Study Notes on POLICY OF RING-FENCE (1757-1813)

What was it?
During this period, the British, as Lee-Warner says, endeavoured as far as possible to live within a Ring Fence, and beyond that they avoided intercourse with the chiefs as the English Company was not yet strong enough to interfere in the internal affairs of the Indian states. More specifically the English Company neither had the strength nor the resources to defeat the Indian states. It was in fact only one of the important powers in India; the Marathas, the Nizams, the French, etc. being the other powers. Warren Hastings, confronted with the task of safeguarding British territories against the encroachments of the Maratha and the militant rulers of Mysore, generally followed the policy of a Ring- Fence. The Pitt’s India Act of 1784 even laid down that the Home Government should not approve of the intervention of her officers in India in the internal affairs of the Indian states. After the battle of Buxar, Avadh lay at the mercy of the British but they did not annex it. After the Rohilla war; Warren Hastings conferred the conquered territories on the Nawab of Avadh instead of retaining them; the First Ango- Marathaa war ended in the restoration of the status quo by the Treaty of Salbai and the four Mysore wars benefited the allies of the British (Marathas and Nizam) more than the British themselves at least in the short term.

During this period of 45 years, the British East India Company made all states subordinate to itself by compelling their rulers to sign Subsidiary treaties with it. The Indian states, without exception, were prevailed upon to accept the Company as the paramount power in India. They were required to give either money or territory, so that the Company could maintain a Subsidiary force either in the concerned state or outside it for its protection. The concerned state could no longer appoint non-English Europeans in its service. It could not conduct any foreign relations except through the British government. In all its dispute with other states, it had to accept British arbitration. In turn, the Company promised the territorial integrity of the state. In practice, however, all the Indian states entering into subsidiary alliance, and being dependent on the Company for self-protection, began to suffer from all the evils of ‘dual government’ like those which had destroyed Bengal between 1765 and 1722. Regarding pitfalls of the Subsidiary system, Sir Thomas Munro rightly remarked that, it is the natural tendency to render the government of every country in which it exists weak and oppressive, to extinguish all honorable spirits among the higher grades of society, to degrade and impoverish the whole people.The nature and significance of this phase of the evolution of British paramountcy over princely states is euphemistically brought out by Colonel Luard.

When he says “This period is by far the most important in the history of the relationship of the states to the British government, step by step, solely against its will, the Company had been driven by inexorable fate to abandon its policy of Ring Fence and noninterference, and to pass through the system of subordinate alliance otherwise and generous policy of cooperative partnership which holds at the present day.

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