The appointment of Richard Colley Wellesley as Governor-General marks an epoch in the history of British India. He was a great imperialist and called himself 'a Bengal tiger'. Wellesley came to India with a determination to launch a forward policy in order to make 'the British Empire in India' into 'the British Empire of India'. The system that he adopted to achieve his object is known as the 'Subsidiary Alliance'.
In the north-western India, the danger of Zaman Shah's aggression posed a serious threat to the British power in India. In the north and central India, the Marathas remained a formidable political power. The Nizam of Hyderabad employed the Frenchmen to train hisarmy. The political unrest in the Karnatak region continued and Tipu Sultan had remained the uncompromising enemy of the British.
Moreover, the policy of neutrality adopted by Sir John Shore, the successor of Cornwallis, created a kind of political unrest in India and greatly affected the prestige of the English. His non-intervention policy contributed much to the growth of anti-British feelings. Further, Napoleon's move for an Eastern invasion created a fear among English statesmen. It was in this light that Wellesley moulded his policy. Preservation of British prestige and removal of French danger from India were Wellesley's twin aims.
He was also thoroughly convinced that only a strong British power in India could reduce and control the existing tyranny and corruption in Indian states. Therefore, he reversed the nonintervention policy of his predecessor and formulated his master plan namely the 'Subsidiary Alliance'.
The predecessors of Wellesley concluded alliances with Indian princes like the Nawab of Oudh and the Nizam of Hyderabad. They received subsidies from the Indian rulers for the maintenance of British troops, which were used for the protection of respective Indian states. Wellesley enlarged and consolidated the already existing system. However, his originality was revealed in its application.
Any Indian ruler who entered into the subsidiary alliance with the British had to maintain a contingent of British troops in his territory. It was commanded by a British officer. The Indian state was called 'the protected state' and the British hereinafter were referred to as 'the paramount power'. It was the duty of the British to safeguard that state from external aggression and to help its ruler maintain internal peace. The protected state should give some money or give part of its territory to the British to support the subsidiary force.
The protected state should cut off its connection with European powers other than the English and with the French in particular. The state was also forbidden to have any political contact even with other Indian powers without the permission of the British.
The ruler of the protected state should keep a British Resident at his court and disband his own army. He should not employ Europeans in his service without the sanction of the paramount power.
The paramount power should not interfere in the internal affairs of the protected state.
Wellesley's Subsidiary System is regarded as one of the master-strokes of British imperialism. It increased the military strength of the Company in India at the expense of the protected states. The territories of the Company were free from the ravages of war thereby establishing the stability of the British power in India. The position of the British was strengthened against its Indian and non-Indian enemies. Under the system, expansion of British power became easy. Thus Wellesley's diplomacy made the British the paramount power in India.
The immediate effect of the establishment of subsidiary forces was the introduction of anarchy because of the unemployment of thousands of soldiers sent away by the Indian princes. The freebooting activities of disbanded soldiers were felt much in central India where the menace of Pindaris affected the people.
Further, the subsidiary system had a demoralizing effect on the princes of the protected states. Safeguarded against external danger and internal revolt, they neglected their administrative responsibilities. They preferred to lead easy-going and pleasure-seeking lives. As a result misgovernment followed. In course of time, the anarchy and misrule in several states had resulted in their annexation by the British. Thus, the subsidiary system proved to be a preparation for annexation.
Furthermore, the British collected very heavy subsidies from the protected princes and this had adversely affected their economy.
Hyderabad: Hyderabad was the first state which was brought under Wellesley's Subsidiary System in 1798. The treaty concluded in 1798 was an ad hoc measure. It fixed the amount to be paid annually at Rs.24 lakhs for the subsidiary force. In accordance with the treaty, all the French troops in Hyderabad were disbanded and replaced by a subsidiary British force. A new treaty was concluded in 1800 by which the Nizam ceded large territories to the Company and this constitutes the famous Ceded Districts.
Oudh: The threat of invasion by Zaman Shah of Afghanistan was the pretext for Wellesley to force the Nawab of Oudh to enter into a subsidiary treaty. Accordingly, the Nawab gave the British the rich lands of Rohilkhand, the lower Doab and Gorakhpur for the maintenance of an increased army which the British stationed in the capital of Oudh. The strength of Nawab's own army was reduced. For the maintenance of law and order the British were authorised to frame rules and regulations. By this, the British acquired the right to interfere in the internal matters of Oudh. Although the Company obtained a fertile and populous territory, which increased its resources, the highhanded action of Wellesley was severely criticized.
Wellesley assumed the administration of Tanjore, Surat and the Karnatak by concluding treaties with the respective rulers of these states. The Maratha state of Tanjore witnessed a succession dispute. In 1799, Wellesley concluded a treaty with Serfoji. In accordance with this treaty the British took over the administration of the state and allowed Serfoji to retain the title of Raja with a pension of 4 lakhs of rupees.
The principality of Surat came under British protection as early as 1759. The Nawab of this historic city died in 1799 and his brother succeeded him. The change of succession provided Wellesley an opportunity to take over the administration of Surat. The Nawab was allowed to retain the title and given a pension of one lakh of rupees.
The people of Karnatak had been suffering for a long time by the double government. The Nawab, Umadat-ul-Umara was an incompetent ruler noted for his extravagance and misrule. He died in the middle of 1801 and his son, Ali Hussain became the Nawab. Wellesley asked him to retire with a liberal pension leaving the administration to the English. Since he refused, Wellesley signed a treaty with Azim-ud daulah, the nephew of the deceased Nawab in 1801. Accordingly the entire military and civil administration of the Karnatak came under the British.
The circumstances which led to the Fourth Mysore War can be summarized as follows: Tipu Sultan wanted to avenge his humiliating defeat and the terms imposed on him by the British. He also aimed at making Mysore a strong state. Tipu worked continuously to secure help to fight British imperialism. He took efforts to seek the help of the France, Arabia, Kabul and Turkey. He corresponded with the Revolutionary French Government in July 1798. At Srirangapattinam, a Jacobian Club was started and the flag of the French Republic was hoisted. The tree of Liberty was also planted. Later, when Napoleon came to power, Tipu received a friendly letter from Napoleon (who was in Egypt at that time).
Daulat Rao Scindia and Raghoji Bhonsle took the Treaty of Bassein as an insult to the national honour of the Marathas. Soon the forces of both the chieftains were united and they crossed the river Narmada. Wellesley seized this opportunity and declared war in August 1803.
Arthur Wellesley captured Ahmadnagar in August 1803 and defeated the combined forces of Scindia and Bhonsle at Assaye near Aurangabad.
An unscrupulous annexationist and an advocate of forward policy, Wellesley was one of the greatest empire-builders that England had ever produced. Wellesley converted the British Empire in India to the British Empire of India. The establishment of British paramountcy in India was his supreme task. He located the weak spots of the Indian powers and applied his political technique (namely Subsidiary Alliance). By the annexation of Karnatak and Tanjore he paved the way for the formation of the Madras Presidency. He rightly deserves to be called the maker of the erstwhile Madras Presidency and the creator of the Province of Agra. In this manner a great part of the Indian subcontinent was brought under Company protection. 'He turned the East India Company from a trading corporation into an imperial power'.