RJD leaders and workers miss Lalu's rustic charm and unique campaigning style.
M I Khan reports from Patna.
Lalu Prasad Yadav's presence is being missed during the current Lok Sabha election campaign in Bihar.
It is the first time in three decades that Lalu is missing from campaigning in an election in Bihar.
Though the Rashtriya Janata Dal founder is convalescing at the Ranchi prison hospital -- recovering from a heart ailment -- the 'Lalu Phenonenon' is visible in several parliamentary constituencies.
Dozens of RJD supporters, mostly youth, carry placards at election meetings, saying, 'Laluji we miss you, we need you'.
Sensing that RJD workers miss her husband's homespun humour and physical presence, former chief minister Rabri Devi declared recently that 'All RJD workers have become Laluji!'
Though her younger son Tejashwi Yadav is the RJD's campaigner-in-chief -- his elder brother Tej Pratap Yadav is sulking and has mounted a revolt of sorts -- Rabri Devi is also campaigning in support of party candidates and Mahagathbandhan nominees.
She is intriguingly active on social media, tweeting regularly and requently interacting with the media.
"Tejashwi has learnt the tricks of politics fast," says a senior RJD leader, "he is articulate, attracts crowds, addresses four to five election meetings a day, but party workers and supporters are still searching for their leader, Lalu."
"Lalu's witty repartee and rustic mannerisms were the main source of attraction during his election meetings," explains another RJD leader. "This time it is missing and that has resulted in a dull campaign."
Tejashwi, adds this RJD leader, is no match for his father. "He has to learn a lot and also lack experiences," he says.
"Laluji could have made the task easy for the Mahagathbandhan to consolidate its social support base," says another RJD leader, "his absence is not good."
Though he is missing in action, Lalu still controls his party and decides the Mahagathbandhan's strategy from his prison hospital room.
Ignoring his elder son Tej Pratap's divorce petition, Lalu nominated his daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai's father as the RJD candidate from the Saran Lok Sabha seat.
Lalu also fielded Subhash Yadav from Chatra in neighbouring Jharkhand, ignoring a party revolt that led to the RJD Jharkhand president Annapurna Devi joining the Bharatiya Janata Party in protest.
Lalu also nominated his eldest child Dr Misa Bharti from the Patliputra seat, ignoring unhappiness in the RJD over his decision.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has questioned Lalu's ability to control political activities from his prison hospital bed. Prison authorities in Jharkhand twice conducted raids on Lalu's room, but found nothing objectionable.