What was the essential principles of Subsidiary Alliance system?

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

The pioneer of Subsidiary Alliance system was Dupleix, the French Governor. He lent his army on rent to the Indian princes. Robert Clive, the Governor of Bengal, and other Governor Generals of 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 and the Nawab of Oudh had to bear the cost. An English Resident was appointed in the Court of Oudh at 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 the foreign powers without the permission of the East India Company. The Nawab of Oudh, in 1798, agreed not to employ any European in Oudh. Lord Wellesley included many new elements in the system of Subsidiary Alliance. The Indian state which signed this treaty had to cede, permanently, some territory to the Company. Wellesley used the system to expand the physical empire of the Company.

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The Subsidiary Alliance system was evolved in the four broad stages. In the first stage, the Company rented its army to Indian states in lieu of cash. For instance, Hyderabad signed a pact of this nature in 1768. In the second stage, the Company kept her army ‘near the boundaries of an Indian state’ for the ‘protection’ of that state and collected fee annually. Sindhia, for instance, made a similar arrangement in 1789. In the third stage, the Company kept its army inside the boundaries of an Indian state for the protection’ of the state and collected fee annually. Hyderabad, in 1798, signed this treaty. In the fourth stage, 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. Oudh, in 1801, made a similar arrangement.

The Indian states which signed the treaty had to accept the following terms and conditions imposed by the East India Company.

  • The Indian state which signed the treaty would not employ any Europeans or Americans, other than English, or any other enemy of the Company in their kingdom.
  • In their foreign affairs, the states were no longer sovereign. The Company also kept a close watch on the affairs of the states through an English Resident.
  • Although the Company promised them to protect in case of an attack and not to interfere in their internal matters, it hardly kept its promises.
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How far did the Subsidiary Alliance system contribute to making the British company the supreme sovereign authority in India?

Naturally, the Company benefitted in many ways. The East India Company was relieved from the possible threat of the French as the Indian States which accepted the Subsidiary Alliance did not employ any European or enemy of the Company. Since the States lost foreign power, the Company was in a position to break any possible alliance between two or more Indian States. Individually, they hardly posed a threat to the existence of the Company. The Subsidiary Alliance expanded the Company’s ‘military empire in the entire subcontinent. Due to the presence of its army in every part of India, the influence of the Company in every matter obviously increased. The Company could now cleverly maintain a large army without burdening her exchequer. The same army could be utilised for any other purpose including annexing the States. The Company was also saved from the consequences of war as the disturbances occurred in the territory of Indian States. The Company, therefore, continued to increase its territory for the ‘services’ which is rendered to the States through her army.

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The Indian States which signed Subsidiary Alliance became helpless and puppet in the hands of the company, which regularly demanded heavy amount and claimed the most fertile land in lieu of their so-called services. Economically, the Indian States were ruined. Their loss was the gain of the East India Company. Thus, the Subsidiary Alliance made the British Company—politically, militarily and economically—a supreme authority in India.