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Doctrine of lapse

Doctrine of lapse

The Doctrine of Lapse was an annexation policy devised by Lord Dalhousie, who was the Governor General of 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) and Awadh (Oudh) (1856) using this Doctrine. The Company added about four million pounds sterling to its annual revenue by use of this legal 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 (known by British 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.

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