Subsidiary Alliance | Meaning & Features

December 2, 2017 0 Comment

The Doctrine of Subsidiary Alliance of 1801 was a policy popularized by the then Governor General of India (from 1798 to 1805), Lord Wellesley which applied to many of the Princely States of India under the colonial rule of the British East India Company.

The policy was first started as a rule of non-intervention by the British rule into the internal matters of a princely state but soon turned into an evil policy of gulping down states by the British.

Main terms of the Subsidiary Alliance

The subsidiary alliance was like a two-way win for the British and consequently, a suicidal policy for the Indian Princely States. This policy was one of the first successful attempts of the British to penetrate into India and spread their roots deeply.

  • No Princely State was allowed to maintain an army of their own – composed of native recruits. Only forms of military assistance that the state would have at its disposal will be the British troops provided by the East India Company.
  • Any Princely State embracing the policy of Subsidiary alliance was to be liable for paying money to the East India Company for the maintenance of their troops and for the protection of the British officers’ imperial interests within India.
  • Each Princely State was to have a representative of the Company in his court who would be the preliminary channel of communication between the State and the Company. He was known as the ‘Resident’ and his maintenance was the responsibility of the Princely State.
  • Any ruler of Princely States who adhere to this policy was not allowed to take any sort of strategic military decision without the consultancy, or rather, consent of the British. He was to refrain from penning any sort of military propinquity that did not favour the interest of Britain and the Company.
  • No foreign individual, other than British nationals would be allowed to hold offices of public importance within the State and all such posts, being held by non-Britons were to be vacated with immediate effect.
  • If any case of conflict arises with any other state or entity, it would be in the sole power of the British to decide upon the incident and their solution will be adhered to as the final word. The States will virtually have no discretion on military operations.
  • The head of the Princely State would have to acknowledge the supremacy of the East India Company in sole power of the administration of India. If any grievance is to be addressed, the State should take it up to the Company and no one else. In that case, the Company’s decision will be final and binding.
  • As reciprocation for the adherence to the British East India Company’s terms, it promised to provide military support and protection to the State. However, this was merely an eye-wash because these troops were present there only to protect and propagate British Interests.
  • There was a set amount of money that the East India Company was supposed to be paid for the maintenance of the troops within their territory. Failing to pay the required amount within the stipulated time would attract penalty that would be collected as in the form of territorial acquisition from the States to the Company.

States that fell Prey to the subsidiary Alliance

The States that fell prey and were lured into the system of Subsidiary Alliance were – the Nizam of Hyderabad, the Ruler of Mysore, the Raja of Tanjore, the Nawab of Oudh, Peshwa Baji Rao, and many more.

These states were taken over by the British East India Company and subsequently rules as their own. Their respective kings and rulers and Nawabs were exiled in house arrest in various other locations in India.

For example, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awash had been exiled to Calcutta. He was paid a fixed pension and had to live with limited means. It is a known legend that it was Nawab Wajid Ali shah, because of scarcity of money during his exile in Calcutta that he started the trend of using potatoes instead of chicken pieces in Biryani.

The Alliance was just a politically polite method of the British to annex the Indian States for further colonialisation and making India an overseas empire of the British Empire.

It was a sugar coated poison pill used by the British to fool the weak states. At the time the Subsidiary alliance was put to action, there existed several Dutch and French colonies in India. This doctrine’s ulterior motive was to uproot all foreign rules in India except the British in order to gain monopoly over trade which was the East India Company’s principal concern.

Their grotesque ambitions were fueled by the hospitality that the Indian rulers greeted the British with. Unable to see through their shrewd masquerade, the Indian rulers led them entry into India and revealed to them the tricks of their trade.

They were let to the intimate intricacies f the Indian system of administration that helps them quickly assess our strengths and weaknesses. And each time a state fell weak, the British would run to them with a proposal for entering subsidiary alliance. Being desperate with defeat from other states, They gave in only to regret later immensely.


Several such shrewd rules and doctrines were concocted by the British like the doctrine of lapse, Indirect rule, client state, etc whose main agenda was to eat up the Indian people and make their own pockets heavy just like a bunch of parasitic leeches.

It took the innocent Indians quite some time to see through their charade and high handedness, however it was too late then – the British poison had already been injected into the Indian life and like any other deadly disease, the lashes of their vicious rule went systemic through the Indian society  eating it up and making it hollow from within.

They also planted seeds of communal violence and divided us on the basis of territorial and regional differences creating problems like Kashmir accession that has not been resolved till now.

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