Subsidiary Alliance and Doctrine of Lapse
Governor General Wellesley (1798-1805) pursued a forward policy to establish British supremacy in India. His annexation of territories was not a result of victory in war. It was by assumption of the entire administration of an Indian State, with its rulers retaining his title and receiving a fixed allowance.
Before Wellesley, the Company concluded alliances with Indian princes. The Nizam and the Nawab of Oudh received subsidies for the maintenance of British contingents. Such forces were generally stationed outside the State concerned. Payment was made in cash. Difficulties arose when the payments were not promptly paid. Wellesley broadened the scope of this arrangement by his Subsidiary Alliance System, bringing under it Hyderabad, Mysore, Lucknow, the Maratha Peshwa, the Bhonsle (Kolhapur) and Sindhia (Gwalior).
The provisions of the Subsidiary Treaty are: (a) An Indian ruler entering into Subsidiary Alliance with the British had to dissolve his own armed forces and accept British forces and a British Resident in his territory. (b) He had to pay for the British army’s maintenance. If he failed, a portion of his territory would be taken away and ceded to the British. (c) The protected prince was to sever all connections with European powers other than the British, especially the French. (d) No European should be employed without the permission of the British. (e) No negotiation with any Indian power should be held without the Company’s permission and (f) No other Indian power to interfere in its internal affairs. Thus the states brought under the system became dependent on the Company in political and military matters, sacrificing their own sovereignty and status.
The Subsidiary System increased the military resources and efficiency of the Company government. The immediate result of this system was the discharge of thousands of professional soldiers by the political powers. The disbanded soldiers indulged in freebooting activities. Pindaris (marauders) began to swell on account of the Subsidiary System. In view of the guaranteed support to the Princes by the Company, the protective States mal-administered and paved the way for the annexation.
Distinction between ‘Presidency’ and ‘Province’: The British called Presidency the place where the office of Chief Administrative Head was situated. Madras, Bombay and Calcutta were the three Presidencies. Later when the Presidency became unwieldy for governance, they created provinces like Central and United Provinces.
Traditionally Hindu custom allowed the adoption of a son in the absence of male heirs. The adopted son had the right to inherit property. In this context the question raised was whether such an adopted prince holding the state subordinate to the Paramount Power (England) could succeed without the consent of the latter. Before Dalhousie’s arrival, the custom was to obtain the sanction of the Company government before or after adoption. Governor General Dalhousie held that the paramount power could legally refuse to sanction adoption in the case of rulers of States dependent on it. This meant that dependent States could be regarded as lapsed to the paramount power, by its refusal to sanction the succession of adopted sons.
By applying this policy known as Doctrine of Lapse, the first state to fall was Satara. Shahji of Satara died (1848) and the son he adopted on the eve of his death was not recognized by Dalhousie. Gangadhar Rao, Raja of Jhansi died in November 1853 and Dalhousie annexed that state immediately. (His widow, Rani Lakshmi Bai, played a prominent role in the Great Rebellion of 1857.) Raghuji Bhonsle III died in 1853 without a child. Nagpur was immediately annexed. In 1851, the last Peshwa died. He had been a pensioner of the Company for thirty-three years, but Dalhousie refused to continue paying the pension to his son, the Nana Sahib. The Doctrine of Lapse, thus, served as an instrument for the pursuit of its annexation policy. When the Crown took over India in 1858 Doctrine of Lapse was withdrawn.