The Doctrine of Lapse Modern History Notes for UPSC

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The Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy employed by the British East India Company in order to justify the takeover of princely states in India that were under the company’s control. The doctrine stated that if a ruler of a princely state died without a male heir, then the state would “lapse” into British control. The policy was first put into effect in 1848, when the British annexed the state of Satara. Here you will find features of Doctrine of Lapse that will help you in the preparation of UPSC IAS and other competitive exams.

The Doctrine of Lapse – Introduction

Lord Dalhousie supported the expansion of the Company’s territory in India. His desire to expand both the Company’s territories and its revenues was the same as that of all other Governors General of India. He finished the map of the British Empire in India, and he did so without conscience. Despite Indian feelings and susceptibilities, Lord Dalhousie annexed right and left.

Hindu Adoption system

Every Hindu is entitled to adopt a son if he does not have one otherwise. The adopted son enjoys all of the rights a son born of the couple otherwise would. In practical terms, there is no difference between a child born to a couple or adopted by either of the parents as long as the other parent does not dispute the adoption. Such adoption is acceptable to society and religion alike.

For centuries, princes in India have adopted children to ensure that the succession line doesn’t break and there is no dispute over the gaddi after their death. As well as the princes royal, the common man has adopted children to have the comfort of knowing that someone will light the pyre after their passing.

In India, kings adopt children so that succession lines do not break after their death and there are no disputes over the gaddi. As well as princes royal, even the common man has adopted children to have the comfort of knowing someone will light the pyre after them.

The British East Indian Company did not always reject adoptions made after a ruler’s death. In 1827 Daulat Rao Scindia died and his widow Baija Bai adopted Jankoji as heir and this succession though made after his death was accepted by the Company. The adoption of Jayaji Rao by Daulat Rao Scindia’s wife in 1843 following the death of Jankoji was also accepted by the Company.

During the period 1826-48, the East India Company accepted as many as 15 adoption requests, and only in rare cases did it reject them.

Rama Chandra Rao, the ruler of Jhansi, however, was not permitted to adopt a son during this time period. He had adopted a child before his death but was unable to get approval of the Company. After the English declined the request for approval, they placed his uncle Raghu Nath Rao on the gaddi. They thus used the right not to accept adoption. But when the adoption was not accepted, the territory was still not annexed to the company.

Concept of the Doctrine of Lapse

While Lord Dalhousie created the Doctrine of Lapse, its foundations had already been laid by the Directors of the Company in 1834 when they wrote to the Indian Government. “Whenever it is optional with you to give or withhold your consent to adoptions. the indulgence would be the exception and not the rule and should never be granted but as a special mark of approbation.”

In 1841, the Directors had again expressed their increasing tendency toward annexation by stating that they would “abandon any just or honourable accession of territory or revenue.” Auckland refused to recognize the adoption of Mandavi, Jalaun, Colaba, and Surat, which led to the annexation of those states. It was Dalhousie who expanded this doctrine so much that it reached its climax under him. Therefore we can say that Dalhousie handled this doctrine and enlarged its scope after it was created in 1834.

Features of the Doctrine of Lapse

In his capacity as Governor General of India, Lord Dalhousie vigorously and enthusiastically pursued the doctrine of lapse which outlined three types of states.

In the first category fell those states which directly or indirectly were created by the English.
In the second category were the states which were dependent on the Company
In the third category fell independent states.

In his theory, states that fall into the first two categories must obtain approval from the supreme power before adopting a child. The supreme power would decide whether to grant or deny such permission. In the event that the permission was not granted, the territory would lapse to the Company and be annexed to its territories. He went a step further by saying that states that fall into the first category are not permitted to adopt children as heirs.

Application of the Doctrine of Lapse

The fact that so many states were left without natural heirs and their rulers had died during Dalhousie’s tenure as Governor General was fortunate for him and unfortunate for Indians. Therefore, Dalhousie was able to expand this doctrine’s scope and annex them all.

Annexation of Satara

Satara was the first Indian state to be annexed. Appa Sahib, the Raja of Satara, died in 1848 without leaving a natural son. However, he adopted a son just a few days before his death, without the East India Company’s consent.

Pratap Singh, the representative of the Shivaji house, was entrusted with the principality of Satara by Lord Hastings after he destroyed the Maratha power in 1818. Prince Appa Sahib was deposed in 1839 and replaced him by his brother. Despite the advice of the Bombay Council led by Sir George Clerk, Lord Dalhousie declared the state annexed and viewed it as a ‘dependent principality’.

According to Joseph Hume, Dalhousie’s annexation was a victory of ‘might over right’, but the House of Commons approved it.

Annexation of Sambalpur

In 1849, the state was annexed by the company after Raja Narayan Singh, the ruler of the state, died without adopting a son. After her husband’s death, the widow took over the administration of the state. The company refused to agree and annexed Sambalpur. As the agent to the Governor General, J.H. Crawford was responsible for Sambalpur’s administration.

Annexation of Udaipur

Upon the death of the natural heirs, the sovereignty would have lapsed to the Raja of Sarguja. But Dalhousie annexed it without any suspicion, although Lord Canning reversed Dalhousie’s annexation.

Annexation of Jhansi

In 1818, the Peshwa handed over Jhansi to the English. Lord Hastings seated Rao Ram Chandra on the throne, who was authorised to select the successor by a treaty. The last ruler of Jhansi, Gangadhar Rao, died without a natural son. He adopted a son before his death. Lord Dalhousie declared that his adopted son could not succeed him.

As a result of the treaty of 1818, Queen Laxmi Bai wrote to Dalhousie stating that adopted children had the right to succeed, but Lord Dalhousie was unwilling to accept the terms of the treaty, which had been concluded by his predecessor. His annexe of the kingdom of Jhansi followed an outright rejection of the succession of Anand Rao.

Annexation of Nagpur

A ruler of Nagpur, Raghu Ji, passed away in 1853. He had applied for permission to adopt a child prior to his death. Therefore, he instructed his wife to adopt Yashwant Rao before his death. In accordance with her husband’s last wishes, the queen adopted Yashwant Rao, but Lord Dalhousie was eager to regain Nagpur, so he annexed it to the Company on the pretext that the government had not sought or granted prior permission. Nagpur was on the route from Calcutta to Bombay, and therefore held great significance for the English. Therefore he violated all the principles of morality in capturing it.

Annexation of Jaitpur

In 1731, Jagat Rai, son of the famous Bundela Rajput leader Chhatrasal, established Jaitpur as a division of Panna State. Ajaigarh and Jaitpur were split in 1765. As a result of the British annexation of Central India in 1807, Jaitpur became a British protectorate. After Khet Singh died without issue in 1849, the British seized the principality.

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