It should have been no surprise that Pertie would start the year by asking an awkward question but he did it so innocently I had no idea what was up his sleeve. We were driving back from the pictures and stuck in a small jam when he spoke out.
"Have you ever wondered why people in authority in India so often take the wrong decision? I'm not talking about difficult or controversial choices but little simple things. Even when it's blindingly obvious what they should do they manage to get it wrong."
To be honest I had no answer to offer, so I asked a question of my own instead. "I'm not sure what you mean. Can you give me an example?"
"The Rajasthan government's pressure on Salman Rushdie not to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival, for a start. If every time some fanatics threaten law and order the government caves in, will we ever be able to stand up for our legitimate rights?"
"But in this case you could have had protests, even violence, and there was an alleged threat to Rushdie's safety as well. In the circumstances, wasn't it wise to ask him to keep away?"
"Not at all." This time Pertie sounded quite excited. "Rushdie as a PIO card holder has a right to visit India. His hosts want him to. Millions of Indians would like to see him. And it's the government's duty to provide security and ensure order not duck the challenge and pressurise him to stay away."
"But what if they feel they're not up to it?"
"Then they're admitting to their own incompetence and it's the government that should step aside. Otherwise what's the message? Every fanatic who issues a threat will succeed in blackmailing society. If we claim to be a free and liberal people we must stand up for those rights and defend them when they're challenged."
"Hmmm." I had to admit Pertie had a good point. But was this a lone example? "Can you think of other stupid decisions?"
"Well, wrapping up Mayawati's elephant statues in UP is another. The Election Commission must have a very poor opinion of the Indian people if it really believes the sight of elephant statues and fountains will prompt them to vote for the BSP. And what a waste of money too."
"Aren't you ignoring the Commission's explanation? They've done similar things in 2004 and 2009 when they covered pictures of Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. There's a precedent for it."
"So?" Pertie sounded incredulous. "Just because you did something stupid in the past is no reason to do it again. Covering up pictures was an equally daft thing to do."
"What about the claim the Commission wanted to create an even playing field?"
"Oh, don't be silly. Does the sight of stone statues give Mayawati an electoral advantage? And if it does, then doesn't the sight of bicycles give Mulayam an advantage, or the lotus a similar fillip to the BJP? Come to think of it, perhaps you should ask all Congressmen to cover their hands because that's their party symbol! Can't you see this is the thin end of a wedge that leads all the way to insanity?"
Mercifully the traffic jam cleared at this point and Pertie's attention got diverted to negotiating the road. But I have to admit neither he nor I had an answer to his original question. Why do we so often take the wrong decision?
The views expressed by the author are personal.