Stanley Senanayake Saga in the Police: Some Random Sketches of events in Contemporary history


An Appreciation

by Gamini Gunawardane
Rtd. Snr. DIG

Stanley Senanayake was the 10th Inspector General of the Sri Lanka Police. His 21st death anniversary fell on 18th December this year. These are some reminiscences of his life and times. Senanayake was perhaps the longest to hold that post since Sir Herbert Dowbiggin, who became IGP at the age of 35. Stanley was IGP for seven years. He was a star in the Police from the time he joined. The handsome, tall swimmer of repute joined the Police Service straight from the University as a Probationary ASP in 1943. His good looks and the constant smile was always striking, wherever he went. He, with Gen. Sepala Attygalle, Admiral Basil Gunasekera and Air Marshal Rohan Amarasekere formed an impressive foursome of chiefs when they stood in a row on the podium, behind the then Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike on ceremonial occasions. All four six-footers, decked in their ceremonial uniforms were a spectacular sight. Incidentally, Admiral Basil Gunasekera had first joined as a Police sub-inspector and later changed over to the Navy. Maj. Gen Attygalle they say, first sought to join the Police as a sub-inspector but failed to join for some reason, after which he had joined the Army.

In 1948 Senanayake married Maya Kularatne, the beautiful daughter of Mr. S. Kularatne, former legendary principal of Ananda and Dharmaraja. They say that this duo were the handsomest couple in town at that time; so much was their impact on contemporary society that my wife’s aunt had named her daughter ‘Maya’. And coincidentally, a brother of this Maya is now a DIG – Prasanna Nanayakkara. Now, a little gossip about beautiful wives of the top policemen of those times; Osmund de Silva SP, ‘ran away’ with Ena Aluvihare, the daughter of the then IGP, Sir Richard Aluvihare! She was one of the most beautiful women in Colombo at that time. Osmund de Silva too later became IGP, not through nepotism, but on his own steam, on merit and seniority! Those were the glory days of the Ceylon Police, when the IGP Sir Richard Aluvihare was the companion on horse-back with D.S. Senanayake, the Prime Minister on his morning rides on the Galle Face Green.

Sorry for the diversion. After stints as ASP in Ratnapura, Kegalle, Matale and Kurunegala, Senanayake started hitting the limelight when he succeeded Sydney de Zoysa as the Director of the Police Training School, Kalutara, where he added to the beauty of the campus that was newly started by his illustrious predecessor. He then moved to Colombo as SP Colombo, a coveted post then. It is here that he fell into a whirlpool of dramatic events, not of his own making. But this is how life unfolds. 

S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, shortly after becoming Prime Minister of the Peoples’ Government in 1956, wanted to remove the IGP, Osmund de Silva. This was the commencement of political interference with the Police. There was a huge outcry from the public, particularly the Buddhist Sangha on the grounds that he was the first ever Buddhist to become IGP. But SWRD was adamant on Osmund de Silva who, in keeping with the prevailing high tradition, had declined to do the Prime Minister’s bidding. That was the Police then. In order to overcome the protest of Buddhist Monks, the Prime Minister planned to get as his new IGP a Civil Servant who was a Buddhist. M. W. F. Abeykoon was his choice.

The agitated Senior Police Officers, who feared a calamity, met in conference to decide what to do in the circumstances. They considered the first option: viz., the entire Executive Corp to resign en masse. But they decided against it because it would cause the entire police service to collapse. As the next option they surveyed the entire Executive Corp to locate the most senior officer among them who was a Buddhist. The only officer whom they could find was the young SP, Stanley Senanayake. The Senior Officers after discussion resolved that they would make representations to the Prime Minister that they were prepared to work under Stanley Senanayake who was junior to all of them, than having to work under an outsider who knew nothing of the police. They decided to urge the PM to appoint Stanley Senanayake as IG to succeed Osmund de Silva. Such was the dedication and loyalty of the top brass of the Police to the Service at that time. Accordingly, they met the PM in delegation. Probationary ASP Rudra Rajasingham had been the junior-most officer in this delegation. 

