Growth of British Power in India!

The East India Company, which started initially as a trading company, had, by 1773, acquired territorial control over Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madras and Bombay. The Nawab of Awadh and Carnatic were their dependents.

However, after 1765 they had to face stiff opposition from the Marathas, Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan of Mysore, and the Sikhs. The East India Company had to subjugate these powers in order to be paramount in India.

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The Conquest of Mysore:

The State of Mysore was ruled by Haider Ali, a brilliant general, an able administrator and a shrewd diplomat. While the Carnatic was plagued by wars and Bengal was passing through a period of political turmoil, Haider Ali steadily rose to power in Mysore. He extended his kingdom up to the Krishna River.

Haider Ali

Mysore, under Haider Ali, became a source of danger to the rising British power in India. Between 1767 and 1799, the Company waged four wars to destroy the power of Mysore.

The First Mysore War:

In 1769 A.D. Haider Ali defeated the British in the First Anglo-Mysore War and besieged Madras. The English were forced to sign a treaty according to which they promised to come to Haider Ali’s help if he was attacked by another power in future. This treaty undoubtedly raised the prestige of Haider Ali.

The Second Mysore War (1780-1784 A.D.):

In 1771 the Marathas attacked Haider Ali but the English did not help him in spite of their promise. Haider Ali waited for an opportunity to take revenge. When the English attacked and occupied the French port of Mahe, the only outlet for Mysore’s trade with Europe, Haider Ali declared war on them.


In the Second Anglo-Mysore War (A.D. 1780- 1784) the Nizam and the Marathas started as allies of Haider Ali but later on went over to The English side. Yet Haider Ali swept through the Carnatic, captured Arcot and threatened Madras. But the British army under Eyre Coote defeated Haider Ali at Porto Navo and saved Madras. After Haider Ali’s death in 1782, the war was carried on by his son Tipu Sultan. The war came to an end by the Treaty of Mangalore (1784 A.D.). The prisoners of war and the conquered territories were mutually returned.

The Third Mysore War (1790-1792 A.D.):

The Treaty of Mangalore had not resolved the conflict between Tipu and the English. Since both the English and Tipu Sultan were aiming at political supremacy over the Deccan, a renewal of hostilities between the two was inevitable.

Tipu Sultan

The Third Anglo-Mysore War started (A.D. 1790-92) when Tipu attacked Travancore, an ally of the English and the only source of pepper for the East India Company. The Nizam and the Marathas who were jealous of Tipu’s growing power joined the English.

Lord Cornwallis

Lord Cornwallis defeated Tipu and forced him to sign the Treaty of Siringapatnam in 1792 A.D.

According to this treaty:

1. Tipu had to surrender half of his kingdom which was divided among the English and their allies i.e. the Maratha and the Nizam.

2. Tipu also had to pay a huge war indemnity of 330 lakhs of rupees. Besides, Tipu had to hand over two of his sons to the English as hostages.

The Third Anglo-Mysore War destroyed Tipu’s dominant position in the south and firmly established English supremacy there. This war also revealed that the Indian powers were short­sighted enough to aid a foreign power against another Indian power for the sake of temporary gains.

Cornwallis receving Tipu's sonsFourth Anglo-Mysore War (1799 A.D.):

A man like Tipu could not forget the humiliation of his defeat in the Third Anglo- Mysore War. He began preparations for a trial of strength with the English. He began to add to the fortification of his capital, improve his cavalry and discipline his infantry. He also tried to enlist the support of the French to oust the British from the south.

Lord Wellesley

Lord Wellesley was determined to prevent French reentry into India. He asked Tipu Sultan to enter into a subsidiary alliance accepting British sovereignty. On Tipu’s spirited refusal, the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War started (A.D. 1799). The Nizam joined the English.

Tipu died fighting. Half of Tipu’s kingdom was annexed and divided between the English and the Nizam. The other half was given to a child of the old Hindu royal family which had been overthrown by Haider Ali. Tipu’s family was exiled to Vellore. The new ruler of Mysore became a subordinate ally of the British. British supremacy over southern India was established.

It had taken the English 32 years to subjugate Mysore. The threat of French revival in the Deccan was permanently eliminated.

The Collapse of the Marathas:

The Marathas had established a powerful empire in south-western part of India. But after the defeat at Panipat in 1761, Maratha power was split into five different virtually independent centres of power. The Peshwa, the head of the Marathas, was stationed in Poona. Gaekwad (in Baroda), Bhonsle (in Nagpur), Holkar (in Indore) and Sindhia (in Gwalior) were the other four Maratha chiefs.

