Chennai: MK Stalin, the long standing heir apparent to DMK chief M Karunanidhi, may have failed to oust AIADMK but a spirited campaign for over a year marked by a makeover virtually made it a close race in Tamil Nadu where traditionally the contests have been one sided.
Analysts now believe that if the DMK had projected him the chief ministerial face instead of his 91-year-old father, probably the election verdict could have been different.
Targeting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa over "inaccessibility", 63-year-old Stalin carefully worked out the campaign beginning with his massive voter outreach programme "Namakku Naame Vidiyal Meetpu Payanam" (We for ourselves, journey to retrieve dawn) as early as last September.
Though his estranged brother Alagiri called it a "comedy show", he continued to vigorously canvas support for his party going for a complete image makeover-- giving up the trademark attire of Dravidian politicians of dhothi and shawl and donning sports shoes -- with an aim of appealing to the huge young electorate.
The reach-out plan covered all the 234 assembly constituencies. He made it a point to directly interact with people held a string of programmes and rallies like the Vidiyal Meetru Perani.
He was seen shaking hands with passengers in bus, auto and in other public places and listening to their grievances.
During campaign in open-top vans, he consciously put him arm around party candidates and said this is "democracy and brotherhood" in DMK and mocked at AIADMK men for bowing before their chief Jayalalithaa.
Such gestures were used by DMK to portray their leader as an accessible and affable personality juxtaposing it with the perception of Jayalalithaa as an "inaccessible" leader.
Also, Stalin tried out new initiatives like "Pesalam Vanga," (Come Let us Talk), just like the Chai pe Charcha of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the people of his constituency Kolathur here.
He extensively toured Tamil Nadu, addressed hundreds of public meetings and rallies and even expressed regret for some "mistakes" that happened during the previous DMK tenure and assured people that such things will not be repeated if his party was voted back to power.
DMK today is largely under his control. With his older brother and former Union Minister MK Alagiri expelled from party in 2014, there is no one else in the party who could challenge him.