Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Features | Online edition of Daily News - Lakehouse Newspapers <%dim dbpath, pageTle, Section, Section1 %>
January 27, 1962 and January 27, 2010?

Attempts at coup d’etat

The assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on September 26, 1959 was the result of a treacherous conspiracy by both local and foreign reactionaries. The plan to replace the progressive M.E.P. Government of Solomon Dias Bandaranaike by a dictatorship was revealed in the American News Letter magazine dated April 20, 1959.

Venerable Henpitagedara Gnanaseeha Thera and former Army Commander Richard Udugama being escorted to prison cell.

The said sinister move to oust the Premier was disclosed in Parliament by Dr. N.M. Perera, the LSSP M.P. for Ruwanwella. That timely warning and awareness action by him averted the establishment of a military police dictatorship early in 1959.

Mid-night January 27, 1962

On that day some Army, Navy and Police high-ranking officers conspired to arrest the Prime Minister Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike, Secretary, Defence Ministry, I.G.P., D.I.G., C.I.D., Dr. N. M. Perera and other LSSP leftist members of Parliament during the midnight of 26th January, 1962. Prompt action taken by the Justice Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike prevented bloodshed, havoc and mayhem.

The first informant of the plot was P. de S. Kularatne, SLFP M.P for Ambalangoda who was one time the illustrious Principal of Ananda College, Colombo, the foremost Buddhist collegiate boys’ school in the island. He obtained that vital information through his son-in-law Stanley Senanayake, Superintendent of Police, later I.G.P.

However, before the immediate action of the I.G.P. John Atygala, the LSSP M.P. for Baddegama, Neal de Alwis was taken into custody by the Galle Police on that fateful night of January 27. He was detained for nine hours in Police custody without any rhyme or reason.

In Parliament

Finally one senior Deputy Inspector General of Police namely, C.C. Dissanayake (D.I.G.) ex-D.I.G. Sydney de Soysa, Superintendent of Police, 7 ASPs, 2 retired Police Superintendents, 7 Army officers, five other officers of the armed forces and a senior civil servant, Douglas Liyanage, Govt. Agent, Matara were arrested by the CID.

According to the conspiracy, Sydney de Soysa, former D.I.G. was the co-ordinator of the Police Section and the armed forces were under the direction of Colonel Maurice de Mel and Colonel F.C. De Saram.

This manouvre of mobilization was revealed in Parliament on February 13, 1962. Among other brutal, unlawful devices was the one to incarcerate the arrested Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Dr. N.M. Perera, Ministers and other leftist members of Parliament in a dungeon of the arsonel magazine of the Army Headquarters in Fort, Colombo 01. The outstation detainees were to be kept in custody of the relevant Police Headquarters.

Another preparation on that terrible night was for police mobile patrol radio cars to move about the Colombo city and proclaim a curfew.


Dr. N.M. Perera and the then Minister of Finance and Law Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike

The news about the curfew from midnight was to be announced over the radio through the Broadcasting Corporation. As disclosed in Parliament by Dr. N.M. Perera, ASP Ranasinghe has been instructed by the DIG, C.C. Dissanayake was to take into custody Robert Gunawardena, MP for Kottawa and also the MP for Kesbewa.

Further Dr. Perera said that a list prepared by the conspirators indicated 71 important persons to be taken into custody by the police and armed forces.

He referred to a tactic of John Pulle, SP to get in readiness 25 jeeps from the police garage, Narahenpita. The Minister of Finance and Law Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike took immediate action to crush the coup.


On being informed by that able lawyer, statesman Felix Dias, the IGP who was at that time playing a game of “Bridge” at Orient Club, Colombo 07 took up the crucial issue with the DIG, CID S.G. Dissanayake as well. Ironically he was the brother of C.C. Dissanayake, Senior DIG who later was principal accused in the coup trial case.

The IGP called over at “Temple Trees” the official residence of the Prime Minister and met her and her confidante Felix Dias. He got instruction from them and thwarted the coup. It transpired that the then Governor General Sir Oliver Goonetilleke too was aware of this unlawful endeavour.

He was suspected to be an accomplice of those offences against the State high treason. Soon afterwards he took flight to London, England in order to avoid any arrest after removing from that exalted position by the Queen on instructions from

Madam Prime Minister. Sir Oliver was replaced by William Gopallawa, an uncle of the Premier as the new governor-general the complicity of Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, his predecessor was revealed in Parliament by Felix.


Sir Oliver Goonetilleke was a competent well-recognized personality during the last period of British colonial administration, Second World War period - 1939-45 and the post-independent era till 1962. During his distinguished career he held several key positions.

After working at the Lake House as an accountant, on graduating B.A. (London), he functioned as the first Lankan (then Ceylonese), Auditor-General. During the world war II 1939-45, he was the civil Defence Commissioner.

He held portfolios in the D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and Sir John Kotelawala cabinets. He was the first Lankan Governor-General (1954) by Sir John Kotelawala’s government. Sir Oliver spent several years abroad from 1962 and later came into residence again in Sri Lanka. He passed away on Dec 17, 1979 at the age of 86 years.


The efficient lawyer Justice Minister Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike was responsible for drafting the new Legislation, Criminal Justice (Special Provisions) Act. to indict the alleged suspects of the coup d’etat before a court. He noted that offences against the State as found in the Penal Code were inadequate to punish the convicts considering the gravity of the offences.

The new laws empowered their Trial-at-Bar before three judges of the Supreme Court. “The suspects were indicted before three Supreme Court Judges namely justice H.N.G. Fernando (later the Chief Justice), Justice P. Sri Skanda Rajah and Justice L.B. de Silva. After a protracted trial they were convicted for attempting to overthrow the legally elected and constituted government.

The judges held that whatever the “colour” of the government, nobody has the right to topple same by resorting to unlawful means. Each accused found guilty were sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment.


On appeal to the Privy Council, their convictions were quashed and they were acquitted and discharged on a legal point in that the constitution of the Trial at-Bar court was ultra vires of the Soulbury Constitution of 1948. The Privy Council held that the nomination of judges to try them was influenced by the Minister of Justice.

They held the judicial power was separate from the Executive Power and Legislative Power.

1966 Coup

The second Trial at Bar of a minor coup d’etat purported to have been organised in February 1966 commenced on January 16, 1968. The principal accused was the ex-army Commander Richerd Udugama the other prominent accused was the Ven. Henpitagedara Gnanaseeha Maha Nayaka Thero, Head of Sri Sumana Pirivena, Ratnapura. The presiding judge was the Chief Justice Victor Tennekoon. Other accused persons were petty army officers.

They were indicted in February 1966 for attempting to topple the government of Dudley Senanayake.

To be continued

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