‘Question me, I have a lot to say’

Opposition Leader Dudley Senanayake hits out in Parliament on February 13, 1962
In response to K.K.S. Perera’s article on the 50th anniversary of the 1962 copy d’etat published in the Plus section last Sunday under the heading ‘Two Prime Ministers and the Governor General- did they have a role?’, Rukman Senanayake has sent us this extract from the book ‘Dudley Senanayake – a Biography’ which sheds light on the happenings 50 years ago.

“In the year 1962, Sri Lanka experienced an incident unparalleled in its political history. Faced with the threat of a Coup d’etat by the armed forces which was later abandoned, the government of Mrs. Bandaranaike took no chances and acted quite rightly to arrest a number of high ranking Army, Navy and Police officers whose names were implicated in the Coup.

While the arrest and the inquiries were in progress, the Government also used this aborted Coup to its political advantage by trying to implicate Dudley Senanayake, the Leader of the Opposition, Sir John Kotelawala, the former Prime Minister and other leading members of United National Party. This attempt, however became a total failure. Unable to find any evidence whatsoever the Government was compelled to abandon this disastrous course of action.

A newpaper of the day reporting on an incident unparalleled in Sri Lanka’s political history.

Referring to these wild accusations Dudley Senanayake made a statement in Parliament on 13th February 1962. He said:

“I intend taking part straightway in this Debate because insinuations of a vile nature have been made against me in this Debate – [Interruption] - Please do not disturb: this is too important a matter.
You would have noticed, Mr. Speaker, apart from anything else, that the printed statement here was also altered just now. The printed statement was ‘a Police officer’.

Dr. Naganathan: Unnamed
Mr. Dudley Senanayake: This statement records: ‘A Police officer said that he had been told by one of the Leaders of the Coup that Sir John Kotelawala and Mr. Dudley Senanayake were in the know of the plan to overthrow the Government.’ Now the Hon. Minister of Finance adds that in fact three officers said so. The first statement was ‘a Police officer’. The first statement was ‘a Police officer’. Now the Hon. Minister of Finance and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defense and External Affairs says, ‘three offices said so'.

I am not here to defend myself against accusations of that nature. I am here to make some very important and relevant points about the investigations that are going on. As regards my own innocence, I am fully aware of that innocence, and no insinuations on the part of the Hon. Minister of Finance can make me guilty of what he seeks to insinuate. I am prepared to face any impartial tribunal and establish my innocence beyond a shadow of doubt and I ask for no mercy.

Here is the most interesting and mysterious part of all this. Today we are a fortnight after this event. They have been interrogating people around the clock, as they said in the newspapers. Hundreds have been questioned. The Hon. Minister of Finance might have had the decency to ask me one question.
Mr. J.R. Jayewardene: Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Dudley Senanayake: Not as Leader of the Opposition. That privilege was extended to every citizen of this county who you thought fit should be interrogated. Dr. Naganathan: Even the Governor-General.
Mr. Dudley Senanayake.: I understand that you have even questioned the Governor-General.
The Hon. F.R. Dias Bandaranaike: You are wrong.

Mr. Dudley Senanayake: I do not know. All kinds of rumours are afloat. The Hon. F.R. Dias Bandaranaike: Inquiries are still pending. He has expressed his willingness to be interrogated. Mr. Dudley Senanayake: But, Mr. Speaker, up to date not one question has been asked of me.

The Hon. T.B. Illangaratne: The enquiry is on. Mr. Dudley Senanayake: The enquiry is on! Yes, and you have the audacity to make this statement here without asking even one question of me. You know full well that there is nothing on which you can implicate me in this conspiracy that is why you cannot ask me any question.

I will now proceed to the political build-up that had been going on before this enquiry was started.
Mr. Speaker, you know that the same rumours, the same insinuations, were made when Mr. Bandaranaike was murdered. Perhaps, Hon. Members will remember - I remember - people saying, ‘The U.N.P did this’. They even mentioned the name of my Hon. Friend on my right, the Hon. First Member for Colombo South (Mr. J.R. Jayewardene). But all your inquiries and all your investigations, what did they reveal? They revealed that not one - leave alone the Leader - member of the U.N.P. had anything to do with that murder. If you are going to ruin this inquiry, you are going to ruin it by trying to prostitute it for your political purposes.”