SWRD talking in his Oxonian style brushed aside these representations and appointed his own nominee. He ultimately paid with his life for his folly. Not only he, his wife too to nearly paid the price in 1962 when the civilian IGP was found playing bridge at the Orient Club on that fateful night blissfully ignorant, while the coup d’état to overthrow the government was about to be launched! Coincidentally, their daughter too paid a similar price under an IGP of her choice over the heads of five seniors, all competent men. She survived losing one eye. These are good lessons for our leaders, if they have the modesty to learn from history.

Stanley Senanayake next found himself drawn into this coup d’état of January1962. Some of the key Senior Police Officers who planned the coup insisted that Stanley should join them mainly for reason that he was SP Colombo. Stanley became distraught, torn between the loyalty to the country, police service and to his senior officers. His wife Maya who detected his agony quickly passed the information to her father, who was then an MP in the SLFP Government. That activated the Government to thwart the coup. At that time, Stanley was the centre of many a controversy on his conduct in this instance. Some were of the view that he was a weak man who squealed. But no one could envy the plight of an officer and a gentleman who was torn between his loyalties. His conduct came in for praise by the Judges of the Trial at Bar who heard the coup case, when they exonerated him, observing in their judgment:

"Evidence elicited by the defence satisfies us that Stanley Senanayake was an officer who was honourable and loyal to his Service, his colleagues and his friends. These qualities help much to explain conduct on his part which might otherwise have aroused suspicion. …………… Although he was cross-examined with severity and even some measure of contempt, he did not respond with any appearance of malice against the defendants. On the contrary, he impressed us as a witness who did not relish the role of testifying against brother officers." 

I joined the Police two years later in 1964 and these stories were still fresh, circulating among the Executive Corp. In fact, we the three Probationers, Kingsley Wickramasuriya, the late M. Shanmugan and I were taken, as part of our Divisional Training, to watch the Trial at Bar proceedings, starring G. G. Ponnambalam, Douglas Janze and L.B.T. Premaratne et al.

Stanley Senanayake became IG Police in September 1970 succeeding Eleric Abeygunawardena. He was walking into a turbulent time as I.G., a situation that none of his predecessors had to encounter. The new situation challenged the entire style of policing in Sri Lanka. The major crisis he had to encounter was the 1971 JVP Insurgency. This was an unfamiliar experience for the Police. It had dealt with riots, gang robbery, other violent crime and communal disturbances, but not with deadly violence by educated youth with a political ideology who challenged and attacked police stations directly, all in one night.

Luckily, police had the information in time and unlike M. W. F. Abeykoon who was playing bridge while the goose was being cooked. Stanley Senanayake walked into the Rosemead Place residence of the PM and accompanied a reluctant Mrs. B to Temple Trees on the night of 5th April to foil the plan of the conspirators. A JVP group was in the meantime watching the 9.30 p.m. show at a cinema in Borella, hoping to rush into Rosemead Place at midnight and capture the PM. 

By the 6th morning several police stations were overrun while others defended their stations successfully, with Polonnaruwa led by young ASP A.S. Seneviratne excelling, killing more than 100 attackers, in a clever move. As the battle developed Senanayake had to withdraw ASP Leo Perera, who had done well at Kurunegala and SP Ana Seneviratne from Kegalle. It had to be done without upsetting the morale of the officers. Senanayake did this diplomatically with his usual charm. (My senior colleague, Edward Gunawardena, in a recent article in ‘The Island’ recounted how this was done.) He also had to manage the irrepressible R. C. Thavaraja, ASP, who was ordered to overlook the Warakapola area where the police station had capitulated. 

The flow of events that followed was no less dramatic for the police and the country. The Police force had to be expanded almost twofold to meet with the new situation. There was the problem of the residue of the JVP creeping into the Police under the recruitment scheme. The Government decided that police should obtain clearance from its party MPs on the prospective recruits as they were deemed to know the people of their areas better than anybody else. Thus started the political inroads to police recruitment. Instead of the hitherto impartially selected recruits the Police were supposed to have SLFP approved recruits. The rest had to wait till the other party came into power! 

