What Sir John said then has come to pass with a shrewd poltician at the controls who understood the mentality of the voters very well.
There is no doubt that he will come back in 2014. DS
A memorable evening with General Sir John Kotelawala PC, KBE, CH, K.StJ
Prime Minister of Ceylon 1951-1956
February 2, 2013, 4:47 pm
by Neville Jayaweera
It was on a hot summer's evening in June 1974, on the manicured lawn of Sir John's sprawling farm Brogues Wood in Kent, that the extraordinary conversation I am about to narrate took place.
I happened to be travelling in England at that time, when Mrs Lorna Wright, Sir John's housekeeper and hostess at that time, telephoned me to say that Sir John will be happy if I would come round one evening to Brogues Wood for drinks and supper. Needless to say I accepted the invitation promptly!.
Kent was drenched in sunshine that summer evening and the drive down to Brogues Wood in Sir John's Bentley, along quaint country lanes lined by hedgerows, my progress hampered only by herds of lazy cattle curled up on the roadside, was redolent of a bygone era. Kent had not yet been crisscrossed by eight-lane motorways and was still holding up its reputation as being England's apple orchard and the county for fox hunting.
Sir John received me under the porch of his sprawling manor in his characteristic expansive style, adding with a loud guffaw, " So! So! Jayaweera, what foul wind blows you to this fair shore, men?" and waved me to one of a circle of chairs that had been arranged for drinks on the lawn and invited me to share his favourite premier malt
whiskey Glenfiddich, before sitting down to supper.
Even allowing for Sir John's notoriety as a raconteur, the stories he related to me that evening, were certainly not malicious gossip nor did I think that they were false. Two of Sir John's many characteristics were his brutal honesty and his unwillingness to indulge in diplomatic double-talk, as when he confronted Chou En Lai at Bandung and caused an international furore.
I was so convinced that Sir John was "telling it as it was", that upon my return to Colombo I urged my one time colleague Godfrey Gunatilleke of the Marga Institute, to have Sir John's stories recorded on tape for posterity. I believe that Gunatilleke sent one of the Marga staff, Lalitha Gunawardena, with a tape recorder to Kandawela, Sir John's home in Sri Lanka, to record his stories. Those priceless tapes, now more than 35 years on, may still be languishing somewhere in Marga's archives.
Unless those tapes have been published, which I do not think is the case, the stories that Sir John related to me that evening will forever be forgotten and will not be available to historians. To avert such an outcome, some time back, I responded to an invitation extended to me by Doug Jones, the editor of the CEYLANKAN, the high class
journal produced by the Sri Lankan community in Australia, to contribute the Sir John narrative as an article to his journal.
However, for considerations of space in the journal I had to edit out large segments from the narrative. Except for some of the unprintable expletives with which Sir John laced the conversation, here below is the full unabridged version.
I was prompted to put Sir John's stories in writing because much of history is based on published documents, official releases and memoirs, whereas anecdotal data and firsthand accounts, which reflect what had been going on behind the scenes and which lend to the official versions a very different perspective, are hardly afforded space.
Historiography is like an iceberg, only 1/7th being visible above the water. Unseen and unheard, but bulging large below the water line, there is invariably a tangled mass of cunning machinations, pretences and deceptions which, though never entering the mainstream of official history, are often its driving motors and mainsprings.
In the articles that follow, I shall relate the stories that Sir John related to me some 36 years ago, all bearing on contemporary Sri Lanka history, which though overtaken by time, resonate in my memory as if they were related to me yesterday.
To preserve their richness and flavour I shall relate Sir John's narrations in the first person dramatic form, rather than in a third person reportage format, which would drain the stories of their vibrancy, but I shall have to exclude from the narrative some of Sir John's rich expletives which even for a Sunday reader might be a bit
over the top.
This series will include the following narratives as they were related to me by Sir John.
1. How both Dudley Senanayake and he were involved in planning the attempted coup of 1962.
2. How Sir John designed and carried out a plan to have the coup detenus released from prison.
3. How he executed a cunning conspiracy designed by Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake to influence Lord Soulbury in writing his report and
4. How he was instrumental in cementing the marriage of Sirima Ratwatte (later Mrs B ) to S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.
While relating stories focusing on a range of personalities and events referred to above, although unsolicited by me and interspersed between those stories, Sir John also gave me the benefit of his distilled wisdom on such issues as democracy and governance. While some of those views were quite startling even for a man of Sir John's reputation, they all bore the stamp of his unadorned and brutal honesty.
Sir John's views on democracy and all that
Sir John ( Sir.J.): So! So! I understand you have taken early retirement. Damn shame! No wonder! Who the hell can work with this bunch! (meaning Mrs. B's United Front coalition government of 1970 which included the LSSP and the Communist party )
Neville J ( N.J. ): Well Sir! I had only just turned 40 and I thought I should launch out on a new career and took early retirement.
Sir. J. You know something? I'll tell it to you now and if you wish to you can quote me. Sri Lanka is not ready for democracy. In a country like Sri Lanka democracy becomes government by bloody mugs and idiots.
You take a villager, wash the mud off him, clothe him in a national dress and he is ready to govern the country. Look at the present lot (i.e. the 1970 UF government).They got in by promising to give our poor buggers (sic) two measures of free rice, even from the moon. The rulers as well as the people who voted them to power are total idiots.
N.J. Hang on a moment Sir John. Mrs B's present government ( F government of 1970 - 77) has on its Cabinet people like Dr N. M, Perera, Dr Colvin R. de Silva, Pieter Keuneman, and several other professionals who are hardly illiterate gamaralas whose mud has just been washed out! Also please don't forget Sir, that it was Dudley who first gave one measure of free rice and Mrs B went only one better.
Dudley also started the Poya Day holidays. Don't you agree that both policies were utterly idiotic? Dudley and you come from the same upper class. So it is not always the gamarala who comes to town who is an idiot but upper-class gentlemen who have been to St. Thomas' and Cambridge are no better.
Sir. J. You are damn right!. But why did Dudley give the people a measure of free rice and Poya Day holidays because that was the only way to placate our bloody illiterate voters. You give our buggers (sic) a plate of buriyani and you have them by their "b - - - s". It will always be like that in this country. Look at the great Thomian and Oxford intellectual the great SWRD, "Sinhala Only in 24 hours".
Why? That was the only way to beat me. He got elected and he put the country on reverse gear. I stood for two official languages and I got booted out!
N.J. So what alternative would you recommend in place of majority rule?
Sir J. Majority rule is OK when the whole electorate is politically educated. I say Jayaweera! You bloody well know that literacy is not education.
N.J. I know that Sir, but until the whole electorate is politically educated, which can take a century or more, what do we put in place of majority rule? Rule by a junta? Isn't that what the attempted coup of 1962 planned?
Sir J. Exactly! That was how Dudley and I also got involved in the coup. We were going to save the country by booting out those bloody SLFP mugs and forming a junta to run the country.
N.J. Tell me Sir John, who was your junta going to be answerable to? Now (in 1974) at least there is a prospect that someday Mrs B's government of mugs and idiots, as you call them, will have to face the polls and may be turned out. If your coup had succeeded and a junta had been set up to whom would it have been answerable? How would they have been evicted from power?
N.J. ( Continuing ) - Incidentally Sir John, you just mentioned that Dudley and you were both involved in coup attempt and also that you both were to be in the proposed junta. That is completely new to me! Tell me more.
Dudley's and Sir John's involvement
Sir J -"Oh I see! So, that bit of information about Dudley has upset you. I understand that you are a great Dudley loyalist eh?"
