All You Need to Know About British Paramountcy in India


The conquest and subjugation of a vast country like India by Britain is an important fact in world’s history. In India British first began to compete as equals and later gradually as superiors to the Indian powers.

After the victory of the British in the Carnatic wars the French removed their threat in India. More importantly, the Bengal battles (Battle of Plassey, 1757 and Battle of Buxar, 1764) made British the real masters in Indian history, and led the process of their conquest in India.

By 1765, the British became the virtual rulers of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and after that through a series of wars and subsequent annexations several parts of India came under British control.


Establishment of British Paramountcy in India:

The official policy to impose British ‘paramountcy’ upon Indian states became the Company’s authority as paramount power superseded that of the Indian rulers. As a paramount power the Company considered itself justified in annexing or threatening to annex any Indian state, whenever conditions in that state violated British authority.


Anglo-Nepal (Gorkha) War

Already in 1801 British occupied the Gorakhpur districts, which brought the Company’s frontier with the territory of the Gurkhas. British Empire emerged and Hastings was designated as the Commander-in-chief of the army. He took it as a challenge and decided to launch an attack against the Gurkhas along the whole frontier from the Sutlej to the Kosi.

Hasting decided to penetrate the Nepal frontier by four groups of armies at the same time under the four Generals i.e., Marley, Ochterlony, Gillespie’s and Wood.


Attack Of 1814-15


In the attack of 1814-15 English army consisted of 34,000 soldiers as against the Gurkhas, whose army consisted of 12,000. General Gillespie first entered into the field on October 22, 1814 and took possession of Dehar, Later Gillespie attacked Kalunga or Kalapanee, the mountain fortress in which Gillespie was killed.

David Ochterlony, designated as the head of the main army in February 1816 into the midst of those forests that guard the entrance into Nepal and defeated the Nepalese at Makwanpur on 28 February of 1816, which lasted several hours.

A detachment under the command of Colonels Kelly and O’ Halloran got another victory and the Gurkhas were compelled to accept the Treaty of Sagauli on 4 March 1816, which they earlier rejected.


As A Result of The Treaty


1. The Gurkhas surrendered to the Company the districts of Garhwal and Kumaon, including a great portion of the Tarai.


2. The Tarai was marked as a boundary between them by pillars of masonry. 


3. The Gurkhas agreed to accept a British resident at Kathmandu and permanently withdrew from Sikkim.


Hastings And Indian States

After arriving at Calcutta on October 13th, 1813 Hastings took strong measures against the Indian states and his political outlook was different from his predecessors.

He observed that in earlier times his predecessors followed the policy by which they avoided meddling with the native powers and if they took one half of the powers under British protection then the other half was made as enemies.

He criticized the war policy of Wellesley and there is reference that in a debate in the House of Lords on 11 April 1791 he had questioned the wisdom of the policy of war against Tipu Sultan of Mysore. As a soldier and statesman he adopted diplomatic and military attainments against the Indian states.

He proposed to end the anomalous and unsatisfactory state of affairs in India and decided to maintain peace in the country. He decided to resort to strong measures in those states for the protection of British subjects and allies.

He did not believe in an expensive system of defense against these states, but desired for their complete suppression. Hastings expected that such states as had not become predatory tranquility will be maintained by forming alliances with them, which will remove the hostility.


Anglo-Maratha Wars

The rise of Maratha power is associated with Shivaji (1627- 1680), who welded the scattered Marathas into a mighty nation. He broke the power of mighty Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the Deccan.

After his death Maratha power received setbacks for a few years. Later Baji Rao –I (1698-1740) and his successors tried to enhance the Maratha power. But with the defeat of the Marathas in the 3rd Battle of Panipat (January, 14, 1761) during the time of Balaji Baji Rao (1740-61) by Ahmad Shah Abdali of Afghanistan, they became weak.

During the late eighteenth century like the other native states of India they became involved indigenous quarrels. By taking these advantages the British interfered in the affairs of the Maratha Empire.Maratha, as a Rajput state, was not ready to accept the British suzerainty without protesting against the British, which led to several wars between them. 

Hastings destroyed the independence of Maratha and established British supremacy over their vast territories. The wars marked the complete collapse of the Maratha power, thereby criminating the most powerful rival of the English. The Maratha states were completely deprived of their fortified and military powers and hence the British paramountcy was established.

India’s resistance to paramountcy came at a very later stage due to lack of nationalism and partly due to unawareness and low literacy of the people. Later people starved for nationalism and India went through a Renaissance.


Indian Renaissance & Nationalism

The incursion of the British with their zeal for spreading Christianity in India introduced a newer foreign element in Indian society. Despite these diversities of socio-religious character, India has been able to maintain its cultural heritage as a nation.

As stated in the history, the first war of Independence gave nation-wide publicity to the harshness of the British rule and thereby generated the nationalist spirit directed towards securing political emancipation. In the second half of the nineteenth century several other factors contributed to strengthening this Indian nationalism.

Another factor which helped to mould Indian nationalism was the Indian Press. The policy of the East India Company at first was to disallow the starting of newspapers. In the due course, the press began to enjoy some freedom. This became a powerful instrument to educate the people and stimulate Indian nationalism.


Written By: Atul Bihari

Edited By: Prachi Raheja