Dudley Senanayake: Then Opposition leader

He went on to say, “What did you discover at the end in the Bandaranaike murder? You discovered that the founder members of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party were the accused who were convicted in that murder.”

Then he challenged the Government and also accused the Government of trying to make use of this opportunity for an ulterior motive. He said, “If you have anything against me arrest me; I am not afraid. If you have anything against me, question me. Question me and I will say a lot of things, and I am going to say a few things now. You need not be afraid to arrest me.

The Hon. F.R. Dias Bandaranaike: The statement is correct. Mr. Dudley Senanayake: What is your statement? That a certain officer was told that I was in the know and that Sir John was in the know.

The Hon. F.R. Dias Bandaranaike: Mr. Speaker, a factual statement of events was made. That is perfectly true and perfectly correct. It is the Hon. Leader of the Opposition who has read into it insinuations. Mr. Dudley Senanayake: Not at all!

Mr. J.R. Jayewardene: Are you withdrawing it? The Hon. F.R. Dias Bandaranaike: The statement is perfectly correct. Mr. Dudley Senanayake: The statement is that a certain officer told you that even I knew.
Mr. J.R. Jayewardene: He has not said so! The Hon. F.R. Dias Bandaranaike: We have not said so either! Mr.J.R. Jayewardene: Then withdraw it.

Mr. Dudley Senanayake: I am glad that that insinuation was made because the country will know what you are trying to do. The country will know that you are trying to utilize an abortive coup for the purpose of doing away with all your political opponents and establishing a dictatorship yourself. That is the coup! That is what you are going to do - establish a dictatorship yourself. That is proof. That is what you are going to do. Today, I am making this accusation, you are witnessing a coup and I will tell you the coup is taking place before our eyes and some of the Hon. Members even on the other side will realize it too late.”1

Continuing his speech, he said. “There was Defence Regulation passed under the Emergency powers to see that nothing connected with the coup is published in the papers. But what was happening? Any utterance adverse to, or insinuating or implying that the United National Party was in the coup was allowed to be published. My Hon. Friend the First Member for Colombo South (Mr. J.R. Jayewardene) will bear testimony to that fact. Time and again there has not been a word about what we had stated about the coup.

But I remember, quite innocently I suppose, the Hon. Member for Ratnapura (Mr. D.P.R. Weerasekera) had made a speech in the course of which he stated that one political party has not made a statement. I saw that in the papers; perhaps he meant us. But he was not conscious of what we had said.
The first occasion on which this matter came up was when the matter was debated in the Senate, Dr. M.V.P. Peiris, made a lengthy speech. It was reported in some of the papers. In some of the papers all the speeches were reported but, I am sorry to say, not Dr. M.V.P. Peiris’ speech.

Subsequently, on the very day that the speech of the Hon. Member for Ratnapura appeared, a speech of mine on Independence Day at Nugegoda also appeared in the papers. I spoke about the coup but that was not published. I asked the papers, Why did you not publish that?’ They told me that on the instructions of the all-Competent Authority it was cut off. I can quote instance after instance when endeavour was made by the Competent Authority, or whoever it was, to allow any utterances implicating the UNP, to go into the papers but what we had to say about the coup was completely blacked out. That was the preparation that was being gradually built up for the event.”1

During his speech, he cited incident after incident to show how the Government was trying to implicate the United National Party in this sordid affair. He quoted a speech made in a different forum by the Hon. Minister of Finance to expose his partiality to dictatorial trends - his obsession for a little bit of totalitarianism - and said that the Hon. Minister is the last person suitable to conduct enquiries regarding the coup. On information received by a Member of the Cabinet, he even accused the Government of trying to arrest the Leaders of the Opposition to further their dictatorial trend. The Government denied this vehemently. Finally he concluded his speech by saying.

“Now, in conclusion I would once again say that I am very sorry that the Hon. Minister of Finance has dragged my name this way. As for Sir John Kotelawela that poor gentleman is living in retirement. I do not know why his name was dragged into this matter. I suppose this is to give a militaristic twist.
No, Sir I know my innocence, my absolute innocence. He knows very well that it is impossible to prove statements of this nature.”2 (1.Coup against the Government, Parliament Hansard of 13th February 1962, Column: 1153 2.Column: 1181)

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