N.J - " Well Sir! He was my Prime Minister and loyalty to the Prime Minister of the country was natural for a senior public servant"
Sir. J. - "I say! I know you think that Dudley was a man of great integrity. You know, there is no such thing as integrity in politics. That is all balderdash! We all wear masks and our so called masters, the voters, who vote us to power are bloody stupid. They are bloody idiots! So you see, democracy is how effectively we can dupe the
voters with our aes baendun (masks). True, neither Dudley, nor anyone of our time would ever think of taking bribes but that was because we did not need any money. Not because we were any better than the other
buggers (sic). But when it concerns power we politicians lie all the way to hell, are all bloody corrupt and will do anything to gain power and keep power, and it is only the fear of getting caught that makes us honest gentlemen!
Sir J.(continuing) You know, I have always felt sorry for you bloody Civil Servants. Most of you have got brilliant degrees and first class minds and then we buffoons are elected to power, and you buggers (sic) have to serve us. I remember in 1956, when SWRD formed his government, that bloody fatso (mentioning the name of a very corpulent Moslem Cabinet Minister whose name I will keep anonymous) was made a Minister of Posts and one of your most brilliant men, Rajendra, had to be his Permanent Secretary. That is cruel men! No wonder you decided to retire!! I understand you have been offered a job in London. Take it men, take it!. Buggers ( sic) like you have no future in our country.
Sir John continues. You know something? All that SWRD'S Cabinet Minister of Posts did was personally to appoint all sub-post mistresses. He personally interviewed all applicants for posts of sub-post mistresses throughout the country in his bedroom in the Mawanella Rest House, and gave them "efficiency bar" tests before
appointing them. How do you like that!!
N.J. Well Sir! To be truthful we have heard similar stories about you and your several " purple brigades of Colombo 7". How about Zou Zou Mohammed and the belly dancers you got down from Egypt ? The problem I
have with your story is that what seems acceptable in Kandawela seems very bad in Mawanella!
Sir. J. Ha! Ha! Ha! You are a cheeky bugger (sic). I like you!
Suddenly, Sir. J stands up pours me another drink and switches topics - I say Jayaweera! Have you read the "Premier Stakes"?
N.J. Yes Sir, I have "
(note : the "Premier Stakes" was a vitriolic political pamphlet published anonymously in 1951, shortly after D.S. Senanayake's death, recounting the sordid machinations that led to Sir John's eviction from the race to succeed D.S. as Prime Minister, and the installing of Dudley as Prime Minister instead. Although written anonymously, it was widely known that the real author was Sir John himself, who had asked Sri Lankan journalist J. Vijayatunge to ghost write the pamphlet for him)
SJ. Well then! If you have read the Premier Stakes you must know how gentlemanly we politicians are! Let me tell you something you do not know about Dudley.
NJ. "Please do!"
SJ. "Will you believe me when I say that Dudley and I were both ring leaders of the attempted coup of 1962?"
N.J . "I have heard the story about Dudley's alleged involvement in the coup before, but I do not think there was a grain of truth in it! As for your involvement in the coup this the first time I am hearing it, and you must be very brave to talk about it even 15 years later. "
Sir. J. "This is the problem with you bloody (sic) Civil Servants! You think you buggers (sic) know everything! Let me tell you some home truths"
Sir. J. "Here are the names of the buggers (sic) who met in my house on consecutive evenings in early January 1962 at Kandawela to plan the coup. It was all hatched by that bloody (sic) colleague of yours, Douggy Liyanage, along with F.C de Saram, Maurice de Mel, Jungle Dissanayake and a few other police chaps and both Dudley, his cousin Upali Senanayake, and I, went along with them and all along we were in their confidence and gave them support. They shared all their plans with us three! In fact even Thattaya (i.e. Sir Oliver Goonatilleke the
Governor General) was in the know!
Dudley's initial role was to stand under the large clock of the General Post Office opposite Queen's House, on the night of the coup, and light his pipe and Thattaya ( (meaning Sir Oliver ) who was scheduled to stand watch on the balcony around midnight, would take that as the cue that the coup was on and declare a state of emergency
and order the arrest of Mrs B, Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Dr N.M Perera and the rest. After that we were to form a Council to run the government and both Dudley and I were in it, with Dudley as chairman.
However, let me tell you something, there was not going to be any shooting. No one was to be killed. We were in fact going to treat Mrs. B and the men who were arrested very nicely and supply them with all their meals from Galle Face Hotel, no less!
N.J. So, why didn't all this come out in the course of the police investigations or at the trial? Surely!!
S.J. That is the beauty of it men!! F.C de Saram took all the blame upon himself as the principal conspirator and all the others who were sworn to secrecy, just kept their mouths shut about the involvement of Thattaya, Dudley, Upali and myself!! All the coup leaders were guilty as hell, but they were all splendid gentlemen! You know, unlike now, (i.e. in 1974) those days there were only gentlemen at the top and no bastards!!
Hilarious drama at Kandawela
Sir John then went on to tell me how one evening in the last week of Jan 1962, (the coup had been planned for 28th Jan) he, F.C de Saram, Dudley and Maurice de Mel sat together for drinks at his Kandawela residence to plot the final details for the coup. They had placed Upali Senanayake ( Dudley's cousin) in a jeep at the entrance to Kandawala to sound the alarm by pressing the horn of the jeep should any police vehicles be seen approaching the gate. At this point, to make the narrative come alive, I think I'll switch back to the first person dramatic mode.
Sir. J. You see, all of sudden the horn of Upali's jeep started sounding loud, and went on sounding and what was worse, the jeep started approaching the house at speed, with the horn blasting away! We thought that the police were about to stage a raid and Upali was warning us. All hell broke loose inside my dining room where we were
gathered. We all panicked! F.C de Saram ran upstairs and hid in a dirty linen room and. Maurice de Mel hid in the broom cupboard under the stair case. But that fatso ( sic) Dudley could not make up his mind where to run, (side comment from Sir. J "just like him! cannot make up his bloody mind in a dam crisis" ). So I shouted to him, " Yakko! reddha yata ringapung!" (You bloody fool! hide under the table cloth!) So, Dudley crept under the dining table and hid behind the draped table cloth. Can you imagine anything more bloody funny? Already twice Prime Minister of the country and to be Prime Minister yet again some years later, hiding under a dining table, with his fat arse ( sic) showing through the table cloth? If only the bloody electorates know how damn ridiculous we politicians really are!
Sir John begins bellowing with hysterical laughter!
N.J. I am all ears Sir!. This is so exciting! Go on! Tell me more!
Sir. J. But there was no police raid or anything like that! It was just that Upali had been meddling with the steering wheel of the jeep and the horn suddenly short circuited and got stuck. So he drove back to the house, the horn blasting away, to tell us what had happened. Bloody idiot! (sic) That is a bloody Senanayake for you.
N.J. So, do you mean to say that the investigators could not break through FC de Saram and company and unearth yours and Dudley's involvement?
Sir. J. Exactly! Nothing the police did could get FC de Saram and company to confess and spill the beans about Dudley and me. They stuck to their story that they and they alone were responsible. Which of course put a huge burden of guilt upon us and we had to do everything possible to get these poor buggers (sic) out. After all, we were all with them in the conspiracy and we could not allow them alone to take the rap. So we had to plan a cunning plot to get them out and implementing that plan was my job.
Next instalment - . How Sir John put into operation their master plan to get the coup convicts released.
Sunday Island, Sunday, February 10, 2013
A memorable evening with General Sir John Kotalawala PC, KBE, CH, K.StJ
Prime Minister of Ceylon 1951-1956
February 9, 2013, 5:40 pm
by Neville Jayaweera
by Neville Jayaweera
(abridged versions of this article have appeared in the CEYLANKAN, the journal of the Sri Lankans domiciled in Australia, and in Prof. Michael Roberts’ web site "Thuppahi".The following 2 parts are unabridged.
