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A civil service, military and police conspiracy




A group of senior police and military officers attempted to overthrow the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government. They were driven by three critical events in the years leading up to January 1962. The coup participants belonged to the Westernised urban middle class who were alarmed at the undermining of the secular plural state
and government.

(Continued from yesterday)

By Jayantha Somasundaram

The conspiracy to mount the coup began to take shape in the provinces where the army had been deployed to counter both illicit immigration from India and the Tamil satyagraha. While the leaders of the Coup were senior police and army officers, there was also one influential civil servant, Douglas Liyanage, who would be the first accused in their subsequent trial, Queen v Liyanage. He was the Government Agent of the Mannar District, through which army units would be rotated on anti-illicit immigration duty.

In the army, the conspiracy originated in the artillery with leadership provided by Colonel Maurice de Mel, Chief of Staff, Colonel F. C. ‘Derek’ de Saram, Deputy Commandant of the Ceylon Volunteer Force and Lt. Col. Willie Abrahams. In the Police, there were two chains of command: DIG C. C. ‘Jungle’ Dissanayake, who directed metropolitan officers and former DIG Sidney de Zoysa who directed provincial officers.

Derek de Saram personified the cosmopolitan elite; regarded as the most respected officer in the Army, he had been an Oxford Blue in cricket and tennis, captain of the Oxford University cricket team, Ceylon cricket captain and barrister. He was the scion of one of the best-known low country Sinhalese families. As the ranking artillery officer in the Ceylon Army when it was established in 1949, he was appointed commander of its regular unit; the 1st Heavy Anti-Aircraft/Coast Artillery Regiment.

In January 1961, he brought key Army officers into the coup, which was to be carried out by troops from the 3rd Field Regiment and the 2nd (Volunteer) Anti-Aircraft Regiment of the Ceylon Artillery (CA), 2nd (V) Field & Plant Regiment, Ceylon Engineers; 2nd (V) Regiment, Ceylon Signals Corps (CSC) and Armoured cars of the Sabre Troop of the Ceylon Armoured Corps (CAC).

Jungle Dissanayake was an outstanding police officer. In 1942, he and Derek de Saram were selected by British Intelligence to head the underground resistance should Ceylon fall to the Japanese. Through him senior officers in Colombo were introduced to the coup. Beginning on the 13th he recruited Superintendents of Police (SP) W. E.C. Jebanasam, M. B. Dedigama and C.R. Arndt and Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASP) Terrence Wijesinghe, Colin Van den Driesen, Dumbo Jayatilleke and P R Seneviratne. They were to detain politicians and secure key police installations like the Radio Control Room.

On the 16th, as instructed by DIG Jungle Dissanayaka, Stanley Senanayake SP Colombo called a meeting of his gazetted officers (ASP and above) asking them to arrange for the trailing of leftists whose movements were to be conveyed to W. E. C. Jebanesam SP Colombo Crimes. About a week later Dissanayaka summoned Colin van den Driesan ASP Depot and told him that he was assigned to arrest Felix Dias.

Arrest the Navy Commander

On the 25th Sidney de Zoysa travelled south, meeting SP Elster Perera in Galle, SP David Thambyah at Matara and SP F. H.V. Brohier and ASPs C. S. Orr and V. K. Arumugam at the Police Training School Katukurunda. That evening Major Weerasena Rajapakse MBE CAC, Maj Victor Joseph CAC, Maj Wilton White CA and ASP Colin Van den Driesan had dinner with de Saram. He told them that it was necessary to overthrow the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike.

Meanwhile, a co-ordinated reconnaissance was carried out to prepare for the securing of Colombo’s three key telecommunication centres – the Central Telegraph Office (CTO), the Maradana Exchange and the Havelock Town Exchange. It was led by Col Basil Jesudasan, Commander 2nd (V) Ceylon Signal Corp. They would paralyse local and overseas telecommunication and instead set up new secure lines at Police HQ and Army HQ for the use of the Coup participants.