However, those winds of socialism and romanticism of Che Guevara sweeping into the rank and file, at least the younger sections of the other ranks, was inevitable. They began to challenge the time honoured traditions and procedures of the Department. The Executive Corp of the Police had to redefine them for the angry young dissenters in the new context. The younger lot among us, who had by now had an exposure to the socialist trends in our university days, were able to meet this challenge better than our elderly folk who were naturally out of depth in this turn of events. We were somewhat familiar with the basic ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Che Guevara, Castro, Mao Tse Dong and Ho Chi Minh etc. In fact, some socialist intellectuals at that time were discussing what the role of the police should be in a socialist society. Incidentally, I could remember Stanley Tillakaratne, then a fire brand of the Communist Party, leading a gang of workers at a May Day rally with the following slogan: 

Ralahamy me ahanna,

Apith ekka ekathu wenna

Wamata harie perata yanna! 

Listen O Mr. Policeman,

Come, join us

To ‘turn left’ and, march forward!

A mind boggling thought for the conventional policeman!

Then also started the unholy trend in the more senior ranks of the police: seeking political patronage for personal advancement. Policing itself was done more under the Emergency Law than on the ordinary law, affording the opportunity for a more authoritarian style of governance both for the police and the government. The security concerns and emphasis on terrorist investigations taking the pride of place resulted in the neglect of the time honoured police practices, procedures and administration which gradually declined through default.

Under the same trend, the rank and file brought in pressure through its Police Welfare Association to change their uniform to obviate the obvious difference between theirs and those of the officers. The IGP with his more liberal ideas accommodated this request and agreed to have police sergeants and constables don long trousers and peak caps. Thus, the only outward difference between the officers and other ranks was the badges of rank. In fact, the idea was sensible in that if, according to the Police Ordinance, the basic police powers of all police officers from the IGP down to constable were the same, there was no sense in the different levels of the hierarchy wearing different uniforms. Only the badges of rank could be different for identification purposes. Thus one feature of the colonial police where the other ranks were considered ‘sepoys’ was eliminated. Stanley Senanayake was ‘progressive’ enough to adapt to the new concept.

Another development in the country was the adoption of the 1972 Constitution and the replacement of the Criminal Procedure Code with Administration of Justice Law No.44 of 1973. One impact of the new constitution was the replacement of the Public Service Commission marking the end of independence of the Police and the Public Service, on the theoretical justification that sovereignty of the people lay in the Cabinet of Ministers who are the direct representatives of the people. Thus it marked an end of an era for the Police and the Public Service which became a mere tool in the hands of the political party in power. 

Another outcome of the new Constitution was that the Tamil Members of Parliament boycotted the Constituent Assembly adopting the Vadukoddai Resolution of 1976 for a separate State. This move finally ended up in the emergence of the Tamil terrorist movement following the JVP model. Early investigations by the CID had the first 43 terrorists in custody when the Government decided to release them at the request of Alfred Duraiappah, looking for a political advantage for the party in power over the Federal Party at the KKS by-election. The immediate result was the murder of Duraiappah himself. This was followed by the deaths of several Tamil persons and two police officers by electrocution at a hot political meeting at the Veerasingham Hall.

This was politically interpreted as a deliberate act of the government through the Jaffna police which was headed by S.K. Chandrasekera, SP. It was made out that Chandrasekera who was earlier the chief of the security of Mrs. Bandaranaike was specially chosen and sent there to harass the Tamils. In fact, Chandrasekera was removed from his position for some misdemeanour on his part and posted to Jaffna on punishment.

In the meanwhile, the conclusion of the successful investigations by the police brought the 40 odd leaders of the ’71 Insurgency before the Criminal Justice Commission on charges of conspiracy and attempt to overthrow the lawfully elected government. (The details of this trial are discussed in the book by Justice Alles who chaired the CJC). They were all convicted and sentenced to jail until they were released by JRJ in 1977. Both he and the country paid the price for his folly when the JVP gave the ‘returns’ in 1988/89. These events dealt a further body blow on the police organization.

