Undoubtedly, top All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and outgoing Chief Minister K Palaniswami put up an epic fight against the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam which fetched his party steered alliance 75 seats, nearly one third of the 234 seats in the Tamil Nadu assembly and despite a decade of anti-incumbency.
Beset by a resurgent DMK that was firing on all cylinders to capture power and a renewed challenge from TTV Dhinakaran's camp, Palaniswami kept his poise and focused on polls and governance matters in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If not for Palaniswami, it is hard to guess if the AIADMK would have been able to garner 33.3 per cent vote share as against the DMK's 37.7 per cent. AIADMK won 66 seats, its allies Pattali Makkal Katchi and Bharatiya Janata Party five and four seats respectively and proved yet again that the western region was its fortress.
The DMK front bagged 159 constituencies.
The fresh trouble from Dhinakaran camp surfaced when his aunt V K Sasikala was released from prison just ahead of polls in January and it was another matter that she eventually announced staying away from politics.
Several of Palaniswami's decisions like the 7.5 per cent reservation for government school students in medical admissions who clear NEET, the Rs 12,000 crore plus farm loan waiver benefitting 16.43 lakh farmers and declaring the Cauvery delta region as protected agricultural zone were seen as politically astute and measures that helped slow down the DMK juggernaut.
Beginning December last, Palaniswami criss-crossed the state, taking on DMK and questioning its track record while in seat of power.
Betting on populism, a shared value of Dravidian politics, Palaniswami assured three phase power (24x7) for farmers and took pride in rejuvenation of over 5,500 waterbodies under 'Kudimaramathu scheme' across the state.
Carefully, he focused on his identity as a farmer and put his best foot forward to convince them that their interests would be best protected by him, one of them.
He tagged projects including the Cauvery-Godavari link proposal, Athikadavu Avinashi Scheme, new check dams and accused DMK chief M K Stalin of "entering into an MoU for hydrocarbon exploration" in Cauvery delta region whereas his government banned such initiatives by declaring it a protected zone.
The 'good governance' of Amma's government established the rights of Tamil Nadu in Cauvery and Mullaiperiyar issues and it should continue, he appealed to people at his rallies.
Several welfare measures also contributed in preventing a complete rout for AIADMK and such schemes were often highlighted by Palaniswami.
It includes Rs 2,500 cash assistance as part of 'Pongal' hamper to 2.07 crore ration card holders, free textbooks, bicycles, laptops and uniform for government school students worth crores, Rs 1,717 crore worth relief to 17.43 lakh ryots hit by back to back cyclones.
Banking on performance, Palaniswami did not fail to highlight among women voters that it was 'Amma's government' that increased the cash assistance under a maternity scheme to Rs 18,000 from Rs 12,000, provided Rs 2,500 subsidy for women to buy two-wheelers in addition to other welfare schemes like the 'Thalikku Thangam scheme (gold assistance for marriage).
Also, providing 10.5 per cent internal reservation for Vanniyars and fully backing the proposal of Devendrakula Vellalars (DKVs, a Scheduled Caste) to categorise them as a single group, were all taken up by Palaniswami.
The DKVs wanted disbanding of grouping them under seven separate castes and the Centre approved it following the state government's recommendation.
Establishment of 2,000 'Amma Mini' clinics, the solar powered green house scheme, 200 unit free electricity for handloom weavers were among the other schemes of the AIADMK government which came in handy for the CM.
He countered DMK's criticsm on industries not picking the state for fresh investments by pointing to investments cumulatively worth Rs.86,478 crore.
On Stalin-led party's allegation that AIADMK government was subservient to the Centre, he dismissed that claim and favoured good centre-state relationship to implement welfare projects. He used to point out that his government got approval from the Centre to set up as many as 11 medical college in government sector in a single year and work was afoot for completion of work.
When DMK chief M K Stalin relentlessly targeted him and his government over a slew of corruption charges, he dared him again and again for an open debate.
Refuting the charges in poll meetings, the CM listed pending graft cases against leaders -who were also ministers during the previous DMK regime -- of Stalin's party.
Palaniswami attacked the DMK vehemently for its 'dynastic' politics and appealed to the people to end it and labelled it is an 'unruly' outfit and narrated past violent incidents allegedly involving DMK men.
Also, on the issue of release of seven Rajiv Gandhi case convicts, he sought to turn the tables on DMK asking why they were all not set free when they were in power.
Deftly, he came up with 'Ayirathi Nooru Anaithirkum Theervu' (1100 toll free number, a solution for all complaints) plan for quick redressal of people's grievances when DMK intensified its drive to address public grievances by collecting petitions from them.
Palaniswami also latched on to his party's poll promise like six free LPG gas cylinders and Rs 1,500 monthly assistance and washing machines -- free of cost- to ration card holders.
Waiver of loans availed from cooperative societies by pledging jewels upto six sovereigns (about 48 grams of gold) and pending loans of women members of self-help groups in co-op banks and societies were also the promises the CM highlighted in his campaign trail.
From an ordinary party worker and a former Sasikala loyalist, Palaniswami established himself firmly as a leader during his four years plus stint as chief minister by his work and ability.
Also, the 67-year-old 'EPS' as he is popularly known, grew as the most powerful within the AIADMK with decades of party work standing him in good stead.
Despite some differences, he successfully managed to keep his colleague, O Panneerselvam in good humour and no wonder he has the support of leaders and functionaries at all levels. Though Deputy Chief Minister Panneerselvam also hit the campaign trail, the CM's poll tours were extensive.
Even though the TTV Dhinakaran-led Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam failed to win a single seat, it had split pro-AIADMK votes and in constituencies like Karaikudi and Sivaganga, AMMK nominees bagged impressive votes.
In Karaikudi, the winner was Congress party's S Mangudi (75,954) and BJP's H Raja was the runner-up (54,365), while AMMK's Dherpoki V Pandi secured 44,864 votes. Though Dhinakaran secured 56,153 votes, the AIADMK nominee and Minister Kadambur Raju won in Kovilpatti.