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