The Government of Lord Wellesley

Lord Mornington (later Marquess Wellesley), combined the convictions of the imperialist group with a mandate to deal with the French. Wellesley was thus able to use this fear of the French as a cover for his imperialism until he was near to complete success. His term of office (1798-1805) was therefore a decisive period in the rise of the British dominion.

After striking at Mysore, for the next three years, Wellesley was occupied with exercises in realpolitik and with developing his device of the subsidiary treaty. The realpolitik was evidenced in four directions. On the death (1801) of the reigning Carnatic nawab, Wellesley took over his territories, pensioning the new nawab with one-fifth of the revenue. The same fate befell the small but highly-cultivated state of Tanjore (1799) and the port city of Surat due to a disputed succession.

The biggest of these exercises concerned the Mughal succession in state of Awadh in north India, which had been in treaty relationship with the company since 1765 . This rich state had fallen into disorder under the indolent though cultured rule of Asaf al-Daulah; on his death in 1797 a succession dispute and an Afghan invasion of the Punjab gave Wellesley a welcome excuse for interference. He pressed the nawab to disband his troops and increase his payment to the company for his subsidiary force. When the nawab made an offer to abdicate, it was accepted immediately; but, on finding that his abdication would mean annexation and not his son’s succession, he withdrew the offer, and Wellesley treated him as rebellious. In 1801 Wellesley annexed half the state, including the GangesYamuna doab and almost all of Rohilkhand. There is no doubt this was an extremely perfidious move against all canons of morality but whatever the verdict on the means employed, this move had important consequences. Awadh was isolated, and a jumping-off place was secured for an attack on the northern Marathas. Henceforth, the Company was no longer looking for buffer states as shields against attack but for territory that would serve as springboards for offensive action.

Subsidiary Alliance system

This change of attitude also led to Wellesley’s development of the subsidiary alliance system. In the hands of Clive and Hastings, it was a defensive instrument to safeguard the Company’s possessions; in the hands of Wellesley, it became an offensive device with which to subject independent states to British control. The essence of the system was that the Company undertook to protect a state from external attack in return for control of its foreign relations. For this purpose it provided a subsidiary force of Company troops, who were commonly stationed in a cantonment near the state capital. The state paid for this force by means of a subsidy, which was often commuted into ceding territory. In order to protect itself from an external enemy, the state in question bound itself irrevocably to the British power, providing at its own centre the means of its own coercion should it ever wish to reassert its independence.

Wellesley first applied this system in 1798 to Hyderabad, where the Nizam Ali Khan was in the shadow of a threatening fear of the Marathas. In 1800 the subsidy was compounded for the Nizam’s share of the Mysore annexations. The same system was applied to Awadh, when the great annexation of 1801 was claimed to be on account of the subsidiary force.

Subsidiary Alliance System

All those who entered into such an alliance with the British had to accept these terms and conditions.
(a) The British would be responsible for protecting their ally from external and internal threats to their power.
(b) A British armed contingent would be stationed in the territory of the ally.
(c) The ally would provide the resources for maintaining this contingent.
(d) The ally could enter into agreements with other rulers or engage in any warfare only with the consent of the British.

Subjugation of the Marathas

After dealing with Mysore and Awadh, Wellesley turned his attention to the Marathas-one of the few remaining bastions of independence in India. Had the Maratha chiefs remained united, given the balance of forces at the time, Wellesley could have accomplished little. However the death of the peshwa had released fresh dissensions which were heightened by the death of the prime minister Nana Fadnavis in the year 1800. The chiefs, Yashwantrao Holkar and Daulat Rao Sindhia contended for power over the peshwa, Baji Rao II. On Holkar’s success in 1802, Baji Rao fled to Bassein and applied for British aid. Such an opportunity at the centre of Maratha power was not to be missed; there was also the justification that Daulat Rao Sindhia, in the north, had 40,000 French-trained troops under a French commander. The Treaty of Bassein (Dec. 31, 1802) placed a British time bomb at the heart of the Maratha confederacy. British troops were stationed at Pune, at the price of a cession of territory, and the peshwa was reduced to dependency on the British.

This action provoked the Second Maratha War-at first against Daulat Rao Sindhia and Raghuji Bhonsle and then against Yashwantrao Holkar. At first the British won resounding victories. Wellesley’s brother Arthur (later Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington) defeated the coalition between Sindhia and Bhonsle in west-central India, while Lord Lake defeated Sindhia’s French army, occupied Delhi, and took the aged emperor Shah Alam II under British protection. Then Marathas however launched a counterattack with the intervention of Yashwantrao Holkar and using the well-known Maratha cavalry tactics, which forced the British to retreat, and in fact even besieging Delhi. Though Holkar was later defeated, this was the last straw for which the exasperated directors and a sceptical ministry in London had been waiting. Wellesley was recalled. His drive for hegemony was thus lost in the last phase. But Wellesley’s imperialistic work rendered ultimate British supremacy in India inevitable. The Marathas were too shattered to even attempt reunite and to restore their power, and there was no other power in the country to take their place and pose a prospective challenge to the British.

Comments

Leave a Reply