The Marathas had made a remarkable recovery after the Battle of Panipat. Hence, it became imperative to confront the growing power of the English who aspired to take over the whole of India. Four Anglo-Maratha wars were fought between 1775 and 1818.

The First Anglo-Maratha War (1775-1782 A.D.):


The First Anglo-Maratha War was a direct outcome of the involvement of the English in the internal politics of the Marathas with the motive of expanding their territories. A bitter struggle for Peshwaship between Madhav Rao II (the infant son of the murdered Peshwa, Narayan Rao) and Raghunath Rao (an uncle of Narayan Rao who had been responsible for his murder) prompted the East India Company to interfere in favour of the latter.

A Dipiction of teh Anglo-Maratha War


The Maratha chiefs were united under the leadership of Nana Fadnavis who supported the claim of the infant Peshwa Madhav Rao II. The Maratha army defeated the British army sent from Bombay. Warren Hastings sent an army from Bengal. The war dragged on for 4 years. The Marathas won a decisive victory

Warren Hastings


The long war with the Marathas came to an end by the Treaty of Salbai (1782). It provided for the mutual restitution of each other’s territories. Raghunath Rao was pensioned off. Madhav Rao II was recognised as the Peshwa. The British gained little out of this war except the island of Salsette.

However, the treaty inaugurated an era of 20 years of peace with the Marathas. The Company used this period to subjugate Mysore and strengthen their position in Bengal. But the Maratha chiefs frittered away their energy in bitter conflicts among themselves.

The Second Maratha War (1803 A.D. – 1805 A.D.):


After Madhav Rao II’ s death, Peshwa Baji Rao II succeeded him. He was a weak ruler. In spite of their internal conflicts, Mahadaji Sindhia and Nana Fadnavis had succeeded in keeping the Marathas united. But after their death, the various Maratha chiefs, blind to the real danger from the rapidly increasing British power, were engaged in bitter strife with one another to control the Peshwa. This power struggle among them proved to be their undoing.

Mahadaji Sindhia

In 1802, when Holkar defeated the combined armies of Peshwa Baji Rao II and Sindhia, Baji Rao fled to Bassein and sought British protection. He accepted the subsidiary alliance and was installed in Poona by the Company.


Alarmed by the growing power of the British, Sindhia and Bhonsle declared war against them. But their combined forces were defeated.


Both Sindhia and Bhonsle had to accept all the terms of the subsidiary alliance. They had also to surrender large tracts of valuable land. An English Resident was posted in their territories. Holkar, who had remained neutral in the second Anglo-Maratha War, took up arms against the English. He was subsequently defeated and his capital Indore was captured.

Wellesley’s policy of conquest was proving to be very expensive for the Company. So he was recalled from India.Wellesley’s successor George Barlow signed a peace treaty with Holkar in 1806. He restored his kingdom to Holkar. The defeat of the Marathas in the second Anglo-Maratha War was a severe blow to their power and prestige.

The Third Anglo-Maratha War (1817 A.D.-1818 A.D.):


After the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the Marathas made one last attempt to shake off the Company’s yoke. Peshwa Baji Rao II began to resent the control of the British Resident. Further, Lord Hastings forced him to renounce the headship of the Maratha confederacy and surrender more territory to the Company.


The Third Anglo-Maratha War started in 1817 when the Peshwa, with the support of Bhonsle and Holkar, attacked and burnt down the British Residency in Kirkee near Pune. But the English decisively defeated them. Within a year the entire Maratha confederacy was subjugated.


Peshwa Baji Rao II was deposed and deported to Bithur. But he was granted a pension of Rs 8 lakh a year. His territories were annexed. The hereditary post of Peshwa was abolished. A small state, Satara, was created out of the Peshwa’s territories and a descendant of Shivaji was installed on the throne.

The Maratha leaders ceded large portions of their territories to the English. All of them accepted the system of subsidiary alliance. The Marathas were the only Indian powers who were capable of succeeding the Mughals. They had risen to power with the decline of the Mughal Empire, but were nearly wiped out by the British. Only the Punjab retained her independence.

Causes of Maratha Failure:

1. The Maratha chiefs failed to unite even in times of crisis. The English took advantage of this disunity.

2. By the end of the 18th century the Marathas had lost some of their ablest leaders. But they failed to produce leaders like Baji Rao I, Mahadaji Sindhia or Nana Fadnavis.

3. The Marathas lacked an efficient system of administration or a sound economic policy. The system of extorting chauth and sardesmukhi made them lose the loyalty of the conquered people.

4. The British were equipped with modern military techniques. With their outmoded methods of warfare, the Marathas were easily defeated by the English.

