Lord Dalhousie came to India as the Governor-General in 1848. He was from the beginning determined to extend direct British rule over as large area as possible.
Dalhousie had declared that "the extinction of all native states of India is just a question of time". The ostensible reason for this policy was his belief that British administration was far superior to the corrupt and oppressive administration of the native rulers.
The underlying motive of Dalhousie’s policy was the expansion of British exports to India.
Dalhousie, in common with other aggressive imperialists, believed that British exports to the native states of India were suffering because of the maladministration of these states by their Indian rulers.
The chief instrument through which Lord Dalhousie implemented his policy of annexation was the ‘Doctrine of Lapse.’
Under the Doctrine of Lapse, when the ruler of a protected state died without a natural heir, his/her state was not to pass to an adopted heir as sanctioned by the age-old tradition of the country. Instead, it was to be annexed to the British dominions unless the adoption had been clearly approved earlier by the British authorities.
Many states, including Satara in 1848 and Nagpur and Jhansi in 1854, were annexed by applying this doctrine.
Dalhousie also refused to recognize the titles of many ex-rulers or to pay their pensions. Thus, the titles of the Nawabs of Carnatic and of Surat and the Raja of Tanjore were extinguished.
After the death of the ex-Peshwa Baji Rao II, who had been made the Raja of Bithur, Dalhousie refused to extend his pay or pension to his adopted son, Nana Saheb.
Lord Dalhousie was keen on annexing the kingdom of Avadh. But the task presented certain difficulties. For one, the Nawabs of Avadh had been British allies since the Battle of Buxer. Moreover, they had been most obedient to the British over the years.
The Nawab of Avadh had many heirs and could not therefore be covered by the Doctrine of Lapse. Some other pretext had to be found for depriving him of his dominions.
Lord Dalhousie hit upon the idea of alleviating the plight of the people of Avadh. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was accused of having misgoverned his state and of refusing to introduce reforms. His state was therefore annexed in 1856.
Undoubtedly, the degeneration of the administration of Avadh was a painful reality for its people.
The Nawabs of Avadh, like other princes of the day, were selfish rulers absorbed in self-indulgence who cared little for good administration for the welfare of the people. However, the responsibility for this state of affairs was in part that of the British who had at least since, 1801 controlled and indirectly governed Avadh.
In reality, it was the immense potential of Avadh as a market for Manchester goods which excited Dalhousie’s greed and aroused his ‘philanthropic’ feelings.
For similar reasons, to satisfy Britain’s growing demand for raw cotton, Dalhousie took away the cotton-producing province of Berar from the Nizam in 1853.
The following map shows the British territory in 1856