How did the Doctrine of Lapse lead to the expansion of British Empire?

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Lord Dalhousie came to India as the Governor General of the East India Company in 1848. His period of Governor Generalship witnessed the stupendous growth of British Empire at the cost of army of the Indian states.

Dalhousie was a sweepting annexationist and he annexed a large number of Indian states in pursuance of his policy of Doctrine of lapse. There were a number of Indian states within the limits of the British Indian Empire.

The rulers of these states had recognised British Political supremacy since the time of Lord Wellesley. But they were completely independent to conduct their internal administration.

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These rulers who were under British protection did no take any interest in the administration of their territories. However some of them were kind and benevolent towards their people. But most of them were very oppressive rulers.

The industrial revolution had completely changed the rate of production in England. England required new sources of raw materials to feed her growing industries at the same time new markets were also required for the disposal of the industrial, products.

Many natives’ states were famous for the production of Cotton. Dalhousie wanted to annex the native states to serve the purpose of the British industries.

Secondly Dalhousie also wanted that a uniform administrative system should prevail all over the Indian subcontinent. So he considered the existence of the Native states to be unnecessary.

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Lord Dalhousie declared that the British Government in the exercise of a wise and sound policy is bound not to put aside or neglect such rightful opportunities of acquiring territory or revenue as may from time to time present them.” Dalhousie annexed a number of Indian states by applying the policy of Doctrine of lapse.

The policy of Doctrine of lapse meant that in the dependent state or those who owed their very existence to the British power, the sovereignty when the natural heirs of the royal line came to end, passed back or lapse to the supreme power.” In other words this doctrine means that the sovereignty of the dependent states or of those held on a subordinate tenure would pass back to the British government, in case of the failure of the natural line of succession.

The British government had acquired the position of the paramount power after the fall of the Mughal Empire and also of the Marathas. This doctrine was based on three principles Firstly the British Government was the paramount power of the British Indian Empire.

Secondly the rulers of the dependent states could adopt sons with the sanction of the paramount power. These adopted sons could inherit the throne only with the consent of the British government. Thirdly, the British government as the paramount power could withhold the succession of the adopted sons.

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During that period there were three categories of Hindu states in India. There were independent states which were not and never had been sub ordinate to a paramount power.

Secondly, there were states which owed subordination to the British government as their suzerain power. Thirdly, there were Hindu States which owed their creation to the British Government.

Ever since the Mughal rule the practice was that the paramount power used to sanction the succession to the throne.

The system of adoption was prevalent among the Hindus and incase of the failure of natural heir they used to adopt sons. After the death of a native ruler his adopted son used to perform the funeral rites and succeed to the throne.

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But Dalhousie proceeded to annex the native states setting aside the claims of the adopted sons. Dalhousie annexed a number of native states by applying the policy of Doctrine of lapse.

However no precise distinction was made between independent, allied, dependent and subordinate states. Dalhousie annexed Karauli on the ground that it was a dependent state but this was over ruled by the Directors of the company on the ground that Karauli” was a protected ally.

But Dalhousie was not the real founder of this Doctrine. As early as 1834 the Court of Directors of the Company had asserted that the permission to adopt on the failure of the natural heirs should be the exception and not the rule and should never are granted but as a special mark of favour or approbation.” Earlier the Doctrine of lapse had been applied to the state of Mandavi in 1839 and to Kolaba and Jalaur in 1840.

In 1842 the tiluar dignity of the Nawab of Surat was abolished. But Lord Dalhousie applied the Doctrine of lapse in a vigorous manner Mr. Innes has remarked there was fully adequate precedent for every one of his annexations. But his predecessors had acted on the general principle of avoiding annexations if it could be avoided.

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Dalhousie acted on the general principle of annexing if he could do so legitimately” He annexed Satara in 1848. Jaipur and Sambalpur in 1849, Bhaghat in 1850. Udaipur in 1852, Jhansi in 1853 and Nagpur in 1854 by the application of this policy.