The Annexation of the Punjab:

The loose confederation of the Sikhs of Punjab was unified into a compact powerful unit by Ranjit Singh. He expanded his empire through conquests. To check his advance beyond the Sutlej the East India Company persuaded Ranjit Singh to sign the Treaty of Amritsar (1809). By this treaty he promised not to expand east of the Sutlej and confine his conquests to the north.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh The First Sikh War:


After Ranjit Singh’s death, the Punjab went through a period of chaos and confusion. Taking advantage of political instability in the area, the Khalsa army had become very powerful. The British watched these developments and increased their military forces at the borders, possibly anticipating future war.

In 1843, Ranjit Singh’s minor son, Dalip Singh, became the ruler with Rani Jindan as the Regent. To weaken the army and keep it engaged, Rani Jindan deliberately encouraged the army to cross the river Sutlej and attack the English. In December 1845 the Sikh army crossed the Sutlej and invaded the Company’s territories. This led to the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-1846).Rani Jindan


The patriotic Sikh soldiers fought very bravely but they were completely defeated. The British army occupied Lahore.


By the Treaty of Lahore (1846) the Sikhs ceded the Jalandhar Doab, Kashmir and its dependencies to the English. A British Resident and a powerful British force were posted in Lahore. Kashmir was sold to Gulab Singh, a Dogra chief. By a supplementary treaty it was decided that the Sikh state was to be ruled by a Council under the control of the British Resident. Rani Jindan was removed from her post.

The Second Sikh War:


British control over the Punjab aroused a lot of resentment among the Sikhs. In 1848 a number of revolts against the British broke out in the Punjab. The Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, declared war. The Sikh army which had been reduced by the Treaty of Lahore was completely crushed. By a proclamation in 1849, Lord Dalhousie annexed the whole of the Punjab to the British Empire. Dalip Singh was pensioned off.

A Depication of teh First Anglo-Sikh War


The Marathas, Mysore and the Punjab had challenged the British presence in the sub­continent. Each of them had been subjugated. With the annexation of the Punjab the British conquest of India was almost complete. Only a few small states retained their independence or were turned into subsidiary allies.

Methods of Expansion:

Apart from wars, several Governor Generals followed other methods to ensure the Company’s supremacy in India.

Subsidiary Alliance:

Lord Wellesley perfected the system of subsidiary alliance to subjugate Indian powers without going through actual warfare. Any Indian ruler whose security was threatened could enter into a subsidiary alliance with the British. The British promised to protect the ruler from external attack and internal revolt.

The ruler would have to accept the supremacy of the British in India. The ruler would have to keep and pay for the maintenance of certain number of British troops who would be permanently placed in the territory of the subsidiary ally. A British Resident would be posted in the court of the ruler. The Indian ruler was not allowed to employ any European in his service.

The ruler would not sign any treaty or form an alliance with any other power without the permission of the British Resident. States like Mysore, Hyderabad, Awadh, the Rajputs and Marathas were forced to accept this alliance after being defeated by the English.

The system of subsidiary alliance proved to be disastrous for the Indian rulers. They became virtual puppets in the hands of the British. The payment of huge amounts of money for the maintenance of British troops was a heavy drain on their resources. Indian states became impoverished while the British could maintain a portion of their army at the expense of Indian rulers.

Doctrine of Lapse:

In 1848, Lord Dalhousie arrived in India as the Governor General. Dalhousie was determined to extend British rule over India. His imperialist policy was based on three fundamental principles, namely:

(i) the expansion of territories by war;

(ii) the occupation of Indian states through the application of the Doctrine of Lapse; and

(iii) the takeover of Indian states on grounds of maladministration.

Lord Dalhousie

Dalhousie occupied the Punjab and Sindh through war. He brought several subordinate states directly under the Company’s rule by annexing them on the basis of the Doctrine of Lapse. According to Indian tradition, a king adopted an heir to the throne if he did not have his own son. But by the Doctrine of Lapse, if the king of a subordinate state died without a natural male heir, then the kingdom would ‘lapse’ to the British i.e. it would automatically pass into the hands of the British. Satara, Sambalpur, Jhansi and Nagpur were annexed under this policy. The families of the former rulers would be pensioned off. However, Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, was not given pension.

Nawab Wajid Ali

On grounds of maladministration, Awadh was occupied in 1856. Nawab Wajid Ali was pensioned off and sent to Calcutta. By 1856, the East India Company had brought the whole of India under its control. After this no war was waged to expand the British Empire any further. Parts of the country that were under Indian rulers were effectively under British control.