Doctrine of Lapse: UPSC Notes, History, Effects

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Doctrine of Lapse

During the rule of the East India Company in India, numerous policies and reforms were introduced. While some of them were a huge success in shaping the country’s landscape, others like the Doctrine of Lapse became a matter of heated debate and discussions. Although it helped the British East India Company to gain control over more regions across the Indian subcontinent, there were numerous people who stood in its opposition. In this blog, we will explore the Doctrine of Lapse including its unique features, effects, and more. 

Also Read: Lord Canning: First Viceroy of India, Life, Works

History Before The Doctrine

In the old days, kings in these Indian states had a special adoption process. If a king did not have a biological son who could take over, he would pick an heir from a group of potential successors called “bhayats.” These bhayats were trained since childhood to be kings. Even if the king had a son, that son could be skipped over if he was not of any good or betrayed the kingdom.

Moreover, if the king died before picking an heir. In that case, one of his widowed wives could choose someone to adopt and become king right away. This adopted son would then completely cut ties with his original family.

In simple words, the Doctrine of Lapse was an acquisition policy adopted by the East India Company. It was introduced by Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor-General of India from 1848 to 1856. Lord Dalhousie was of the view that certain princely states in India lacked a strong leader who could protect the region from internal or external threats. He saw the said opportunity as a golden chance to extend British influence.

According to this policy, if a ruler of any princely state died without producing a natural heir or adopting a son, the state would automatically go into the hands of British control. Dalhousie used this doctrine to annex a major part of the total princely states in India. 

Credits: Humanities Lover Youtube

Who was Lord Dalhousie?

Lord Dalhousie was born on 22 April 1812 into a Scottish family. He received his early education at Harrow School followed by Christ Church College, Oxford. Lord Dalhousie entered the realm of politics in the year 1837 when he was first elected to the House of Commons. Moreover, he was appointed as the Governor-General of India and Governor of Bengal on 12th January 1848. 

Lord Dalhousie came to India with the chief aim of consolidating British power. He was a dedicated authoritative figure who believed that India needed Western reforms for rapid development. During his tenure in India, Lord Dalhousie introduced numerous reforms in railways, postal networks, and telegraph. Nonetheless, he is mostly remembered for his Doctrine of Lapse. 

Also Read: Post Mauryan Period: Kingdoms, Cultures & Administration

Features of Doctrine of Lapse

There is no doubt that the Doctrine of Lapse is among many other controversial reform policies introduced by the British East India Company. Here is an overview of its key features:

  • Satara was the first state of India where the Doctrine of Lapse was applied. 
  • After the implementation of this policy, any princely state, under the direct or indirect control of the East India Company, would be annexed by the company if the ruler did not have a legitimate male heir. 
  • The adopted son of any princely state ruler would not be allowed to inherit his father’s throne. Instead, he would only be given his father’s personal estates and other assets. 
  • The Company used the Doctrine of Lapse as a legal pretext to expand its territorial holdings in India.  
  • This policy led to economic gains for the British forces, as they had direct control over the entire land revenue and resources.

Also Read – Who Introduced The Doctrine Of Lapse?

States Annexed Under Doctrine of Lapse

Interestingly, the princely state of Kittur was annexed by the East India Company long before Lord Dalhousie came to India. It was declared a legitimate decision of the government only on the grounds of the Doctrine of Lapse. Here is a list of other states that were annexed under the Doctrine of Lapse and their year of annexation. 

State Year of annexation
Satara 1848
Sambalpur 1849
Jaitpur 1849
Baghat 1850
Udaipur 1852
Jhansi 1853
Nagpur 1854

Also Read: Chalukya Dynasty: Founder, Legacy and Decline 

Effects of Doctrine of Lapse

While there were numerous supporters of the Doctrine of Lapse, many people saw it as an unjust form of imperialism. 

  • Annexation of Princely States: It allowed the British forces to annex any princely state on the basis of a lack of a natural heir or adopted son. 
  • Economic Exploitation: The annexed states such as Nagpur, Sambalpur, and Jaitpur were now under direct British control. This led to inevitable economic exploitation and hardships for local citizens. 
  • Political Unrest: The policy created resentment among the Indian citizens which led to political unrest and social disruption. The authority of local rulers over their regions was undermined and suppressed like never before. 
  • Unjust annexation: It weakened the overall position and power of Indian rulers in the country. Numerous states lost their autonomous status while their rulers faced a lack of power.
  • Uprising and revolts: The policy contributed to the outbreak of numerous uprisings such as the Sepoy Mutiny (Indian Rebellion of 1857). The overall increase in social disruption was evident throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Also Read – Who Abolished the Doctrine of Lapse, Timeline and More

Opposition to the Doctrine

Despite the huge number of supporters in favor of the Doctrine of Lapse, it is essential to note that not everyone was of the same opinion. Indian rulers believed that the Doctrine of Lapse violated their established treaties and customs. They saw it as an unjust way to gain more power. Accordingly, a series of uprisings were seen in opposition to the Doctrine. Among others, the Sepoy Mutiny is the most successful one. Although it was unsuccessful, this revolt led to the ultimate end of the Doctrine of Lapse. 

However, things were about to change. The British government took over the Indian subcontinent from the East India Company. Two years later, the doctrine was officially abolished. 

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Kheda SatyagrahaQuit India Movement

This blog was all about the Doctrine of Lapse. If you want to read more articles like this, you can get Short notes on the Modern History of India here. Also, you can visit our general knowledge page on Indian History!

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