'An ordered anarchy': Mobilization for civil disobedience in Bengal and Bombay, 1929-1934

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Louise Kriesberg


Bengal, Bombay, India, Nonviolent, Nationalism, Social movements, Civil disobedience

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


While the nature of social movement organizations has been the subject of much research and theory in the sociology of social movements, the massive literature on nonviolent nationalism in India contains very few precedents of research that seriously analyze the role and structure of organizations in contributing to the successes of that movement. This dissertation addresses some of the deficiencies that have persisted in this literature because of its neglect of formal organizations and other informal mobilizing structures. The civil disobedience movements of Bengal and Bombay provide the basis for a comparison of the resources for mobilization and governance in these provinces, the patterns of collective action, the structure of their provincial Congress organizations, and the social organization and practices of the police who confronted civil disobedience. The research draws on extensive archival material from the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and the National Archives of India in New Delhi, the Oriental and India Office Collection in London, and the Centre for South Asian Studies archive at Cambridge University. The research about collective action is based on an events dataset constructed from the Fortnightly Reports on the Political Situation in India, a series of semi-monthly secret police reports about the most significant protest events in each province (288 reports were coded, 144 each from Bengal and Bombay for six years, 1929-1934). The major findings can be summarized as follows: (1) the relative wealth of Bombay enhanced the opportunity structure for mobilization by providing organizers with multiple sources of funding, a critical resource for protest in India's poor economy; (2) Bombay's decentralized Congress structure was more productive of collective action than Bengal's formally centralized Congress organization because it allowed for better coordination of movement resources across diverse communities; (3) the relative impoverishment of Bengal limited the government's options for protest policing to a hard repression strategy that sparked the use of terrorist tactics by Congress supporters, while Bombay's relative wealth allowed the government to pursue a flexible, mixed strategy of hard and soft repression that effectively curtailed the emergence of organized movement violence.


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