Why is Rabri Devi called Rabri? It was a custom at least in her family to ask the mother what she wanted to eat just after the painful labours of childbirth. Her mother asked for rabri (an Indian sweet) and thus was a future chief minister of Bihar named.

Luckily her mother's sweet tooth craved for variety. Rabri's sisters are called Jalebi, Rasgulla and Paan. All three are housewives. Could a Rasgulla Devi have become chief minister of Bihar?

I rather think not. Too Bengali. But Jalebi would have been fine: it's national. The sons were not as sweet. They were given more divine, or at least heroic, honorifics. The three are called, familiarly, Prabhu, Sadhu and Subhash. By all accounts the only thing holy about Sadhu Yadav is that he is a holy terror.

Both Rabri and Laloo were born in extreme poverty, so I do not grudge them their current comforts. As Zsa Zsa Gabor once pointed out, the only thing worse than being nouveau riche is being nouveau poor. Today, the foremost couple of Bihar share adjoining bungalows.

Unperturbed by mosquitoes

Laloo Yadav is taking his evening constitutional in the fields after yet another day of heli-campaigning. He proudly shows me his grain before he moves on for a bath and some clothes fit for television. He is unperturbed by mosquitoes as he sits on a chair for the interview, which is in English; or at least some of it is.

When work is over, Laloo provides a generous commentary to the news. Groups of loyalists troop in, sit down, drink tea and leave when an imperious signal tells them that the audience is over. The groups change but the conversation does not. They all offer flattering estimates of how the enemy will be destroyed in the coming elections.

Rabri joins us; she has just finished her first road show in the Yadav heartland of Maner. She is not very literate, but literacy is measure of poverty, not intelligence. She seems a little more cynical of the tales flatterers tell, but she keeps her counsel.

When I leave after nearly three hours at the residence, there is a nagging feeling of something not quite right, or perhaps something not quite wrong, through the evening. Then it strikes. The lights have not gone out even once in the first home. I suppose they dare not.

The question is provocative, the answer unabashed. How, I ask Laloo, is he going to rig the election in the age of electronic voting? There is no rigging in Bihar, he says. Such an accusation is nothing but propaganda by the upper castes.

A sharp lady I met in Hazaribagh, which is now in Jharkhand, was more eloquent through her laughter. All the goons (thugs), she said, were busy improving their punching speed on their mobile phones.

There is a definite feel-good factor in Jharkhand, which was part of Bihar in the last elections but has spun off into an independent state. Jharkhandis are feeling very good about leaving Bihar.

The difference is visible the moment you touch down. In three years they have brought their highways into the modern age. They insist that you drive to feel the difference.

In Bihar, the highways are patchy; the state roads an insult. We made the mistake of trying to drive through Bihar Sharif. Someone should do a documentary on what they call a road.

It is a mid-18th century track weighed down by mid-20th century vehicles. There are no potholes, because there is no road. Our vehicle hurtles across stone until we bump onto a highway. Relief. It isn't an autobahn but at least you move.

The most desolate spot in Patna is Sadaqat Ashram, the beautiful bungalow bequeathed to the Congress by Dr Rajendra Prasad. I last visited the Congress headquarters of Bihar more than ten years ago, and it was in a state of constant bustle.

We drive through the gates at 10 am, at the height of a general election. There is not a single person around. One office is open, but there is no one inside. At the far end of the building is a comfortable domestic scene: a man, possibly an employee, is seated on a chair, reading a Hindi newspaper; nearby, a woman is doing chores. He looks startled, even perturbed, by the appearance of a vehicle.

To stop would be embarrassing, not to him, but to the memory of a great institution. We drive on. The irony is that Laloo Yadav simply stole this election from the Congress while the misled party watched, helpless, listless, lifeless. Congress seats were halved although its votes had doubled, as opinion polls are now confirming.

Replaced by fields

When Laloo became chief minister more than a decade ago, the Ganges still flowed below the Ashram. Now, it has literally silted up, and been replaced by fields on which crops are being sown by those who have seized the land illegally. The absence of the river is startling to someone who is familiar with Patna.

Laloo and Rabri now offer their prayers in the fish tank at their residence.

The whisper is becoming a murmur and the murmur, say Laloo's opponents, will become a roar on election day: when the Ganges turns away from the city, its rulers pay the price.

M.J. Akbar is the Editor of The Asian Age.