The first victim of the Doctrine of Lapse was the Maratha Kingdom of Satara, in 1848 the Raja of Satara Appasahib died. He had no natural heir.

But just before his death he had adopted a son without the approval of the East India Company. This Matatha Kingdom was created in 1818 by Lord Hastings who had conferred this small principality on Pratap Singh, a representative of the house of Shivaji.

In 1839 Pratap Singh was deposed and was substituted by his brother Appa Sahib. So the adoption was subject to the approval of the British.

So Dalhousie annexed Satara setting aside the claim of the adopted son of Appa Sahib. The Court of Directors expressed the view that “we are fully satisfied that by the general law and custom of India, a dependent principality, like that of Satara, cannot pass to an adopted heir without the consent of the paramount power.”

Sambalpur:

Narayan Singh Raja of Sambalpur died without adopting a son. So Dalhousie annexed Sambalpur in 1849.

Jhansi :

Jhansi was a Suba of the Maratha Empire under the Peshwa. After the third Anglo Maratha war this Suba came under the occupation of the English. Governor general Lord Hastings placed Rao Rama Chandra as the Raja of Jhansi recognising” him, his heirs and successors” as the hereditary rulers of that territory.

In 183 5 Rao Rama Chandra died childless. The claim of his adopted son was set aside and his uncle Raghunath Rao” was installed on the throne. Raghunath Rao died in 1838 and was succeeded by his brother Gangadhar Rao. In 1853 Gangathar Rao died without leaving a male heir.

Dalhousie set aside the claim of his adopted son Anand Rao and declared the state as an escheat. Dalhousie infact annexed Jhansi considering it to be a creation of the company.

For this reason the widow Queen Laxmi Bai became an arch enemy of the English and played a leading part in the great revolt of 1857.

In 1817 Lord Hastings had recognised Raghuji III, a descendant of the old Bhonsale family as the Raja of Nagpur Raghuji III was a minor. So the British resident Sir Richard Jenkins functioned as the regent for ten years till 1830. In 1830 the administration of Nagpur was transferred to the Raja.

The Raja did not die in 1853 without leaving any male, heir nor did he leave any adopted son. Before his death the Raja had requested the Governor- General Lord Dalhousie to permit him to adopt a son.

The Raja died before his request was considered by Lord Dalhousie. But on his death bed Raghuji III directed his Rani to adopt Yashwant Rao as their son. But Governor general Lord Dalhousie set aside the claim of the Rani to adopt a son and the state was annexed.

The Doctrine of Lapse was also applied to the removal of titles and Pensions. Peshwa Baji Rao II was enjoying an annual pension of eight lakhs of rupees. But after his death his adopted son Nana Saheb was deprived of his pension and title.

For this reason Nana Saheb took a leading part in the revolt of 1857, after the death of the Titular Nawab of Carnatic Dalhousie did not recognise any one as his successor. On the death of the Maratha Raja Tanjore in 1855 without any male issue the regal title was abolished.

The Doctrine of Lapse of Dalhousie created a feeling of uncertainty and uneasiness in the mind of the native rulers. The adopted sons of the deceased rulers resented the policy of the British government.

The princes who lost their throne took active part in the revolt of 1857. After the death of the Titular Nawab of Carnatic Dalhousie did not recognise any one as his successor. On the death of the Maratha Raja of Tanjore in 1855 without any male issue the regal title was abolished.

The Doctrine of Lapse of Dalhousie created a feeling of uncertainty and uneasiness in the mind of the native rulers. The adopted sons of the deceased rulers resented the policy of the British government. The princes who lost their throne took active part in the revolt of 1857.

Thus by 1857 the whole of the Indian Sub continent came under the British rule. The Marathas and the Rajputs ceased to make History after 1818. The rise of the Sikhs after 1839 was of little gain to the people. The East India company became the paramount power on the soil of India.

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