Subsidiary Alliance System | UPSC Notes

Subsidiary Alliance System was first introduced by the French East India Company Governor Joseph Francois Dupleix. It was later used by Lord Wellesley who was the Governor-General of India from 1798 to 1805. Early in his governorship, Lord Wellesley adopted a policy of non-intervention in the princely states. However, later, he adopted the policy of forming subsidiary alliances, which played a major role in the expansion of British rule in India.

In this article, we will understand the key features of the subsidiary alliance system along with different forms of alliances. 

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Different Forms of Subsidiary Alliance

The subsidiary alliance took different forms in its gradual evolution:

  1. In its first form, the English agreed to help the native rulers with a fixed force in return for a fixed sum of money.

  2. In its second form, the English agreed to maintain a fixed and permanent military force to help their ally in return for a fixed annual amount of money. The subsidiary force, however, was kept in the territory of the Company.

  3. In its third form, the English not only agreed to maintain a permanent and fixed subsidiary force to help their ally in return for a fixed annual amount of money but also kept the force within the territory of the ally.

  4. In its fourth and final form which was introduced by Lord Wellesley, the English agreed to maintain a permanent and fixed subsidiary force within the territory of their ally. However, in return, they did not take money but took over a part of the territory of the ally permanently to themselves. This is how the subsidiary alliance system became a means of extending the Company’s territory in India.

Features of Subsidiary Alliance System

  • The subsidiary alliance in India was planned and executed by Lord Wellesley to extend the company’s rule in India but this term was inititally introduced by French Governor Dupleix.

  • The native Indian ruler who entered into Subsidiary Alliance with the British had to dissolve his own armed forces while accepting the British forces in his territory.

  • He also had to pay for the maintenance of the British army. If he failed to make the payment, a portion of his territory was taken away and ceded to the British.

  • In return of this, the British would protect the native state against any foreign attack or internal revolt with the help of their army. 

  • Although the British promised non-interference in internal affairs of the native Indian state, this was rarely maintained.

  • The Indian state who entered into subsidiary alliance with the Britishers  could not enter into any alliance with any other foreign power. It means, he could also not employ any other foreign nationals other than Englishmen in his service. And, if he were employing any, on the signing of the alliance, he had to terminate them from his service. The idea was also to curb the influence of the French.

  • After entering into the subsidiary alliance with the Britishers, the native Indian state could also not enter into any political connection with another Indian state without the approval of the British.

  • The native Indian ruler, thus, lost all of his powers in respect of foreign affairs and the military affairs.

  • Thereafter, he virtually lost all his independence and became a British ‘protectorate’.

Terms of Subsidiary Alliance

In the fourth and final phase of Subsidiary Alliance system, Lord Wellesley added the following terms to the alliance –

  1. A British resident was kept at the court of the native ruler.

  2. The native ruler was not allowed to employ any European or a citizen of a state which was enemy of the Britishers in his service.

  3. The native ruler could not maintain any friendly relation with any other ruler without the approval of the Britishers.

  4. The Britishers agreed to protect the territory of the native ruler from foreign aggressions or attacks.

  5. The Britishers had agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of the native rulers.

Every native ruler who entered into the subsidiary alliance with the English had to accept all the above mentioned terms besides permanently ceding a part of his territory to the Britishers in the final phase of Subsidiary Alliance. This is how this became a tool for the Britishers to extend the company’s rule in India.

State comes under the periphery of the policy

  • ‘The Nizam of Hyderabad’ was the first victim of this policy. In the year 1798, the English detached the Nizam from the French influence and also forbade them from having any alliances with the Marathas without British consent.

  • In 1799, Mysore entered into the subsidiary alliance with the Britishers. 

  • In 1801, Wellesley compelled the Nawab of Awadh to accept the Policy of Subsidiary Alliance.

  • In the year 1802, Peshwa Baji Rao II also subjugated his state under this policy. Following this, many Maratha states like Bhosle and Scindia also accepted the terms of the policy in 1803.

  • Lastly, the last Maratha Confederation under the Holkars too accepted the terms of the subsidiary alliance.

The Policy of Subsidiary Alliance was in the real sense, a document of losing sovereignty. Under this, the native state did not have the rights of self defence, of settling its disputes with its neighbours, of maintaining diplomatic relations or of employing any other foreign experts. 

Advantages of Subsidiary Alliance System to the Britishers

The subsidiary alliance was advantageous to the British from all points of view. It brought the following benefits to the English:

  1. Since the French could not be employed in the courts of the native rulers, their influence was completely wiped out.

  2. The native rulers were separated from each other because the foreign policy of state under subsidiary alliance was controlled by the English.

  3. The English expanded the area of their influence. The native ruler who accepted the subsidiary alliance was entirely dependent on the English due to the presence of the force within his territory. Therefore, the English gradually became the de facto rulers of his state. And the native rulers were reduced to being the British ‘protectorate’.

  4. The Britishers, on the other hand, were able to maintain a large military force at the expense of the native rulers. The maintenance of the British army was provided for by the native state. The subsidiary forces which were kept in the territories of different rulers could be effectively utilized by the English against any one of them.

  5. Since the maintenance of the subsidiary force was very expensive, It put heavy financial toil on the native Indian ruler which he mostly failed to bear. The Britishers, therefore, under the policy of subsidiary alliance forced him to surrender more of his territory. Thus, it  helped in further expansion of the Company’s territory in India.

Disadvantages of Subsidiary Alliance System to the Native Rulers

The subsidiary alliance, however, was completely disadvantageous to the native Indian rulers and their subjects. A few disadvantages of subsidiary alliance system were as follows:

  1. The native Indian ruler gradually lost most of his fertile and strategically important territories to the English.

  2. It pushed the subjects of the native state to a life of poverty and impoverishment as the whole financial burden of maintaining the army finally fell on them.

  3. Ideally, under the policy, English residents were exempted from interfering in the internal administration of the native ruler. But, in practice, the Brisihers controlled the rulers in every state-matter.

  4. The native rulers gradually lost their respect, patriotism and even their core responsibility to rule their and strengthen their armies. This resulted in the loss of their character and capacity to rule their states which eventually made it easier for the Britishers to take complete charge of the state. 

  5. The subjects of the state were no more in a position to dethrone their incapable or cruel ruler by revolting against him because the English, with much larger resources than a single ruler, protected every allied ruler against every foreign aggression and internal revolt. Thus, the Britishers, under this policy, took complete control of the affairs of the state making the native ruler and his subjects extremely helpless. 

This is a brief overview of the Subsidiary Alliance System for UPSC Civil Services Examination. This topic is extensively discussed in our General Studies-I course for UPSC Mains exam. 

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