Doctrine of Lapse (Annexation Policy Devised by Lord Dalhousie)

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The doctrine of Lapse (Annexation Policy Devised by Lord Dalhousie)

Doctrine of Lapse

Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy. During his regime in India, Lord Dalhousie devised and adopted the policy of doctrine of lapse which enabled him to annex quite a number of States.

The main principles of his thesis were not entirely his but had been known to Indian Politics even before. Like the Subsidiary Alliance of Lord Wellesley, this doctrine of Lapse also aimed at acquiring territories after territories for the British Company.

The territory of paramountcy was already there in existence and it was on this basis that a benevolent and considerate Governor General like William Bentinck had threatened the Nawab of Oudh if he did not improve his administration.

The main ingredients of the doctrine were the following:

  1. The British power enjoyed paramountcy and, therefore, had the right to be consulted by all the rulers under the paramount power in all their external affairs. They were also required to decide the transfer of the State with the prior consent and approval of the Company.
  2. The paramount power would be within its rights, if it refused to recognize the transfer to State to anyone who was not the rightful claimant.
  3. The Hindu rulers could not adopt a son because it would mean a transfer of power to one who was not entitled to it on the merit of his birth. He, therefore, with this policy, deprived many of the rulers of their rightful claim of adopting a son.

In plain and simple words, the policy of doctrine of lapse was nothing but a formula to annex Indian States on a defined pretext.

As Roberts writes: ‘Unfortunately at that time there were many issue-less rulers and, thus, the policy proved very useful for the expansion of the British Empire in India’.

In the very outset we have discussed the three-fold policy of Dalhousie. We have shown how he had adopted the policy of conquest, the policy of abolishing adoption and the pretext of blaming The Indian rulers for indiscipline and consequent penalty of annexing their States.


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