Another important case investigated under Stanley Senanayake was the Kataragama Beauty Queen’s case of rape and murder by a volunteer army officer during the ‘71 Insurgency which too ended in conviction and sentencing of the accused to jail. This accused died in jail. Also reminiscent is the case of large scale Exchange Control violations cases investigated by the CID against some of the most powerful Exchange Control racketeers of the Colombo elite who were considered untouchable up to that time. All of them were duly convicted and jailed by the CJC and one of these top gem smugglers died in jail. In fact, the CID nearly arrested a former Governor General for similar offences before which he left the country in the nick of time! These investigations also resulted in the winding up of the North Korean Embassy in Sri Lanka on their refusal to explain certain questionable foreign exchange transactions. Those were the glorious times of the much feared CID which reached dizzy heights under its unique Director, Tyrrell Goonetilleke who was only an SSP at that time. The Director CID was reporting to the IG direct. There were many such dazzling, high-profile investigations done by the CID at that time the enumeration of which is not possible in this limited space. 

Another important event during the time of Stanley Senanayake was the holding of the Non-Aligned Nations’ Conference. It was a great challenge to all agencies of the government. It was such a massive event where a large number of heads of State were assembling in one place, unprecedented in the entire history of this country. It was originally considered such a daunting task that some top Foreign Ministry officials wondered whether Sri Lanka was capable of handling such a job. But in the end it was considered internationally that it was the best organized Non-Aligned Nations Conference held, up to that time.

The Sri Lanka Police crowned itself with glory. So thorough was the security training which was new to the police at that time that once, when Stanley Senanayake on inspection sought entry to the Oberoi Hotel premises where some of the Prime Ministers were housed, Inspector Bastianpillai, then considered a gem of the CID, and who was later killed in the jungles of Madhu by the terrorists, requested the IGP to get down from the car, searched the Benz thoroughly before he permitted him to enter the premises, after apologizing. The IG later sent him a note of appreciation of his level of professionalism.

On the Organizational Development side during his time, was the growth of the Police Reserve which was considered as a great resource for the police, under the Dy. Commandant, S. Vamadevan. This was primarily to meet the great demand for manpower at short notice immediately following the needs of the ‘71 JVP insurgency and later the nascent Northern insurgency. But really it enabled attraction of various specialists of different disciplines for the Intelligence Services and Medical Services etc. mobilized on a voluntary basis. If I remember correctly, the late Dr. P.R. Anthonis too was in the Executive Corp of the Police Reserve.

But the most colourful addition to the Police from the Reserve was the formation of the Police Hewisi Band under the Kandyan dancing specialist R/SI Olaboduwa and his wife. It was really an innovative idea of S. Vamadevan SSP who later retired as DIG. The interesting feature here was that it took a Tamil and a Policeman to start a Kandyan Hewisi Band and dancing troupe in a regimented service! Until then, nobody could think outside the Brass Band concept. That was the spirit of ethnic amity in the police at that time. Sinhala culture was common heritage of all communities. This precedent was soon followed by the three Services who set up their own Hewisi Bands. The high point of the Police Hewisi Ensemble was when they were invited to perform at the Edinburgh Tattoo. 

The Police Reserve platform later paved the way for development of the Police Medical Services Division which has become a great boon to police officers now serving and those retired.

 Another innovative idea that was facilitated by Stanley Senanayake was the Police Families’ Welfare Association. Really, it was Maya Senanayake’s idea which she pursued relentlessly to its success. One of the main tasks of this organization was to undertake the function of tailoring of police uniforms by the wives and daughters of police officers. The purpose was to provide extra income to policemen and their families as an economic relief and also to minimize the need for police officers to go behind government politicians to obtain employment for their children. By this time an MP’s letter had become a must to obtain employment in the government. The PFWA also provided scholarships and financial assistance to needy police children and also medical assistance. This idea soon caught on with the other Services too. In a few years it spread to the Ministries too under the name of Seva Vanitha where the Ministers’ wives and the wives of top administrative officers too got involved.

A further important incident towards the end of his tenure that occurred somewhere in 1976 was the shooting by police of the university student Weerasuriya on the Peradeniya campus when the students surrounded the Vice Chancellor’s office and held him hostage. The student and political protests spread throughout the country and the government, whose popularity was at a peak after the successful Non-Aligned Nations’ conference, suffered a serious dent. It could be said that this incident significantly contributed to their downfall at the hustings in 1977. 

Finally, his retirement in August 1977 marked the demise of the idea of an independent Police."Anicca vata sankhara" - "All composite phenomena are but transient".

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