Bangalore: The Bharatiya Janata Party's victory in Karnataka has become all the more sweet as the Janata Dal (Secular) that took it for a ride last year has been decimated in the assembly poll.
From claiming that it will be a kingmaker again, the JD(S) headed by former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda now has to battle against being rendered irrelevant in state politics by the BJP and the Congress.
JD(S) is often derided in Bangalore as Thande-Makkala party (father and sons party) as all major decisions are taken by Deve Gowda and his two sons, former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy and his elder brother and former minister H D Revanna.
ONCE A KINGMAKER: H D Deve Gowda's party JD (S) was decimated in Karnataka assembly polls on Sunday.
In November last year, Deve Gowda was a proud man, taking credit for preventing the BJP from ruling in the south for the first time.
"BJP leaders say Karnataka is their gateway to south. I have closed the doors," he had proclaimed after bringing down BJP chief minister B S Yeddyurappa just a week after he was installed on Nov 12.
"No party can form a government without JD (S) support," the 75-year-old leader, described as Karnataka's 24X7 politician, had told reporters as the campaign was in full swing for the staggered assembly polls in the state.
"The battle is not yet over," was his reaction Sunday morning as trends showed BJP inching closer to majority and his party losing heavily.
But as the results started pouring in, it was left to Kumaraswamy to face the media and offer his assessment of the situation and the reasons for the poor show by JD (S). The party won just 28 seats, 30 less than in 2004.
Kumaraswamy said the positive side is his party won so many seats though several senior leaders had left it. "At many places we have lost by a few hundred votes. I was the only main campaigner for the party. It is too early to say that we have done badly just because we failed to retain the seats we had won last time," he told reporters.
Deve Gowda had told the meetings he addressed that this was his last election battle. If such statements were intended to evoke voters' sympathy, they have clearly failed to do so.
The Deve Gowda clan was confident that the BJP plan to cash in on a possible sympathy to it because of JD (S) "betrayal" would not work. It may not have but the results clearly show that the JD (S) strategy to project itself as a regional party has not worked either.
Young JD (S) leaders are now hoping that Deve Gowda will stick to his word and leave the running of the party to Kumaraswamy.
At the height of political crisis in October/November last year on the issue of continuing alliance with the BJP, many young leaders wanted Kumaraswamy to break away from his father and run the party on his own.
They felt Deve Gowda's fears of becoming totally irrelevant at the national level and his desire to use the "secular" card to re-establish close links with Left and other anti-BJP parties was ruinous for the party in Karnataka, the only state where it still has some support.
Many senior leaders like Siddaramaiah and M P Prakash, former deputy chief ministers, had left the party opposing Gowda's "whimsical ways of decision-making and promoting his sons".
Many more wanted Kumaraswamy to jettison his father and retain the alliance with the BJP as they had feared the party would be wiped out in the state otherwise.
Gowda managed to retain most of these young leaders promising that this was his last election battle and he would hand over the leadership of the party to youngsters.
But the man who revelled in keeping everybody guessing about his next political moves now has a difficult task of deciding his own future role in his party.
The assembly election was his biggest political battle to remain relevant. He has lost it. Now the former prime minister has lots of time on his hands to ruminate whether he should remain commander of a party that would have been only too happy if he had withdrawn from the scene much earlier.