Policy of Subordinate Isolation (1813-1858)

Sansar LochanModernLeave a Comment

In the previous article about Policy of Ring Fence, we discussed the policy of the British with native states up to 1919. Today we will discuss about Policy of Subordinate Isolation.

Policy of Subordinate Isolation (1813-1858)

Wellesley largely succeeded in making the British the supreme power in India and whatever remained was completed by Marquess of Hastings. After the third Maratha War, there remained no native power in India which dared to challenge the supremacy of the British in India. Therefore, the British asserted their rights in a greater degree vis-a-vis native rulers. Different native rulers surrendered their foreign policy completely in the hand of the British. In principle, they were left free in internal affairs but practice, they were treated as subordinates. The interference of the British through the Residents at their courts went on increasing. The nature of interference, therefore, depended on the Personality or the ruler and the British Resident at his court. But it was clear that the British did not treat native rulers as independent entities. Gradually they were reduced to the position of subordinates and were treated as such The British interfered in the affairs of Avadh, Mysore, Nagpur, Udaipur, or Jaipur etc., on this basis. Besides, the British went on extending their territory at the cost of native rulers. Extension of territory meant both economic and political gains for them. It provided them better territory better revenue, wide market for their manufactures and more manpower while, at the same time, weakening native rulers. The one plea which they took for grabbing the territory of Indian rulers was that it saved the People from the misrule of their native rulers and provided them the benefits of the British rule. But the British were not justified in their contention. It is debatable that the British rule benefited the people. Besides, the British themselves were responsible for the misrule of the native rulers. The interference of the British Residents was one reason for their maladministration and the British did not permit them to improve it so as to find the pretext to annex their territory. Therefore, in fact, the motive of the British was purely imperialistic. The Court of Directors frankly acknowledged this Imperial policy in 1841 when they declared : “No just and honourable accession of territory or revenue would be abandoned.” This policy reached its climax during the period of the governor-generalship of Lord Dalhousie.

In fact, the British pursued the policy of annexing the territories of subordinate native rulers right from 1834. Different governors-general

grabbed the territories of native rulers on different pretexts. Sindh, Punjab, Burma and Assam were annexed to the British empire after the wars. The states of Cachar, Coorg, Manipur and Jaintia were annexed to the British territories on grounds of misrule. Lord Ellenborough interfered in the affairs of the state of Gwalior. Gwalior was not annexed but anew treaty was imposed on its ruler by which the strength of its army was reduced and it was declared a protected state. In 1839, Mandavi, in 1840 Kolaba and Jalaon and in 1842 Surat were annexed to the British territories in absence of natural heirs of their rulers. Dalhousie pursued this policy of doctrine of lapse more vigorously. He annexed Satara, Jaitpur, Sambhalpur, Udaipur, Jhansi and Nagpur on the basis of this policy. Dalhousie contended that he pursued this policy in cases concerning only those states which owed their existence due to the British. But the argument of Dalhousie was not valid. Rather, the entire basis of the policy of the doctrine of lapse was unjust. Dalhousie’s motivation was purely imperialistic. Mr. Innes writes: “His predecessors had acted on the general principle of avoiding annexation if it could be avoided : Dalhousie acted on the general principle of annexing if he could do so legitimately.”

The policy of Dalhousie received active support of the Directors of the Company as well because annexation of every state by Dalhousie was approved by them. Further, Dalhousie captured nearly an area of one thousand six hundred seventy-six square miles from the state Of Sikkim in 1850, the province of Berar from the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1853 and the state of Avadh in 1856. This policy of annexation was pursued by the British during the period 1813-58 on the assumption that native rulers were not independent but subordinate allies. The argument, however, was not valid. The primary basis of this policy was force. The British had become the strongest power in India and the native rulers were left with no strength to resist them. Therefore, the British fulfilled their Imperial designs on whatever pretext they could find. It becomes more clear when we find that the British adopted war also as a means of annexing the territories of native rulers in cases where they could not find any other easy pretext.

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