Nitish Kumar and the BJP have retained power in Bihar and the opposition Mahagathbandhan failed to reach the majority mark despite an electrifying campaign by Tejashwi Yadav, whose RJD has emerged as the single-largest party. The Congress, with the poorest strike rate in the Tejashwi Yadav-led alliance, has proved to be the weakest link in the opposition.
The Bihar result delivers another hard lesson to the grand old party, which has been largely in stasis since being voted out of power in 2014, barring brief flashes.
In the post-defeat math, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav seems to have messed up seat-sharing by giving the Congress more seats to contest than it deserved.
The Congress contested 70 seats, the most in the opposition alliance after the RJD (144), and could win only 19. As for the Left parties, CPM was given four seats, the CPI six and the CPI (ML), 19. Every party showed a better strike rate than India's main opposition party.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi toured Bihar but the response was as listless as his campaign, not a patch on Tejashwi Yadav's massively attended rallies where the crowds cheered wildly when he repeated his promise of 10 lakh jobs.
Last year, their partnership flopped in the national election too - the NDA swept the polls, winning 39 of 40 seats, and the Congress got one. The RJD scored a duck.
"We have to acknowledge that the Congress is the smaller party in the state. Rahul Gandhi ji did his bit by campaigning across the state, but yes, there are things that need to be done to strengthen our organizational machinery," said Congress Rajya Sabha member Nasir Hussain.
Prominent Congress candidates, including Sharad Yadav's daughter Subhashini Sharad Yadav and actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha's son Luv Sinha, lost. The party's choice of parachute candidates without local connect has become a chronic problem, and not just in Bihar.
Analysts said if Tejashwi Yadav had not given in to the Congress demand (originally 75 seats) and part with a generous 70, the opposition alliance may have been in a better position by dint of the RJD's performance.
"It is clear that there is just no alternative to (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi. The Congress is in no position to create any sort of dent to him and the BJP. In fact, we know that RJD, after much push-and-pull, agreed to give the Congress a maximum of 48 seats, but then political arm-twisting got them more. We all can see what Congress has done about it," said former Janata Dal (United) leader Pavan Varma.
For Tejashwi Yadav, it is a repeat of Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav's mistake of 2017. In the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections that year, the Samajwadi Party tied up with the Congress which contested 105 of 403 seats and won only seven, contributing to the defeat of the alliance.
The Congress also performed poorly in the by-polls, losing seats in a battle of prestige in Madhya Pradesh with former party man Jyotiraditya Scindia, who quit the party and joined the BJP in March.
After the Bihar result, the Congress will find it difficult to negotiate seats with allies in states like Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where elections are due next year. In its attempt to retain its political space but without any clear leadership or direction, the party is likely to be further marginalised.