Everything in excess is opposed to nature, Hippocrates famously said. About a century later, Aristotle — who held the ancient Greek physician in enormous regard — developed the theory of the golden mean, positing there was virtue in treading the middle path between two extremes, a way of life that enables people to live according to their nature. Should we give Shivpal Yadav, the beleaguered Uttar Pradesh Minister for Public Works, the benefit of the doubt? When he briefed PWD officials that it was all right for them to “steal a little” but not “loot” or commit “dacoity”, could he have been advancing a subtle moral proposition, a piece of contemporary Aristotelianism? The individualistic and controversy-prone Minister, whose every word was captured on camera, has vociferously maintained he has been quoted out of context. Have we then missed the intricate shades of grey in his complex moral reasoning? Misunderstood him, as many ancient Greek philosophers were, as well as his bold stab at Nicomachean ethics? Should we be persuaded to ignore the leeway he extended for a little stealing and focus rather on his stern injunctions against loot and dacoity, which he claims are backed up by the suspension of 125 officials belonging to the PWD, Cooperative and Irrigation departments on suspicions of graft over the last few months?

On a more serious, but arguably mundane note, Shivpal Yadav is no ordinary politician, being the brother of former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and uncle of the incumbent Akilesh Yadav. The Chief Minister has shown no inclination yet to act against his elderly relative, whose sacking has been stridently demanded by the Opposition. As for the Samajwadi Party, it has responded to the controversy in the traditional and time-honoured way — issuing a statement alleging the existence of a conspiracy to malign the government by communal and casteist forces backed by corporate interests. However, the party would do well to remember that it was voted to power in U.P. by an electorate that was palpably fed up with what it perceived as the Mayawati government’s corruption and misgovernance. The image of Mr. Akilesh Yadav’s fledgling government is likely to be dented if it continues to adopt an ostrich-like posture to Mr. Shivpal Yadav’s reckless remarks. While the relationship between the two may be somewhat strained, it does the young Chief Minister no good to be perceived as a man who is unable to act against a family member. In the absence of this, we may be persuaded to believe what we already know — that corruption has eroded the vitals of our democracy and that we could do with a Hippocratic oath for our politicians.

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