The 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections are expected to see a battle of three poll strategists - Sunil K, Jhon Arokiasamy and the new market entrant Prashant Kishor.
The DMK has the services of Sunil. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan's party Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) has said it has signed up Kishor while Arokiasamy is holding discussions with some other parties.
The ruling AIADMK is also said to be having discussions with Kishor. Hoever, it is not known how a consultant can work simultaneously for two contesting parties.
"Earlier political leaders emerged from grassroots level. They knew the pulse of the people as well as the mood of the second-in-line leaders. Knowing the ground situation, they turned into great strategists," political analyst Raveendhran Dhuraiswamy told IANS.
"Tamil Nadu politics was leader-centric earlier. The fight was between M.G. Ramachandran (founder of AIADMK) vs Karunanidhi. Then it was Karunanidhi vs J. Jayalalithaa. Now with the passing away of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi, there is no single tall leader. There is also a disconnect between the current leaders and the grassroots workers," political analyst Kolahala Srenivaas told IANS.
Professional political strategists are not new for Tamil Nadu as the state saw their entry in 2016 with PMK engaging Arokiasamy and DMK Sunil.
During the run-up to the 2016 assembly elections, Arokiasamy built former Union Health Minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss' image and successfully postioned himself as an alternative chief ministerial candidate.
The tagline 'Maatram, Munnetram, Anbumani' was a great hit and has recall value even now by politicians in different parts of the country.
"Arokiasamy's strategy took PMK's vote share from about 3.5 per cent to 5 per cent in the 2016 assembly polls," Dhuraiswamy said.
"The rebuilding of Ramadoss' image positioning himself as a chief ministerial candidate effectively settled the succession issue within the PMK. But its vote bank did not increase much," Srenivaas remarked.
Dhuraiswamy credits Sunil for DMK avoiding an alliance with PMK in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, which resulted in the former gaining about five additional members in Lok Sabha.
"Even when there is a tall leader, there is a need for a strategist. For example, in West Bengal the ruling Trinamool Congress has signed up Kishor", Srenivaas said.
According to Srenivaas, strategists are needed as politics has come out of the conventional mould with the advent of social media, television and others.
In the leader-centric Tamil Nadu politics, is there a place for strategists using data analytics?
"If the election is leader-centric, image-building is more important than data analysis. But the current situation in Tamil Nadu is different. The AIADMK which fought elections alone earlier on Jayalalithaa's strength has to look for an ally now," Srenivaas said.
As and when actor Rajinikanth enters politics as announced earlier, the state politics will interestingly turn into leader-centric.
"Rajinikanth will be a political force and hence the role of strategists will also change. Assessing the power of the new force will be a challenge for them," Srenivaas added.
"When Rajinikanth floats a party, the BJP may align with him. On the other side, there will be DMK alliance and the AIADMK will be facing a big challenge," K.C. Palanisamy, a former MP, told IANS.
However, a political strategist cannot win an election in Tamil Nadu.
"The strategists can make only a marginal difference. If a party has built its rapport with the people to win the polls with a margin of 25,000 votes, then the five per cent negative swing will not make much of a difference," Palanisamy said.
For Kishor, Tamil Nadu will be a test bed as he is advising MNM, which is not a top party or ranked second in the pecking order.
Dhuraisamy said Kishor may try to increase MNM's vote share that is scattered across the state and not in a specified belt. How far Kishor would be successful is to be seen.