was the leading local politician following the retirement of Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka from the Board of Ministers in September 1942.  In the period covered in the book he was recognized by many since the 1940s, including at Whitehall, as Ceylon’s prime minister in waiting.

[5] It seems Ivor Jennings (henceforth IJ) periodically returned and made changes and additions to this manuscript till at least 1956.

[6] These are largely contained in K. M. de Silva’s invaluable British Documents on the End of Empire, Series B – Sri Lanka, Part I The Second World War and the Soulbury Commission 1939–1945 and Part II Towards Independence 1945–48, K. M. De Silva (ed.) London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1997 (henceforth BDEEP)

[7] Sir Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, leading Ceylon administrator and senior minister, who was a friend and colleague of Jennings; Governor–General, 1954–1962. Often referred to as ‘O.E.G.’.   In the pre–independence era he held key positions such as Civil Defence Commissioner and Financial Secretary.  None of these or his later positions fully explain his extraordinary influence.

[8] There are three editions of The Constitution of Ceylon, which was published by Oxford University Press.  They were published in 1949, 1951 and 1953 respectively. The first two were dedicated to D.S. Senanayake while the third was dedicated “To the memory of the late – the Right Hon. D. S. Senanayake M.P. – Prime Minister of Ceylon”.  The first edition’s preface written on 22 November 1948 ends by stating “Some day I hope to explain in print how much Ceylon owes to Mr Senanayake and to Sir Oliver Goonetilleke.  But for them Ceylon would still be a colony.”  Clearly this book edited here is Jennings’ attempt “to explain in print” that remarkable period in Ceylon’s history.

[9] Jennings mentions October in his draft, but the speech and reference is clearly to Senanayake’s speech on 8 November 1945.  See State Council Debates, vol. 1, 1945, col. 6918–6932 and reproduced in chapter 8.

[10] Indian National Congress, a leading Indian political party, founded in 1885

[11] Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 20th century Indian political leader.

[12] Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian National Congress leader; Prime Minister of India, 1947–1964.

[13] Dudley Shelton Senanayake, eldest son of D.S. Senanayake; U.N.P. Prime Minister of Ceylon, 1952–1953, 1960, 1965–1970.

Leave a Reply