Impunity and public law in India: Lessons for challenging constitutional retrogression in liberal democracies

Focusing on India, I analyse long-running friction between the national and state governments over their constitutional powers to investigate abuses by the military. The national government argues that states cannot inquire into unlawful violence by soldiers. The Manipur government demurs, citing its duty to manage public protest against the military’s misdeeds. I also look at ongoing litigation challenging extrajudicial killing by the military.

I argue that attempts to hold domestically-deployed troops accountable in India carry lessons about the resilience of constitutional-democratic norms. They suggest that constitutional retrogression can be ameliorated by constitutional review, public protest, and the constitutional division of power between national and sub-national governments. However, such gains tend to be minimal and ad hoc. Both in principle and practice, the executive branch remains committed to the authoritarian practices it was empowered by legislation to pursue.