In Part 1 of these reminiscences I recounted Sir John’s colourful account of Dudley Senanayake’s, and his own involvement, in the planning of the attempted coup d’etat of 1962. Although much of Sir John’s narrative was laced with his racy vocabulary, I did not doubt that he was speaking the truth.
However, as far I was personally concerned, the truth was devastating! I had placed an enormous trust in Dudley Senanayake as a model politician and Prime Minister and in fact, had given him my all within the call of duty. The effect of Sir John’s disclosure was to prove to me that I had myself been one of the "mugs and idiots" who Sir John said put their trust in politicians. However, it also administered to me a permanent immunity against placing my trust in politicians ever thereafter. During the many decades that have lapsed since I had that traumatic encounter with Sir John, nothing that I have seen of politics and politicians in Sri Lanka, or abroad, has cured me of my total cynicism of them. We the voters are truly the "mugs and idiots" that Sir John spoke of.
As I have said elsewhere, democracy is like a dredger. It brings up a lot of dirt from the bottom and spreads it around at the top. The revelation about Dudley Senanayake proved that it is not only from the bottom that democracy scoops up dirt. Lurking behind upper-class pretensions, there is already a lot of it right at the top. One is therefore tempted to say with Winston Churchill that, "Democracy is the worst of all possible forms of government invented by man, except for the others!"
Taking notes and tape recording Sir John’s story
As Sir John’s dramatic narration progressed through the evening I stopped him halfway and said,
"Sir John, what you are telling me now opens a new window on the history of those times and I think that they should be preserved for future historians. Will you therefore agree to my ghost-writing your autobiography, or at least to writing up that part of it that has to do with the attempted coup"?
To which he replied in characteristic fashion,
"What is the use men! Dudley is dead and it will not be fair by him and many of the other fellows still living. They may not like my spilling the beans".
I responded, "Then, would you mind my taking down notes and writing them up some time in the future?" He not only assented to my making notes, but also agreed even to speak into a tape recorder, provided it will not be made public except posthumously. Consequently, a few months later, when Sir John returned to Sri Lanka for his winter holiday that year, on my initiative the Marga Institute recorded his whole story on tape.
It was during that holiday in Colombo that he invited my wife Trixie, our daughter Mano and me, to one of his famed egg hopper breakfasts at Kandawela, his Ratmalana estate. There again, in the presence of several VIP invitees he proceeded to regale us with the comedy of how Dudley hid under his table-cloth, fearful of a police raid on the plotters! However, while he kept everyone including foreign guests in stitches, Sir John’s demonstration of the incident helped to add flavour and credibility to the whole Dudley story.
On the other hand, even though I myself could not help joining in the infectious laughter, I was troubled in mind whether Sir John was right in raising laughs at the expense of one of his predecessor Prime Ministers of the country, and that too in the presence of foreign guests. It seemed a bit cheap and vulgar, even though quite palpably, none of Sir John’s stories were driven by malice. That was simply the quintessential Sir John, completely devoid of malice, but incapable of holding anyone or anything in reverence or respect, for that matter not even Jawaharlal Nehru or Cho En Lai, as he demonstrated at Bandung.
The attempted coup –
the basic facts
I am digressing now! It is my intention in Part 2 of these reminiscences to relate how Sir John claimed to have influenced the Privy Council of the UK to get the coup detenus acquitted. However, before I get there I think I should dwell a while on the attempted coup story as a whole, so as to provide a backdrop to a proper appreciation of Sir John’s claim to have intervened in the legal process at the highest level.
I will not give a nuts and bolts account of the attempted coup but refer readers to several excellent accounts of it that appear on the Internet under the rubric "Attempted coup in Ceylon 1962 ", particularly the Wikipedia account for a factual narration, DBS Jeyaraj’s excellent article titled "Operation Holdfast" for a minutely detailed day by day account, and another by R. K Balachandran of the Hindustan Times under the title "Significance of the abortive 1962 military coup in Ceylon" for a critical evaluation.
So as to avoid causing embarrassment to the surviving relatives of all those who were involved in the attempted Coup, and there are many, I have excluded from this memoir all names except the names of the important ring leaders.
For the purpose of this memoir I will merely say that the coup was an attempt by a caucus of about 26 army and police officers and three civilians to effect a change of personnel in the government at the highest level. That was it! There was no revolutionary mass movement to back it up, with no insurrection or rebellion, and neither were there any economic or political blueprints for a new politico-economic order. It was just an attempt to oust key personnel from seats of power and leave events to take their course thereafter!!
It is hardly credible that intelligent adults, and mind you among whom was a Civil Servant, an Oxford graduate and several senior army and police officers, would have been capable of such a farcical adventure. It was devoid of imagination, it revealed the lack of any understanding of what the political/cultural/social upheaval of 1956 was all about, and worst of all, as an initiative launched by military men, was quite amateurish. Basically, it had no contingency plan, or a plan "B" to be put into operation if plan "A" went awry. In the event, plan "A" did go awry, but the counter strike by the coup leaders was to go home and climb into bed!
The basic operational plan was to arrest the Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike while she was on a pilgrimage to Kataragama and detain her in the Tanamalwila Rest House, while simultaneously in Colombo, several senior members of her Cabinet were to be arrested and held incommunicado in the Magazine Prison. Thereafter the Coup leaders would hand over the government to the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonatilleke, who would set up a Ruling Council which was to include Dudley Senanayake as Chairman, and Sir John as a member. Thereafter, the Coup leaders would go home or return to their erstwhile billets! No one was to be shot at dawn, there was to be no violence whatever, none of the plotters were to hold any office, and the arrested personnel were to be treated with utmost respect, and even be served with meals specially ordered from Galle Face Hotel. By any criteria it was a most extraordinary coup! Rather more like a match played at Lords cricket grounds than a military takeover of a nation’s government.
In the event, Mrs Bandaranaike decided not to go to Kataragama, which straightaway flummoxed plan "A" and one of the leading accomplices, a senior police officer, leaked the Coup plan to the government. But the Coup planners had no fallback plan "B". Within a few hours, the Coup collapsed before it got into gear and the leaders just went to bed hoping that when the sun rose the following morning it would be a normal day. Sadly for them, it was not to be, because by morning the CID fanned out all over Colombo knocking on doors and placing hand cuffs on the suspects!
Col F. C. de Saram, the perfect gentleman, went alone to Temple Trees and surrendered, confessing that he was the leader of the Coup was alone answerable.
If one can overlook the primary felony, which is that in the very act of moving against the government, the plotters had violated the first obligation of the Civil Service, the Military and the Police to be absolutely loyal to the government in power, all the plotters seem to have been thorough gentlemen! If I may caricature them a bit, they seem to have been gin and tonic and whiskey on the rocks gentlemen. They seem to have been bound by an esprit de corps which left no room for anything vulgar or coarse and their personal conduct seems to have been impeccable, at least at the start. However, as the investigations progressed, a few broke rank and grovelled!! On the other hand the senior officers, i.e. the principal instigators, had stood absolutely steadfast in fully accepting the whole blame themselves. Images of Alec Guinness in "Bridge over the River Kwai" come to mind!
Significantly, not one amongst the Coup leaders breathed a word about either Dudley’s or Sir John’s involvement, although the investigators, who knew of their complicity, had done their best to extract information and build a case against them.
To many of those born in the late 1950s and in the subsequent years, the attempted coup is mostly hearsay. On the other hand, to those of us who lived through the experience as adults, it was a hugely significant moment in the unfolding of modern Sri Lankan history. The attempted Coup was not simply a military adventure that went wrong. Its impact on later Sri Lankan history was enormous and irreversible. I would go so far as to say that the revolution of 1956 was completed only when the Mrs Bandaranaike’s government of 1960 plugged the leaks that the attempted coup of 1962 had opened up. Let me explain.
