The eagerness of the East India Company’s officials in India to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of their newly acquired Indian dominion was an important factor behind the expansionist policy they pursued. They applied brute force whenever necessary and also resorted to apparently harmless devises like the Subsidiary Alliance or the Doctrine of Lapse. Lord Wellesley was a hardcore expansionist. He wanted to bring as many Indian states as possible under British hegemony at the quickest speed. British policy in India was continuously shaped and reshaped according to the evolving demands of Great Britain’s society and economy.
At that time Britain’s industrial classes had discovered that India could serve as a potential market for their products. So an expansionist policy was now called for. Secondly, the British and the French were then locked in a military conflict in Europe. The British authorities in India were determined to keep the Indian states free from French influence so that France could not develop any military base in India. To achieve these goals Wellesley devised, apart from brute military force, a system of the subsidiary alliance. It was an expansionist policy without any possibility of bloodshed. Hyderabad (1798), Mysore (1799), Awadh (1801), Peshwa (1802) signed this treaty with the East India Company.
Characteristics of Subsidiary Alliance:
The chief characteristics of the policy are given below-
Any native ruler could seek the protection of the company’s government if he opted to become a subsidiary ally of the English.
It was mandatory for the ally to disperse his own military.
He could be given military protection by the Company’s armed forces.
The ally would pay a subsidy for the maintenance of the Company’s forces stationed within his territory. The ruler may also wish to cede part of his territory instead of the annual subsidy.
The ally would not employ any European or American other than English or any other enemy of the Company in their kingdom.
The British Resident would be appointed in the court of such Indian states.
The foreign relation of such a state would be dictated by the company. Thus, the states which entered into such an agreement lost their sovereignty.
The Company would not interfere in the internal matters of the states.
Merits of the Subsidiary Alliance:
It cannot be denied that the subsidiary system added to the resources of the English Company and it was partly with the help of these resources that the English Company was able to establish itself as the paramount power in the country. The Indian States entering into subsidiary alliances gave money or territories out of whose revenue troops could be maintained by the English Company. Their troops were always at the beck and call of the English Company. The result was that although outwardly the troops were maintained with the money of the Indian States for their defence, actually they added to the resources of the English Company. It is well known that the Nizam entered into a subsidiary alliance with the English in the time of Wellesley. With the money got from him, an army was maintained and put under the charge of Sir Arthur Wellesley. That army was used in various campaigns in which Lord Wellesley was involved.
The system of subsidiary alliances enabled the English Company to throw forward their military frontier in advance of their political frontier. Although the English Company was not burdened with the responsibility of the administration of the States joining the subsidiary system, its influence was enhanced.
The evils of war were kept at a distance from the territories of the English Company. The territories under the English Company did not suffer because the battles were fought in most cases in the territories of the States joining the subsidiary alliance.
The Indian states lost their sovereignty. They were not allowed to establish diplomatic ties with each other without the knowledge or approval of the company. The chances of their united efforts to oust the company were reduced. Separately, they never posed a threat to the existence of the Company.
The English Company was able to exclude the influence of the French from the Indian States. Whenever a State entered into a Subsidiary Alliance, the ruler had to drive out all Europeans who were not Englishmen.
Demerits of the Subsidiary Alliance:
The one great demerit of the system was that the amount of money demanded from the rulers of the Indian States was out of all proportion to their resources. The result was that the rulers of the States paid the money to the Company even at the expense of the welfare of their people. All kinds of methods were adopted to collect the money so that the English Company might not have an excuse to demand territory from that State. However, in certain cases even when the subsidy was paid regularly, the English Company forced the ruler to hand over certain territory for the maintenance of the army. This was done by Wellesley when he forced the Nawab of Oudh to give Gorakhpur, Rohilkhand and the Doab for the maintenance of troops by the Company.
Another demerit 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.
The Court of Directors did not approve of the subsidiary system because it created jealousy among the Indian States against the English Company. Moreover, the Directors were also opposed to the policy of annexing territories.
On the whole, the system of subsidiary alliances helped the English Company to tide over its difficulties and emerge as a great power in the country.