India, May 18 -- In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections held in the sweltering heat of April-May, Lalu Prasad was at the peak of his popularity, a crowd-charmer without match in the state he ruled as chief minister.

I was on the campaign trail with him. As the chopper in which we flew from Patna circled over Samastipur, Prasad soaked his hand towel with Bisleri water to rinse his face. Seeing his starched, white-kurta drenched in sweat, I asked, "Politics is a lot of hard work; it isn't an easy call. What keeps you going?" He pointed to the crowds below, gyrating to the chopper's chuffs, amid clouds of dust: "Ye hai hamara indhan (that's what fuels me on)."

The Rashtriya Janata Dal leader is in jail now in the fodder scam. The vignettes from h...