The attempted coup –
Basically, the coup had as its undeclared endgame to plug, and if at all possible, to reverse, the still molten energies that were spewing out of the 1956 revolution. In the event, the plotters not only failed in their endeavour but helped to give those energies a new impetus.
The attempted coup generated in the minds of the new ruling party, and in the minds of its social and cultural following, a strong paranoia. They now believed, as never before, that the political and socio-economic class which had held power in the country for several hundred years before 1956, will leave no stone unturned to reverse the gains of 1956 and ride back to power . They felt therefore that the gains of 1956 were still under threat, and that they should therefore be entrenched structurally and that mechanisms should be put in place to make a reversal to the status-quo ante-1956, impossible.
Sirima Bandaranaike’s government was not just satisfied with thwarting the attempted Coup and punishing the miscreants. It wanted to ring fence 1956 so that it would never thereafter be reversed. This she (really her nephew Felix Dias Bandaranaike, then Minister of Finance) did swiftly and very effectively.
Accordingly, the first strategic move in that direction was to remove the Governor General Sir Oliver Goonatilleke from office and install in his place, Mr William Gopallawa a relative of Mrs Bandaranaike. The second strategic move was to install Mr N.Q.Dias, a senior member of the Ceylon Civil Service whose commitment to the gains of 1956 was absolute, as Permanent Secretary of Defence and External Affairs from where he could control the armed forces. The third strategic move was to speed up nationalization policies so as to undermine the economic base of the pre-1956 power structures, Not least, because most of the coup plotters came from Roman Catholic and Christian schools, the schools take over policy was also accelerated.
Very quickly, N.Q. Dias got down to his task of creating a new security framework for the post 1956 political class. Because the upper layers of the army and the police were mostly Roman Catholic or Christian he decided to carry out a massive cull to remove them and install in their places officers drawn from Buddhist schools. He redeployed army units so as to ensure that only regiments which had not been implicated in the attempted coup were given strategic responsibilities, such as mounting body guard to the Prime Minister and garrisoning Colombo.
Three other far reaching effects of the failed coup, albeit delayed by 10 years until the ruling party had won a two thirds majority in Parliament, were the abolition of the Constitution handed down by the departing British in 1948 and replacing it with a Republican Constitution, with a home grown President as the Head of State replacing the erstwhile Governor General appointed by the Queen of England, and along with it, the repudiation of the Privy Council’s jurisdiction over the citizens of the new Republic.
Overall therefore, the attempted coup, far from reversing 1956, accelerated it, and also ensured that the political and social values that propelled the plotters were irretrievably buried. If 1956 had failed completely to erase the old colonial heritage, the failed coup of 1962 ensured that it would never be resurrected. The coup attempt was the last gasp of the ancient regime but it was totally suicidal for that class. They dug themselves a hole from which they never climbed out.
The legal process
Eventually, 24 men were charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. Their religious and ethnic backgrounds make for interesting speculation. Of the 24 charged 21 were Roman Catholics/Christians and only one was a Buddhist. Ethnically, twelve were Sinhala, six were Tamils, and six were Burghers. When one joined the dots a pattern seemed to emerge, and it was not lost on the ruling party.
The reaction of the government was that the coup was a move inspired and directed by Catholic Action and by Christians as a whole.
Since no shots were fired and no initiatives had been taken by the conspirators to actually get the coup off the ground, the government realized that the current law was inadequate for obtaining a conviction. Therefore, the government put in place a new law called "The Criminal Law Special Provisions Act of 1962" which allowed hearsay as evidence and it was given retrospective effect. The government also opted for a Trial at Bar instead of a Trial by Jury.
However, at the first sitting of the Trial Court, the judges dissolved themselves because in their opinion they had been appointed by the Executive when it had no power to do so. The second court also dissolved itself because one of the judges declared himself compromised.
The third Trial at Bar sat for 324 days and convicted 11 of the 24 accused and sentenced them to 10 years in jail and their properties were to be confiscated by the state.
The convicted men appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which held that -
1. The Special act of 1962 was ultra vires the Constitution of Ceylon.
2. The Special Act had denied to the accused a fair trial.
3. The Special Act had been specifically designed to convict the accused and was therefore bad in law and
4. The accused did not have the protections that they would normally have had under general criminal law and accordingly quashed the conviction handed down by the specially constituted Trial at Bar in Sri Lanka.
In simple lay language, what all this meant was that the Law under which the Coup suspects had been convicted, had not been a Law when the events in question took place, and that it seemed to have been specially designed after the event ( post hoc) to convict the accused. It was therefore bad in law and not valid.
Sir John’s version of the acquittal
At this point I think I should switch to the dramatic mode again.
Sir.J. "I had no doubt in my mind that all these poor chaps were guilty. They were as guilty as hell, but then, so were Dudley, Oliver (Oliver Goonatilleke the Governor General) and I, but we were free and they were in prison! That was not fair and we felt terrible for the wives and families of the poor blighters( sic) They were all gentlemen and now we were the bastards (sic ). We were in the planning of this thing from the very beginning and we had to do something to get them out. We arranged with most of the QCs and solicitors who appeared for the accused not to charge any fees and Dudley and I even made some contributions from our private funds towards the upkeep of the families of some of the detenus. However, that was not enough!
Oliver (i.e. Sir Oliver Goonatilleke) and I put our heads together to work out a scheme, somehow to get these buggers (sic) out. I am sure you will be horrified by what I have to tell you, but what the hell to do men! (sic)
NJ. Never you mind, Sir! I am all ears!
Sir.J You know that I am a member of the Privy Council (PC) , though not a member of the Judicial Committee of the Council . I still am, though out of office. As a member of the PC, over the years I had developed very friendly relations with many members of the Judicial Committee. They loved attending the weekend parties hosted by my then housekeeper Mrs. Frances, and I would join them in shooting parties as well. Even before the detenus had appealed to the Privy Council I had been narrating to them, quite casually at every opportunity, while playing golf or over drinks, that Mrs Bandaranaike’s government was strongly biased against Roman Catholics, Christians and Tamils and that the government had gone to great lengths, even to put new laws on the statute book, to convict the coup suspects. This of course horrified them! Additionally, I targeted two or three members of the Judicial Committee who I knew were Roman Catholics, with my story. However, I did not refer to the appeal as such, or to any of the accused, but just let them have some background information.
Eventually, even though the accused were acquitted on the Law rather than on the facts, I am quite sure that my background briefing of the PC members had a lot to do with their frame of mind and the final verdict.
So, there! What do you think?
N.J. Sir! Pardon my saying this, but I must confess that I am absolutely horrified at what you have just told me. Personally, I do not think that the Privy Council was swayed by your attempt to influence them because the grounds on which they acquitted the detenus were legally 100% sound and there was no evidence of bias in their judgement. Even though the verdict would have pleased you and the others it does not follow that it was the outcome of your attempts at subversion. It has since been established in all civilized countries that retroactive legislation can never be valid. So, even without your intervention, the legality of the case could not have survived scrutiny by an impartial body.
However, what does horrify me is that a former Prime Minister of my country had tried to subvert his host country’s judiciary at the highest level, even by trying to corrupt its most senior judges! I find that quite shocking!!"
Sir John guffaws, pours me another drink and continues to lecture me on the realities of politics and government!
Sir. J I say Jayaweera!, You are living in a bloody (sic) world of your own! Someday you will have to face reality.
N.J. Well sir, I think I have already seen enough of what you call your "reality"(that was in 1974) and I hope I will never have to be a part of it. You know Sir John! I already live in another reality where such corruption and injustices have no place!
Sir. J. What sort of bloody reality is that? What the hell! Have you already attained Nirvana? Ok! Ok! Never mind Nirvana. Even buggers who go to Nirvana must eat, no men? We must eat now! It is getting a bit chilly here. Shall we go in for supper?
