Doctrine of lapse
The Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy purportedly devised by Lord Dalhousie, who was the Governor General for the East India Company in India between 1848 and 1856. According to the Doctrine, any princely state or territory under the direct influence (paramountcy) of the British East India Company (the dominant imperial power in the subcontinent), as a vassal state under the British Subsidiary System, would automatically be annexed if the ruler was either "manifestly incompetent or died without a direct heir". The latter supplanted the long-established right of an Indian sovereign without an heir to choose a successor. In addition, the British decided whether potential rulers were competent enough. The doctrine and its application were widely regarded by Indians as illegitimate.
At the time of its adoption, the Company had absolute, imperial administrative jurisdiction over many regions spread over the subcontinent. The company took over the princely states of Satara (1848), Jaitpur and Sambalpur (1849), Nagpur and Jhansi (1854), Tanjore and Arcot (1855), Udaipur and Awadh (Oudh, 1856, with the reason that the ruler was not ruling properly) using this doctrine. The Company added about four million pounds sterling to its annual revenue by use of this doctrine.
With the increasing power of the East India Company, discontent simmered amongst many sections of Indian society and the largely indigenous armed forces; these rallied behind the deposed dynasties during the Indian rebellion of 1857 also known as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Following the rebellion, in 1858, the new British Viceroy of India, whose rule replaced that of the British East India Company, renounced the doctrine.
The princely state of Kittur was taken over by the East India Company in 1824 by imposing a 'Doctrine Of Lapse'. So it is debatable whether it was actually devised by Lord Dalhousie in 1848, though he arguably did make it official by documenting it. Dalhousie's annexations and the doctrine of lapse had caused suspicion and uneasiness in the minds of almost all ruling princes in India.
Doctrine of Lapse before Dalhousie
Dalhousie applied the Doctrine of Lapse vigorously for annexing Indian princely states, but the policy was not solely of his invention. The Court of Directors of the East India Company had articulated this early in 1834. As per their policy, they annexed Mandavi in 1839, Kolaba and Jalaun in 1840 and Surat in 1842.
- Keay, John. India: A History. Grove Press Books, distributed by Publishers Group West. United States: 2000 ISBN 0-8021-3797-0, p. 433.
- Wolpert, Stanley. A New History of India; 3rd ed., pp. 226-28. Oxford University Press, 1989.
- Wolpert (1989), p. 240.
- S.N.Sen, ed. (2006). History of Modern India. New Age International (P) Ltd. p. 50. ISBN 978-8122-41774-6.