Washed out ‘bathroom coup’ | Daily News

Washed out ‘bathroom coup’

Army Commander Richard Udugama arrested
Did military attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government 51 years ago?

There was high drama at Katunayake when the aircraft was taxiing to a halt on the tarmac; armed guards took positions in and around the airport, hovercraft of the Royal Ceylon Air Force flew over. The BOAC aircraft which carried Army Commander General Udugama who was returning to island on July 7, 1966, touched down at Katunayake around noon. Chief of the RCyAF Air-Commodore Rohan Amarasekara, met the Army Commander at the tarmac and escorted him, preceded and followed by jeep loads of armed guards to the Air Force Officers Mess.

Sixty five percent of today’s population was not born when the island’s second alleged military conspiracy was staged. Ms. Udugama, two children and a few relatives awaited the arrival of the Commander, they were escorted to the Mess where Udugama was kept under detention, pending transfer to Welikada. There they were told that he would not accompany them back home. While John Attigalle, IGP served the detention order issued under Emergency Regulations, a Defence Ministry official handed over the order suspending the 54-year-old Commander.

There was silence for a few moments before the IGP, who wanted the Major General to follow him to an attached bathroom, where he was searched. Udugama was allowed to meet his family, and the family left. scotch-and-soda; gin-lime was served for the commander and top brass while they were engaged in an unfocussed conversation for about half an hour, after which the IGP accompanied Udugama to the Magazine Prison, where the formalities were over in a matter of minutes; a historic occurrence thus ended.

The next day the government issued a communiqué on his arrest, which stated: “The Attorney General after examining the evidence and other material…has advised …that there is sufficient evidence to justify Udugama being placed on inquiry with a view to trial along with other suspects… has been taken into….acting on the instructions of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, the Governor-General has suspended Udugama from office.”

The head of Army was on a mission to study military training schools in England, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Director, C I D visited him in England and had discussions about the allegations against him.

Richard Udugama first accused in 1966 coup case

Udugama knew what was in store for him; he had the option of looking for asylum in a country as there were offers but the just, bold, fearless and upright officer, he decided to come back to clear his name.

All the accused had a very fair trial at the Supreme Court, at which the Jury was unanimous in declaring them not guilty; SC acquitted all of them without the defence being called. Udugama gained battle experience while serving with British Army in Burma during WWII on secondment from the Ceylon Defence Force. He was unjustly accused of attempting to take over the State in a coup d’é•tat.

A Crown Counsel who prosecuted said-

“J R, the all-powerful Minister of State, was one of the prime targets of this coup. Equally ironically, JR had his hand deep in making sure this prosecution succeeded. He personally approved the selection of Crown Counsel to prosecute and selected the Police officers to investigate the case. The known brutality of the officer selected to do the initial investigation resulted in two suspects committing suicide to avoid State terror against them. …but this was State terror aimed at those who sought to…” – Wakeley Paul, Barrister - at - Law, Middle Temple, London.

Udugama, a Rugby Lion at Trinity was accused along with a prominent Bikkhu of the day and a totally unimportant group of low ranked sergeants. Cruel grilling of suspects caused death of two persons at the infamous 4th floor of the Police HQ. Dodampe Mudalali, a businessman, a soldier who had been in the security ensemble of Gen. Udugama were the two victims, they had been brutally tortured and physically thrown out of the fourth floor by the investigators. It became obvious that JR, leader of the House in 1966 had been tricked to settle scores for the exposure of the 1962 coup d’é tat which was totally led by devious and disgruntled serving and retired Navy, Army, and Police officers. Captain Wignarajah, a Sandhurst-trained soldier was a crown witness became nervous in the witness box when confronted by the defence on his evidence, proving that the statements had been obtained under duress.

Murder by State investigators

Tilekawardene and Dodampe Mudalali were said to have ‘committed suicide’ by jumping from the fourth floor of the CID office, while being under interrogation.

At the inquest, the Magistrate initially returned a verdict of suicide, but later on receipt of fresh evidence altered the verdict to one of culpable homicide.

The Supreme Court made highly critical comments on the conduct of the inquest.

Sergeant Hondamuni, giving evidence at the inquest stated that when Dodampe was being interrogated, sounds of cries of murder were heard and when he opened the door he saw Dodampe Mudalali lying naked on the floor. He even heard SP Seneviratne saying ‘throw him out’.

The exceptionality of the event is that during the trial the prosecution case against Commander Udugama open itself only to expose not only the total lack of facts on any of the charges in the indictment but pointed to a situation in which he is made to seem responsible of a crime Udugama has not committed; only a victim of a politically provoked frame-up. The whole incident was proved to be a Faux Pas; with the jury unanimously declaring them not guilty, all accused were acquitted.

The government felt uncomfortable having the Army under Udugama, who was a relative of Bandaranikes and also that several pro-SLFP officials, who received promotions under Sirimavo Bandaranike in 1960-64 period, were holding positions in the Army.

The Opposition called it the ‘bathroom coup’.

Richard Udugama passed away in May 1994 at the age of 84 at his home in Matale. Full Military Honours were accorded to his remains at the funeral held at Kandy. 


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