Sir John’s butler ushers us to a table groaning under a four course gourmet meal that would have surpassed even Nirvana!
The next instalment will recount Sir John’s narration (over Cognac, Stilton and coffee) of how he influenced the shaping of the Soulbury Constitution, and the granting of Independence.
A memorable evening with General Sir John Kotelawala PC, KBE, CH, K.StJ
Prime Minister of Ceylon 1951-1956
February 16, 2013, 5:38 pm
by Neville Jayaweera
The following part is unabridged.
As the warm summer evening meandered lazily into the night, in Sir John Kotelawala’s spacious manor in Brogues Wood Kent, Sir John’s tongue, enlivened by the spirit that cheers, was wagging vigorously. There was no stopping him. He regaled Lorna Wright and me with stories about VIPs and big events from the past and kept us falling off our chairs laughing, till my stomach began to feel cramp. (Lorna, one time the wife of the Civil Servant and classics scholar Raine Wright, and divorced, was Sir John’s housekeeper and official hostess in the mid 1970s. In later years she took Australian citizenship and the Australian Government conferred on her the Order of Australia for her social work). As the evening advanced and the stories got more and more risqué Lorna excused herself from the dinner table and retired to her quarters, saying, "I cannot take this anymore. You two men had better share the stories between yourselves"
As the narration galloped along not a person was spared - Governor General Sir Oliver Goonatilleke, Lord Soulbury, Prime Ministers D.S. Senanayake, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike, President J.R. Jayawardene, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, and not least himself, all alike grist to his relentless raconteur mill. Most of his stories stripped the high and the mighty of their pretensions and pomposity and it was truly admirable how he could stand detached and pour ridicule upon himself. An extraordinary quality of Sir John’s character was an underlying cynicism about big wigs and that included him as well!
I must add quickly, hilarious though most of the stories were, not one of them was driven by any animosity or rancour, and though they carried Sir John’s signature embellishments, I believed them all.
However, not all the stories he related provoked laughter. A few produced a deep shock and sadness, such as the story about why and how his father, John Kotelawala (Snr) committed suicide when Sir John was only eleven, leaving the family virtually bankrupt and how his mother had to struggle hard to rebuild the family fortunes, and why Sir John had to divorce his wife within a few years of marriage, and why his mother, the redoubtable Alice Kotelawala converted from Buddhism to Christianity. As a matter of good form, I have excluded those stories from this narrative.
Of the many stories Sir John narrated to me that evening I have chosen for retelling in Part 3 how he claimed to have influenced Lord Louis Mountbatten, at that time C in C South East Asia Command, to press on the Colonial Office to grant Ceylon, Dominion Status and hasten Independence a year later, and how the Soulbury Commission itself was reduced to a secondary side show.
However, before I get to the Soulbury story I must relate an important personal exchange between Sir John and me, after Lorna Wright had retired for the evening.
Why now, and why me?
I posed two big questions to Sir John
N.J. Sir John, I must ask you, why you are breaking rank and disclosing Dudley’s involvement in the attempted coup, 12 years after the event (1974) , and more particularly after he has passed away (April 1973 ) Isn’t that a violation of the esprit de corps which all the coup leaders had observed meticulously? It seems to me a "damn shame" thing, and I am truly shattered, not only by your revelation of Dudley’s role in the Coup attempt, but equally by your own violation of the esprit that bound all the plotters. Are you being driven by some malice towards Dudley because he did not make you the Governor General when he became Prime Minster in 1965?
Sir. J. No! No! No! I have no malice towards Dudley at all! After all, I have admitted that I was a joint plotter with him and I know why Dudley could not make me the Governor General. That was never a problem! But you see, these things have been weighing on my conscience for a long time and I felt that before I die, I am 77 now, I must leave the story with someone, so that future historians will get the correct picture. I say Jayaweera! There is a lot of history that never gets written up and remains tucked away in the memories of politicians like me, and in bureaucrats such as you! I am actually not going public with the story but I decided to leave the story with you, because I know you were Dudley’s most trusted Civil Servant. So I am now leaving the story with you so that you may decide what to do with it.
N.J That is not fair by me Sir! Absolutely unfair! Why should I have to carry the burden of secrecy about an event in which I was not involved at all? I am keeping elaborate notes of this evening’s conversation, but will you please keep your promise and also speak into a tape recorder which I shall arrange with the Marga Institute to bring to you when you return to Kandawela so that the secrecy is spread around more evenly?
Sir J. Of course I will. I will! (Note – as promised Sir John did record his stories on tape six months later)
N.J. You know Sir John, what you have revealed this evening has shaken me! Dudley was not just my Prime Minister, but after he relinquished office in 1970 and I took early retirement in 1972, we used to meet often at his home "Woodlands" and we became close friends, but he never breathed a word about all this to me. What you have revealed has disillusioned me utterly, not only about Dudley personally but about politicians in general.
Sir. J. I say Jayaweera! There are lots of other things in the political underworld that good chaps like you are innocent of. I have a load of "sh-t" on my conscience which I want to share with someone before I die. Also, you must know never to trust politicians! As I told you at the very start of this evening’s conversation there are no good politicians. We are all bloody hypocrites, even the best amongst us. The only good politician is a dead politician.
So you see Jayaweera, even though my revelations about Dudley may have shocked you, at least thank me that I have cured you of your blindness.
N.J. Sir John, you are obviously carrying a lot of baggage in your conscience that is why you are blabbing to me. Why don’t you go to a priest, doesn’t matter of whichever religion, make a clean breast of everything and unburden your conscience? Why choose me to carry your burden. You hardly know me and I am not a priest!
Sir J. Go to a priest? Bloody hell! No! Even though we hardly know each other Jayaweera, I chose you to be my confidante, perhaps because I have heard so many stories about some spiritual experiences you have had and I find myself drawn to you. I do not know why, but I do like you very much. Just talking to you makes me feel "saehaellu" (meaning unburdened and free)! You see Jayaweera I have done so many bad things in my life and I am 77 now and my life is drawing to a close. I have neither children nor siblings and I feel so lonely and I do not want to carry all this "sh -.t" with me to my grave. That is why I want to talk to you. I am not a religious man Jayaweera, and I do not know how to pray or meditate, but I have a conscience that keeps troubling me.
( Note - at this point Sir John actually chokes with a sob and uses his napkin to dab his tears, showing that even within so called "strong" men, the "still small voice" will not quieten down. For a full five minutes an eerie silence envelops us, and neither of us utters a word)
N.J. (finally breaking the silence) I assure you Sir John I shall keep you in my prayers and meditations
Sir J. Will you? Oh thank you! You are a good man!
N.J. Well Sir John, I shall keep your stories under wraps for as long as you want, but do you want me to bury them for good or go public someday. Are there any stories that you want me to embargo?
Sir J. No men! Don’t bury the stories. The reason I revealed everything to you is that someday you will go public, but the timing and the decision what stories to embargo is yours.
N.J. One last question and this is not easy! You convinced me never to believe a politician. Why should I believe you?
Sir J. That’s easy. For one thing I am no longer a politician, I have no political ambitions now, and you can believe me, because in most of the stories I am more guilty than the other man. These stories are confessions and not a defence!
N.J Point taken!
(That was almost 40 years ago. I am myself 82 plus now, and I think it is about time I unwrapped at least some of Sir John’s secrets. The very next day after dining with Sir John, I expanded my notes onto a dozen A4 pages. However, those pages have turned brown with age but fortunately my memory is still vivid even concerning the details - clearly, a benefit of meditating daily on the word of God!)
Worsening political climate
With a few broad brush strokes, let me first paint the background to the Soulbury Commission story.