On the morning of Saturday 27th Jungle Dissanayake during their morning walk at Galle Face Green informed SP Stanley Senanayake that orders had come through from the top to arrest a number of politicians, and that the Governor-General was aware of these measures and approved of them. Later, Jungle Dissanayake summoned ASP Johnpulle and told him: “We are taking over the government, today.”

When the DIG’s Personal Assistant ASP Terrence Wijesinghe and ASP Lionel Jirasinghe arrived, Jungle Dissanayake instructed them to take a party of two sub inspectors, two sergeants and thirty constables to trail and thereafter arrest Commodore Rajan Kadirgamar MVO, acting Captain of the Navy at midnight. They were to then take him to Army Headquarters (AHQ) to be handed over to SP C.R. Arndt before reporting to Queen’s House, the Governor General’s residence. The code word for the operation was ‘Holdfast’ and the password to enter AHQ was ‘Yathura’.

On the afternoon of the 27th January Jungle Dissanayake summoned his senior officers for a final meeting at his Longden Place residence. According to his son T. D. S. A Dissanayake’s account in The Politics of Sri Lanka Vol III the final instructions to Terry Wijesinghe were “Please report to me at Queen’s House at 22.59 hours. I will be in charge of all operations there. Just in case you are challenged by the sentries, the password will be Dowbiggin (Sir Herbert Dowbiggin was Inspector-General of Police from 1912-1937).”

The Gentlemen’s Coup

Next to arrive was ASP Lionel Jirasinghe to whom the DIG said, “Jirasinghe, I am sorry if I forgot to tell you. No officer of mine will carry even side arms tonight. This will be a real gentleman’s coup d’etat exactly what General Ayub Khan did in Pakistan a few years ago. After you complete the duties I have already assigned you from 22.00 hours to 01.00 hours tonight, you will assist the Army at “Temple Trees” (the Prime Minister’s residence). You should please report to Lt. Colonel Willie Abrahams, the Commanding Officer of the Ceylon Artillery. The password will be ‘The British Grenadier’, (which is the marching tune of the Ceylon Artillery).”

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

DIG Jungle Dissanayake went on, “When troops surround ‘Temple Trees’ around 23.59 hours, Colonel F. C. de Saram, a cousin of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike will personally speak to the Prime Minister and ask for her surrender. After the coup d’etat is over, Major General F. C. De Saram, General-Officer-Commanding Ceylon, will command all military establishments. He will also personally handle all details at Temple Trees and ensure that the Prime Minister will be our guest. Only the finest of gentlemen from the Ceylon Artillery, which was once commanded by Colonel F. C. de Saram, will be posted at ‘Temple Trees’. Do please help the Army in whatever way you can in your capacity as a perfect gentleman.

“At Temple Trees, “please treat the Prime Minister with the greatest respect and her children with the greatest of care. Food for the Bandaranaike family will be ordered directly from the Galle Face Hotel. Any doctors of their choice may visit them at “Temple Trees” at any time. Jirasinghe, you are a real gentleman who went to Trinity College, Kandy. You would have become an even better gentleman had you gone to Royal College. I am putting you in charge of Police operations at ‘Temple Trees’, commencing 0100 hours tonight.”

The last to arrive was SP Stanley Senanayake. Jungle Dissanayake instructed him: “At 2200 hrs I will issue a Take Post Order. I want the Colombo Police to clear all thoroughfares by 2230 hrs. (ASP Traffic) Bede Johnpillai should be in charge of that operation. Col F. C. de Saram will move his troops and armoured columns swiftly commencing 2300 hrs. By 1.00 hours (Sunday 28th) all military operations will be completed and the Governor-General will dissolve Parliament and remove the Prime Minister from office.”

The final meeting of the conspirators was held at the Kinross Avenue beach in Bambalapitiya. Former Navy Commander Rear Admiral Royce de Mel OBE, his brother Col Maurice de Mel, Col Willie Abrahams, Maj Ignatius Loyola, Lt Col Noel Mathysz, Maj Rajapakse, Maj White and Capt J.A.R. Felix attended.

To be continued tomorrow

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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7



It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts



She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue



KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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