Say what you may of their politics, but both J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi were consummate leaders with undoubted smarts for political speeches and the energy and enthusiasm to carry long-arduous election campaigns on their shoulders. Though their individual styles were extremely different, the two sure had one thing in common: the ability to connect with the public.

Karunanidhi's ornate, rhetoric-filled words (though often bordering on bombast) also carried a natural cadence that was good to listen to, and he delivered them with poise and hipster coolth. Jayalalithaa, on the other hand, had natural articulation skills, and be it Tamil or English, her organic flair for the language, helped her deliver her message with rare conviction and charisma despite being standoffish at one level. 

The 2016 Assembly election in Tamil Nadu, which the DMK should have walked away with, went in favour of the AIADMK because of Jayalalithaa's tireless campaigns, despite not being in the best of health even then. 

This 2019 general election is the first major one without the two political stalwarts of the state, and all eyes are inevitably on leaders like MK Stalin, Edappadi Palaniswami, O Panneerselvam, and how they measure up to the new challenges of spearheading their respective parties' campaigns.

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And going by what has been on view over last one month or so, the poll campaign verdict is: None of the leaders are even close to matching the two political stars of yesteryear.

It is not as if these leaders are not putting in the efforts if anything they are sincere and steadfast. But as they say, sincerity is no substitute for smartness.

Edappadi Palanisamy, the chief minister, and a frontline leader in his own right in the West Tamil Nadu (the belt of Coimbatore-Salem-Erode), has been going about his campaign – this in the words of a senior journalist on the campaign trail — with the efficiency of a bureaucrat. "There is very little by way of flair, which is what can give a political campaign the edge," says the journalist. 

Palanisamy does not flounder in his speeches, but he seems to operate out of a set template.

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Meanwhile, O Panneerselvam seems much more natural in his speeches, but he has nothing much to convey. There is no substance. He is not able to whip the sense of theatre that work in election rallies is the general verdict on him.

While Palanisamy and Panneerselvam have had no great training as they have never lead a campaign on their own, the performance of MK Stalin, who has been painstakingly groomed for the leader's role, is the real disappointment here.

It might seem rather unkind, but Stalin does not seem to have inherited any of the genes of his dad when it comes to public speaking. Stalin just mechanically reads the lines from a paper, with nary an attempt to appeal to the emotions of the voters. And when he tries to ad lib a few words, he makes a royal mess. 

His 'verbal typos' are now the stuff of popular Tamil memes. "There is no other way to parse this. He speeches are a disaster. He exhibits neither a command of language nor of the subject. It is just mechanical droning," says a senior media person who still remembers how Karunanidhi used to rabble-rouse and set the agenda for elections with rare cunning.

"In days of yore, people used to come just to hear Karunanidhi speak. Today there is no leader in the DMK who commands such a draw," says Kathiravan, a DMK worker.

Elsewhere, Anbumani Ramadoss, who tried manfully with an ambitiously-mounted campaign in the State Assembly polls of 2016, is a pale shadow of himself this time around. There is no pep or zing in his campaigns. 

The BJP's state leader Tamilisai is a good speaker with a natural command over Tamil. But her speeches don't carry emotional heft. 

Thol Thirumavalavan of Viduthalai Siruthaigal is a spirited speaker, and he knows to drive home his point through a mixture of both pith and patois. But being a smaller party in a larger alliance group, his appeal is confined to specific areas.

The Congress has no major campaigners. Former minister P Chidambaram is indeed a good orator. His unhurried style has a good feel to it, but the man generally comes across as being snobbish which precludes the masses from warming up to him. At any rate, Chidambaram is no longer interested in campaigning, except addressing meetings in his son's constituency.

But what of Makkal Neethi Maiam's Kamal Haasan? Well, he has been the most impressive and involved leader in the campaigns in the state. Though his language can be a little convoluted as he has a penchant for recondite similes and metaphors, Kamal is full of passion and has brought to his meetings raw energy. It radiates in his speeches and approach. But that may still not be good enough to win his party anything in the polls.