Following the Donoughmore Reforms (1927-1930) Ceylon (as SL was then known) had experienced universal adult franchise and internal self government. However, as the 1930s dragged on, agitation grew within the State Council for a greater measure of self government leading up to Dominion Status.
In 1937, a famous incident hardly known to the post war generation, but known to history as the Bracegirdle case, had stoked ant-British feeling in Ceylon to fever pitch. Bracegirdle was a British/Australian planter planting in Uva, but a committed Marxist, and he openly supported the LSSP’s agitational campaigns. Under pressure from the local white community, the Governor Sir Reginald Stubbs issued a deportation order on him. However, Bracegirdle went to ground, while the LSSP stepped up their agitation culminating with a mass meeting of over 50,000 people, the largest mass meeting ever held up to that time on Galle Face Green. That meeting was noteworthy also because a rising young politician named S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike shared the same platform with the inflammatory LSSP speakers. Meanwhile friends of Bracegirdle applied for a writ of habeas corpus against the Governor’s deportation order, and the famous appeal court lawyer H.V. Perera appeared in support of the application, free of charge.
The case was heard by Chief Justice Sir Sydney Abrahams who made order in favour of the applicant and quashed the order of deportation issued by the Governor on Bracegirdle.
Incidentally, Sir Sydney Abrahams’s brother Harold Abrahams (both outstanding Cambridge scholars) was the hero of the Oscar winning film "Chariots of Fire"
One should also note that even at the height of Imperial rule the Chief Justice had dared to quash an order made by the Governor, the then Head of State, but neither the Governor nor Whitehall mounted an impeachment of the Chief Justice. To the contrary, Sydney Abrahams served out his full term as Chief Justice in Ceylon, and went on promotion as Chief Justice of Nigeria, a much larger colony than Ceylon.
Contrary to expectations, white supremacist attitudes had hardened during the war years and local resentment continued to grow. The LSSP, though proscribed since 1940, was fermenting disaffection underground throughout the country. To make matters worse the British business and planting community were openly hostile to the granting of more power to the local political leaders
Far out in the Indian Ocean, on Cocos Islands (close to Australia) the Ceylonese members of the local garrison, drawn from the Ceylon Garrison Artillery, but commanded by a British volunteer officer, had mutinied, and had been executed, despite appeals on their behalf by most of the leading Ceylon’s political leaders, and the news about why the men mutinied, seeping through to Ceylon, was highly inflammatory.
India was in ferment and the Indian National Congress was openly in revolt. Worse, somewhere in the jungles of Malaysia, Subhas Chandra Bose, the charismatic Indian leader was putting together an Army of Liberation drawn from Sikh and Gurkha regiments who had been captured by the Japanese, and a rising young Ceylonese politician named J.R.Jayewardene was suspected to be in liaison with Bose.
Despairing of the Colonial Office agreeing to any concessions on greater freedom for Ceylon, in February 1944 the State Council passed what they called the Free Lanka Bill which provided for an Independent Ceylon, structured on the Westminster model, within the British Commonwealth.
However, the Colonial Office rejected the Bill outright and announced that a Royal Commission will be appointed, after the end of the war, at some unspecified time, to go into the whole question of constitutional reform for Ceylon. This was not all acceptable to the Ceylonese leaders, and seeing in the proposal a familiar prevarication, they stepped up the agitation.
The Colonial Office’s rebuff to the State Council’s proposals for political reform was like throwing combustible stuff on smouldering embers. By this time, Sir D.B. Jayatillaka had stepped down from the position of Leader of the House, and D.S. Senanayake had taken over. Unlike Sir D.B. who was genteel and placid, D.S was combative, cunning and ambitious. D.S. now saw his opportunity and he would not stand for prevarication by the Colonial Office. He realised that, with storm clouds gathering over the political horizon in Ceylon and India, the time was opportune to go for Whitehall’s jugular.
By 1944, the political climate both in India and within Ceylon had turned horribly sour. The rugged "old salt" Admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton, C-in-C Ceylon, was notoriously racist and insensitive to the subtleties of governance. He had called Oliver Goonatilleke a "bloody black bastard", and had addressed Sir D.B. Jayatillaka, the much respected Leader of the House, as " you bloody idiot", and had ruled that the Orient Club, Colombo’s famous watering hole for the white rulers should be kept a white preserve.
Sir John takes over the narration
At this point I will switch over to the dramatic mode and let Sir John take over the narrative.
Sir. J. "So you know what? The old man D.S. Senanayake, cunning "bugger"(sic) that he was, asked me to approach Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, C-in-C, South East Asia Command (SEAC), - later Viceroy of India, and sneak to him racist stories about Admiral Geoffrey Layton, who was under his overall command. Lord Louis was stationed in Kandy, and as a colonel in the C.L.I. (Ceylon Light Infantry) I had been nominated by the government to be its official liaison with the SEAC.
I approached Lord Louis and painted to him a grim picture of rising discontent within the country. I told him that the LSSP was growing in numbers and was making governance near impossible.
Taken aback, Mountbatten dashed off a strongly worded telegram to Churchill. Though intended as "top secret" he read its contents to me obviously intending that I should pacify DS and the Board of Ministers. In his telegram to Churchill, Lord Louis said that unless he (Churchill) reins in the Colonial Office in London, and sees that Ceylon’s aspiration to Dominion Status is granted quickly, he ( Lord Louis ) will find it impossible to fight the Japanese and a Marxist uprising in Ceylon at the same time. He also added that in his view Ceylon was more fitted for Dominion Status and even Independence than India.
N.J.. You mean Lord Louis was willing to override the local C-in C. Sir Geoffrey Layton?
Sir.J. Of course! Geoffrey Layton was small fry for Lord Louis who was Churchill’s personal nominee, and he could override even the Viceroy in Delhi. When Lord Louis’ telegram reached London, the Colonial Office panicked, promptly reversed its position, and in 1944 itself nominated a Royal Commission on constitutional reform to come to Ceylon, even before the war ended, with Lord Soulbury heading the commission. In fact, Soulbury need not have come because the issue had already been settled by Lord Louis. However, the cunning fox D.S. had not finished!
N.J. . I don’t understand. So what more did D.S. want?
Sir.J. D.S. was of the view that because Lord Louis had already thrown his weight 100% in Ceylon’s favour, the only way to extract the maximum from the Soulbury Commission was to boycott it! How do you like that!
N.J. I don’t follow the logic.
Sir.J. You see, we wanted to confirm to the Colonial Office that unless they granted us what we had asked for in the Minister’s Lanka Freedom Bill, there will be no point in cooperating with the Soulbury Commission and consequently the Marxists will step up their agitation and that a Marxist takeover will be inevitable.
N.J. I don’t understand how you could boycott the Commission and yet get them to do you a favour.
Sir.J. That’s the beauty of it men! We knew that Lord Louis had already settled the issue in our favour and boycotting the Soulbury Commission was our way of snubbing the Colonial Office and making political capital in front of the masses. Again it was D.S.’s cunning that did it. However, while publicly boycotting the Commission, hidden from view we did everything possible to see that Soulbury did as we wanted. Oliver was virtually the unseen secretary to Lord Soulbury constantly whispering things in his ear, while I arranged all sorts of tamashas for the Commissioners, all over the country including even the famous elephant kraal at Panamure. In the course of all these tamashas I was able to convince the Commissioners that the Marxists will take over the country very soon.
N.J. But Sir John, how did you counter the powerful arguments being put forward by G.G. Ponnambalam and company. Surely the commissioners were not going to let even an elephant kraal influence their thinking?
