Subsidiary Alliance: Strategic Control in British Colonial India

Subsidiary Alliance was one of the policies adopted by the English East India Company to increase its control over Indian states. The policy evolved in the second half of the eighteenth century but developed fully during the Governor-Generalship of Lord Wellesley (1798-1805) who made almost one hundred treaties.

The credit for beginning the system goes to Dupleix, the French Governor. He lent his army on rent to the Indian princes. Robert Clive and other Governors-General of the East India Company also adopted the same policy. With Oudh, they signed a treaty in 1765 (at Allahabad) and promised to protect the territory with their troops. The Nawab of Oudh had to bear the cost. An English Resident was appointed in the court of Oudh, at the Nawab's expense. The Nawab of Carnatic, in 1787, during the Governor-Generalship of Lord Cornwallis, agreed not to keep any kind of relationship with foreign powers without the permission of the East India Company. The Nawab of Oudh, in 1798, during the Governor-Generalship of Sir John Shore, agreed not to employ any European in Oudh.

Subsidiary Alliance, however, developed fully in the reign of Lord Wellesley. He included some new elements in the policy. The Indian state which signed this treaty had to cede, permanently, some territory to the Company. Thus, Wellesley used the system to expand the physical empire of the Company. The development of Subsidiary Alliance can be explained in the following four stages:

1. The Company rented its army to the Indian state in lieu of cash. Hyderabad, in 1768, signed a pact of this nature.

2. The Company kept its army 'near the boundaries of an Indian state' for the 'protection' of that state and collected a fee annually. Sindhia, in 1784, made a similar arrangement.

3. The Company kept its army inside the boundaries of an Indian state for the 'protection' of the state and collected a fee annually. Hyderabad, in 1798, signed this treaty.

4. The Company kept its army inside the boundaries of an Indian state for the protection of that state and took some piece of land instead of cash. Hyderabad, in 1800 and Oudh in 1801 made a similar arrangement.

The rulers who signed the treaty had to accept the following conditions:

1. The Indian state which signed such a treaty would not employ any European or American other than English or any other enemy of the Company in their kingdom.

2. The British Resident would be appointed in the court of such Indian states.

3. The foreign relations of such a state would be dictated by the Company. Thus, the states which entered into such an agreement lost their sovereignty.

4. The Company would protect such states from any outside attack.

5. The Company would not interfere in the internal matters of the states.

The Subsidiary Alliance benefitted the Company in the following ways:

1. The English East India Company was relieved from the possible threat of the French as the Indian states which accepted the Subsidiary Alliance would not employ any European or enemy of the Company.

2. 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.

3. The Company's 'military empire' expanded in the entire Indian subcontinent. Due to the presence of its army in every part of India, the influence of the Company in every matter, obviously, increased.

4. The Company could cleverly maintain a large army without burdening its exchequer. The same army could be utilized for any purpose including annexing the satellite states or the planet itself. The Company was also saved from the after-effects of the war as all the disturbances occurred in the Indian states.

5. The Company regularly increased its territory for the 'services' which it rendered to the states through its army.

The Indian states, on the other hand, had to lose many things. They did not realize the consequences of such a humiliating treaty. They became helpless and puppets in the hands of the Company. It led to maladministration, corruption, and finally, moral decay in the Indian states. The Indian states which entered into the Subsidiary Alliance agreement with the East India Company had to bear the following losses:

1. The Company regularly demanded heavy amounts and claimed the most fertile land in lieu of their so-called services. Economically, the Indian states were ruined.

2. The British Resident, contrary to the Company's promise, continued to interfere in almost all matters of Indian states.

3. The Subsidiary Alliance made Indian rulers dependent on others. Slowly, they lost the power of making decisions and their self-esteem. Moral bankruptcy could be seen in most of the Indian rulers.

4. The people had to suffer the most. The rulers, at least, got their share of luxury. The people were virtually governed by two rulers—The British and the Princes. The Indian rulers were busy with their luxurious lifestyle. A holiday trip to England was a regular affair for those rulers, leaving behind millions of starving poor. British India, despite all exploitations, at least developed in some fields but the states under Indian rulers remained backward.

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