The coup that chose failure | Daily News
Neal de Alwis - LSSP MP was arrested in 1962: the Only ‘DRAMA’ in aborted attempt

The coup that chose failure

Numerous responses and inquiries by Daily News readers prompted the writer to continue with one more episode of the failed Coup.

William Neal de Alwis was a senior member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. Born on January 19, 1914, he received his education at All Saints College, Galle and St. Joseph's College, Colombo.

At the first parliamentary election held in 1947, he ran as the LSSP candidate in the Udugama electorate but failed to get elected. At the second parliamentary election, held in May 1952, he successfully contested Udugama defeating UNP’s Goonesekera. He was unable to retain his seat at the April 1956 election where he lost to SLFP.

In March 1960, whilst he received less than 20% of the total vote, in a field of nine candidates, it was adequate enough for him to win the seat and re-enter parliament.

Officers of the Army and Police, on January 27, 1962, attempted a coup dé tat intended at overthrowing the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. [we discussed details on January 24 on this column] The government on receipt of information arrested the leaders of the mid-night operation by the evening of 27th, however, not before the only arrest of the coup drama occurred. Police arrested MP, de Alwis at his residence in Baddegama around 12.30 p.m. as part of the plan to take into custody all leading politicians of the day. He was detained until 11.00 a.m. the following day.

High drama in the House

Neal de Alwis, the LSSP MP, Baddegama, Galle district, speaking in the House of Representatives on February 23 stated, “On Saturday, Jan. 27, [D-day] I had a conference in the Labour Department at which the superintendent of Tennehene Estate was present. Jesudasan, a suspect in the coup is a director at Carson Cumberbach, who were the agents for the estate. After the inquiry was over, this superintendent made a very significant remark. He said, ‘Very soon, Mr Alwis, you all will be finished’. What happened that night? At about one o’clock in the morning of January 28, police were sent to arrest me. There were about 25 police officers with rifles. The OIC Poddala station said I have to make a statement. I thought my statement was in connection with Trade Union activities”.

The MP continuing said that the OIC explained the only reason for the arrest was instructions from his superior officer, V E Perera, the Superintendent of Police, Galle. The MP also stated that he surmised it was part of the government’s plan to suppress the powerful left due to the national trade unions strike action, something that they were expecting to happen any moment.

“…The Inspectors called me to a side and said that they have ordered from the Superintendent of Police to bring me under detention orders. I told them that I was expecting this and that I had information that Trade Union leaders were to be arrested. ‘By arresting us how can the government solve the problems?’ I asked. I had a wash and asked the Inspector if I can take a suitcase with me. He said ‘quite in order’; then I put in a few things, I was asked to carry a few pillow cases too. Then I got into the police jeep and was taken to the Galle police station... I found Superintendent of Police, V. E. Perera his two assistants, ASPs Mahamood and Hofman waiting for me…, SP Perera said, ‘We are sorry, these are instructions’, I said ‘quite in order…I’m not blaming you, people...”.

The MP for Baddegama also revealed very valuable information on involvement of Galle districts planters in the conspiracy, Mr de Alwis continuing his speech in Parliament, said,

“I am also aware that Sydney de Zoysa was actively engaged with certain officers of Police stations who were also actively engaged with the Superintendents of these estates. In fact, in September 1961, I went and saw the IGP and DIG, L I de Silva. I told them that I suspected the activities of Assistant Superintendent of Police, who I understand is now on ‘forced leave’; that he was in league with the estate superintendents and Sydney [de Zoysa, coup leader]; and was actively engaged in the activities of the estate’s trade union movement…in fact there was a superintendent in Talangaha Estate who had decided to engage Sydney’s security service doing away with local police”.

Describing the mid-night ordeal at the police station after his arrest, the Marxist/Trotskyite Parliamentarian stated,

In 10 or 15 minutes time, I got into the bed, as I thought I would be taken to Colombo next morning. The next day at about 9.30 in the morning, Hopman came to me and said he wanted to take a statement on my activities during the past three days… while the statement was being recorded the telephone rang, he answered went out and came back and said,

‘Mr Alwis I have come to announce your release’. Then on Monday 29, again the CID came to my residence and wanted to get a statement… I said I have already made a statement to Hopman, but they insisted, ‘this is on details of your arrest’.

Then of course, it dawned on me that something really has happened.” - Hansard- 23/02/62-columns: 2503/2505

Neal back in Parliament

In the absence of advanced sophisticated equipment that is available today; this was one rare instance of the breakdown in the otherwise meticulous communication network employed by the plotters.

At the 1970 parliamentary election, de Alwis was re-elected to Baddegama, with 22,126 votes. His party, the LSSP formed a political coalition, the United Front, with the SLFP and Communist Party which successfully won the 1970 parliamentary election. Neal de Alwis was appointed a Deputy Minister. At the 8th parliamentary election in July 1977, de Alwis switched to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party; however, he failed to get re-elected.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” -- John F. Kennedy 


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