Sir. J. We simply refused to enter into an ugly public exchange with the Tamil leaders. Jayaweera, you don’t seem to see my point. The one thing the Commissioners feared was the Marxist threat, and so as to minimise the importance of the Tamil issue, we deliberately avoided discussing it publicly. Instead, we magnified the Marxist threat, and argued that unless the Ministers’ Free Lanka Bill was adopted by the Commission and Dominion Status granted soon, the Marxists will have a platform for agitation and even overthrow the democratic government. Fortunately around this time a wave of Marxist inspired strikes swept through the country as if to prove our point. Also, in Malaysia the Communist guerrillas were threatening to take over!
What I want to tell you is that it was not Sir Ivor Jennings or any pundits who persuaded the Soulbury Commission to recommend Dominion Status for Ceylon but Lord Louis’s intervention with Churchill and our blowing up the Marxist threat out of all proportion, did the trick. By calling strike after strike, the so called Marxist "golden brains" fell for D.S’s trap, thereby proving to the Commissioners that what we were saying about the imminent Marxist threat was indeed true!
N.J. Well Sir, if I am to accept all that you say I will have to relearn my knowledge of Sri Lankan history.
Sir. J I say Jayaweera! You do not seem to understand the truth about politics and government. What you see and hear on the surface is for public consumption. What you do not hear or see is what really matters. Let me tell you another thing! Do you know what finally clinched the deal?
N.J. No sir, I just cannot imagine. Tell me!
Sunday Island, Sunday, 24 February 2013.
A memorable evening with General Sir John Kotelawala PC, KBE, CH, K.StJ
Prime Minister of Ceylon 1951-1956
February 23, 2013, 5:00 pm
by Neville Jayaweera
(abridged versions of this article have appeared in the CEYLANKAN, the journal of the Sri Lankans domiciled in Australia, and in Prof. Michael Roberts’ web site "Thuppahi".
The following part is unabridged.
D.S. Senanayake’s trump card
Part 3 of this narrative concluded with the reader trembling on the edge of D.S. Senanayake’s trump card. I shall allow Sir John to relate the story and help the reader down.
Sir J. D.S. played his final trump card to make sure that Soulbury wrote his report exactly as we wanted him to write it. You see Jayaweera, although DS had never had a secondary education beyond the 5th standard at St Thomas’s he knew the wiles of the world better than you and I, and just on my assurance he did not want to rely on Lord Mountbatten’s telegram to Churchill. He wanted to tie it all up himself and leave nothing to chance. DS was probably the most cunning politician I have met.
He asked me to give Lord Soulbury the absolute assurance that if he recommends Dominion Status in his report, the government will ask the Palace that he (Soulbury) be appointed as the new Dominion’s first Governor General.
I made that offer to Soulbury at a private dinner I gave him, just he and I, one to one, at my Kandawela home. Soulbury looked me in my face through his monocle and held out his hand. We shook hands and the deal was settled. So, Dominion Status for Ceylon was sealed over a private dinner at Kandawela!
So, you see Jayaweera, all that public recording of evidence by the Soulbury Commission, and all that ballyhoo, was just a sham. Eventually, Soulbury’s report hardly differed from the Free Lanka Bill that had been drafted by the Board of Ministers in 1944, and it was more or less as we wanted him to write it. The Soulbury Commissioners had a pukka holiday in Ceylon, paid for by the British Tax payer. Besides that, they did buggerall.(sic) You see, by the close of the war, Britain was bankrupt and could not afford to maintain an Empire, and after Atlee formed a government, the British were keen to grant Ceylon not just Dominion Status but Independence as well, and Lord Louis Mountbatten’s telegram to Churchill simply speeded it.. As for Soulbury, he landed himself a good job as Independent Ceylon’s first Governor General. The truth is that with or without Soulbury Ceylon would have been Independent.
N.J. Well Sir John that is not the whole truth. I think one of the distinguishing features of the Soulbury Constitution was Sec 29, especially subsection (2) which sought to entrench in the Constitution safe guards for the minorities, which if I remember right, the Free Lanka Bill enacted by the Board of Ministers in 1944 did not have. In fact, without Section 29 entrenched in the constitution the minorities would not have joined DS in forming his first government. So you see, the Soulbury Constitution was not just a piece of paper as you claim. However; I agree that ultimately section 29 failed to protect the minorities as the Soulbury Commission and Sir Ivor Jennings had hoped it would, and it became a battleground for diverging interpretations from opposing constitutional experts. In any case, the current Republican Constitution drafted by Colvin R. de Silva in 1972 erased even that safeguard and threw the minorities to the wolves ( i.e.at the time of this interview with Sir John in 1974).
Sir J Ok! OK! I am not a constitutional expert. If you say so, I’ll accept what you say. But let me tell you something more.
D.S’s betrayal of Sir John
The old fox D.S. eventually played me out also!
N.J. How was that?
Sir J. When D.S. fell off his horse and died everyone expected Soulbury to ask me to form the next government. But no! Instead, Soulbury asked D’S’s son Dudley who was about number 4 in the seniority table to form the government, whereas, I was number 2. You know what?
Unknown to me, just as Soulbury had shaken hands with me in a secret deal to recommend Dominion Status for Ceylon on the understanding that he would be the new Ceylon’s first Governor General, Soulbury had shaken hands also on a separate secret deal with D.S. to make Dudley the Prime Minister when he died. That was Soulbury’s pay back to the old fox for making him the new Ceylon’s first Governor General!
Those two old foxes, DS and Soulbury, were cleverer than any of the foxes that nowadays keep raiding my fowl run in Kent! That is how gentlemen play politics! Do you realise Jayaweera what a bloody snake pit politics is?
N.J. I have read the Premier Stakes said to have been written by you. So, why did D.S. and Soulbury renege on you?
Opportunism and self interest
Sir.J. Don’t be a bloody ass Jayaweera! (sic) Self interest! Self interest! Opportunism and self interest! That is the guiding rule of political power. That is the only principle that all politicians live by, everywhere in the world, and not just in Ceylon. Neither country, nor religion, nor anything else, but simply opportunism and self interest!!
N.J. I thought it is money and power?
Sir.J. But isn’t that self interest! All this talk about principles and ideology in politics is a lot of balderdash men! (sic). What happened to S.W.R.D’s principles when he reneged on the Chelva-Banda pact? What happened to Dudley’s principles when he reneged on the Dudley-Chelva accord?
Whatever happened to the principles of that Father of the Revolution Philip Gunawardena when he joined the UNP in 1965? What the hell happened to the LSSP’s and the Communist Party’s Marxist principles when they abandoned their great revolutionary ideology and joined hands with that feudal woman Sirima in 1970? Given the opportunity to solve the ethnic issue by redrafting the Constitution in 1972, look at how the high principled Marxist Colvin R. de Silva, simply reneged on the minorities. How did the committed Marxist draft a Constitution which gave a "special place" to one of the country’s four religions. Where was his commitment to Marxist principles? He should be bloody ashamed of himself!
(After a long pause and a long sigh)
Sir J. Jayaweera I know intellectuals like you love to show me up as a clown but at least no one can doubt that I bloody well call a spade a bloody shovel!
N.J. Well Sir John, you may find this embarrassing, but I must make this point also. To my mind, you were as unprincipled as anyone else. Having offered the Tamils a two language policy to start with, seeing Banda making massive headway in the 1956 elections, you also reneged on the Tamils and started trumpeting Sinhala Only. So, where were your principles?
Sir J. Damn true men, damn true!! You are a clever bugger! Thank you for reminding me. That is why I say that all we politicians are bloody hypocrites and the only thing we understand is climbing the greasy pole of power and self interest.
N.J. Well Sir John, I think that is a splendid note on which to wind up this most fruitful conversation. I am most grateful to you for your hospitality. I promise you that someday, I don’t know when, but I’ll make this evening’s conversation public. That’s a promise.
It is past midnight now, and I must be going. Will you be so good as to ask your chauffeur to drive me back to London?
Sir.J. Wait men! Wait! I have not told you even a fraction of what I wanted to tell you. I know that someday you will be writing your memoirs and I want you to include in them my story as well. So sit down and listen.
N.J. OK! Just another fifteen minutes then! But, Sir John you have promised me that you will speak to a tape and when I get back to Colombo I shall arrange with the Marga Institute to record your auto-biography in greater detail for posterity. Is that OK? (This was done exactly as promised)
The ensuing 15 minutes eventually stretched well into another hour and a half, during which Sir John rambled on and on, about events and personalities, but set against the background of the other stories which have a national context, the latter stories were trivia and gossip with no historical or national relevance. One of the stories was how he facilitated the marriage of SWRD Bandaranaike to Sirima Ratwatte. At the opening of this series I had intended to recite that story as the swan song so to say, but on reflection I have decided not to include it in this narrative.
N.J. Sir John, it has indeed been an unforgettable evening, I shall certainly ensure that someday at least some of your stories will be placed before the public.
S.J. I say Jayaweera! You know I have never spilled the beans to anyone like I have done to you this evening? I know I have told you some things the world will consider trivial but I have also revealed to you a lot of hidden facts showing from inside how history is made. You see Jayaweera there is much more to history than published documents. For instance, who the hell (sic) knew about Dudley’s involvement in the attempted coup of 1962, or why the Privy Council quashed the conviction of the detenus, or about Lord Louis Mountbatten’s intervention in the granting of Dominion Status, and the truth about the Soulbury Commission report? So, not everything I have said is "sh-t". Do you agree?
N.J. Yes Sir, I do agree that you have opened some new windows on history or shall I say, you have opened a can of worms, and some of worms crawling out will cause a lot of embarrassment!
Sir. J. I don’t know why I bared my conscience to you but now that I have, I feel very free, and I would like to continue with our friendship. You must come round to Kandawela with you wife and daughter when you return to Colombo.
So saying, Sir John hugged me warmly as if I had been a long cherished friend! The fact was that, at best, I was only an acquaintance, but I felt in his embrace a deep and unspeakable loneliness. Shorn of all the pomp and the adulation that surrounded him when he was centre stage, he seemed to dread living on the edge of oblivion, and as he dragged what was left of his life, through silent days and lonely nights, he obviously needed to relive and recreate those times when his ego had prospered. More than anything, as he admitted, he needed to unburden himself of a lot of the manure that had accumulated in his conscience.
Shortly thereafter, one day when Sir John and I were both in Sri Lanka, he invited my family and me to breakfast with him at Kandawela. Thereafter, upon our return to England, on several occasions he invited me to return to Brogues Wood for drinks and a "chat" but by that time I was deeply involved in a new job in London which took me out of country for more than four months in the year and I was not able to see him thereafter. In late September 1980, while holidaying in Sri Lanka, Sir John suffered a stroke and on October 2 passed away in hospital. While he was still conscious but unable to talk, President J.R.Jayawardena came to his bedside and conferred on him the rank of a full General of the Sri Lankan Army. His home and estate at Kandawela, which he gifted to the State, became the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU)
A concluding reflection
Ordinarily, I would not for anything have written this four part narrative giving profile and publicity to Sir John Kotelawala, but I had a promise to keep, and even though it had been given 40 years ago, it was still a promise that had yet to be fulfilled. The promise was the one I gave Sir John to make public on some unspecified date, the disclosures he made to me at Brogues Wood in 1974.
However, I must also say that apart from fulfilling the obligation to keep that promise, the writing up of the Sir John narrative was also prompted by the knowledge that it was abundant in hitherto unknown historical facts, that deserved to be made public. It is up to the reader to decide whether Sir John’s claims are true, embellishments or false. Even allowing for Sir John’s signature embellishments, I believed that he was basically speaking the truth.
I must also confess that revealing the claim about Dudley Senanayake’s involvement in the attempted Coup of 1962 was a particularly difficult one for me. That is probably why I delayed for so long going public with the story. Dudley had been for me more than just my Prime Minister. I had also held him in great affection as a man of integrity, largely devoid of the chicanery of politics. Having heard from Sir John the claim about Dudley, for 40 years I myself kept it secret, and, even in a few articles I had written about him, continued to hold up his public image. Considering that Dudley was a public figure and should be subject to public scrutiny, I confess that keeping the story secret was wrong! Hence this narrative!
A word on why I have presented the narrative in a dialogue-dramatic mode. Sir John’s story was embedded in a mass of notes which, even had they been presented verbatim, would not have held reader attention. That was why I have rearranged the material in the dramatic mode before presenting it to the public. Besides, Sir John’s distinctive vocabulary and colourful conversational style would have been completely lost had I rendered the narrative in ordinary third person reportage form.
The purpose of this narrative has not been to extol Sir John. Not at all! In truth, Sir John’s world and my world are as different from each other as the night is from day. He lived a life of gross materiality and sensuality and that is not a judgement on him but a simple statement of fact, which Sir John himself would have fully endorsed with a huge guffaw.
Of all the Prime Ministers and Presidents that Ceylon (Sri Lanka) has had since Independence no one was so richly endowed in material goods as Sir John (except perhaps SWRD). Paradoxically however, it is also true that, contrary to the image he had crafted of himself, of all the Prime Ministers and Presidents who guided Sri Lanka’s destinies, Sir John made the least impact on Sri Lankan history.
On the other hand, it has fallen only to three Prime Ministers/Presidents decisively and irreversibly to change the course of Sri Lanka’s history, and they were D.S. Senanayake, SWRD Bandaranaike and JR Jayawardene, and waiting in the wings for acknowledgement on some future date, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
DS’s contribution was simply to be present at the critical moment in history. Given the dramatic change in the fortunes of the British Empire following the War, Independence would have come knocking on our door anyway, and ushering Independence was no great feat. DS merely reaped the fruit of circumstances and the endeavours of those who had preceded him.
The first decisive and irreversible change in the flow of Sri Lankan history, for good or for evil, depending on one’s perspective, was ushered by SWRD in 1956. He changed irreversibly Sri Lanka’s political, social and cultural landscape.
Likewise, again for good or for evil, depending on one’s perspective, JRJ changed Sri Lanka’s economic landscape decisively and irreversibly, so much so that Marxists and socialists and anti-capitalists who had for decades ranted against capitalism now merely continue working the economic model bequeathed to them by JRJ, and fattening on it.
Jayawardene’s legacy to Sri Lanka was not merely a new economic model, but perhaps equally importantly, a new Constitutional framework. Political parties and political leaders, who when in opposition would curse and fume against the institution of the Executive Presidency, when elected to office have merely drunk deep of the privileges and benefits it bestowed, and that goes equally for the present incumbent.
However, the saddest story is that while Sri Lanka has had two chief executives who changed the course of Sri Lankan history decisively, no one has yet been able to weld Sri Lanka into a single nation. One is tempted to propose Mahinda Rajapaksa as a candidate for this honour.
It is true that Rajapakse brought to a close a thirty year long internal uprising and thereby terminated the threat of a separate state, but the country is still waiting on him to dissolve the causes that produced the conflict in the first instance, to heal the wounds of war, and to bring into being a Sri Lankan nation. The current signs are that far from healing wounds, the fragmentation is widening by the day.
Given overwhelming military might to back him, any third rate politician can crush a rebellion, but it takes more than military might and political cunning to produce out of the ensuing pain and chaos, a new nation. Only a statesman with a high vision can do that, and Sri Lanka is still waiting for that statesman. Perhaps, President Mahinda Rajapaksa may be that person, but only if he submits to a radical transformation of consciousness, values and outlook. The transformation I have in mind must not be just an opportunistic gimmick, but a transformation in depth of Biblical proportions, such as only the Spirit of God can produce!