- Gandhis meet to discuss Congress's debacle, second in row after 2014
- In 2014, the party had won 44 seats, its lowest tally ever
- Senior Congress leaders questioning Rahul Gandhi's leadership: Sources
Confronting one of their bleakest political moments, the Gandhis - Congress president Rahul Gandhi, his mother Sonia Gandhi and sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra - held a meeting on Thursday to discuss the party's debacle, the second in a row after 2014.
As votes were counted for the national election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set for a landslide victory and a return with an even bigger mandate than 2014 - around 350 of 542 seats in the Lok Sabha. The Congress and its allies were ahead in just about 93 seats.
As PM Modi appeared invincible, the Congress struggled to even touch three figures and its chief Rahul Gandhi was set to lose even his constituency Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, a Gandhi family stronghold and one of the party's surest seats till now. The party's star campaigner Priyanka Gandhi had spent much time in the constituency.
The Gandhis met for over half an hour. Sources say the Congress is in shock; it had not expected such a poor performance and now fears its state governments in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan would be targeted.
Many senior Congress leaders, say sources, are questioning Rahul Gandhi's leadership and his continuing as party president, sources say. Mr Gandhi's aggressive "Chowkidar Chor Hai" campaign flopped miserably, leaders said, or even, actually backfired. Rahul Gandhi used the phrase at all his rallies as he targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale jet deal, accusing him of crony capitalism.
Opposition leaders like Omar Abdullah have openly questioned whether "Chowkidar chor hai" was the right slogan and if it was right to focus on Rafale. The Congress also staked its chances on farm loan waivers and NYAY, or the Nyuntam Aay Yojana, a scheme promising minimum income.
Among the points that the party will assess is whether Priyanka Gandhi's debut made any difference at all, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where she ran an exhaustive campaign.
Perhaps the biggest failure was in understanding the need for unconditional alliances in states like UP, Bengal and Delhi.
Congress leaders call it a clear mandate against vote bank politics like minority appeasement and caste politics. They also noted that the Congress did not have a leader to project against PM Modi.
Some allies are believed to be questioning whether the Congress has become a liability for them and whether the party needs to reinvent itself.
In the last election, the party had won 44 seats - its lowest tally ever - at a time Sonia Gandhi was chief and Rahul Gandhi, as vice president, led the campaign. They offered to quit their posts at a leadership meeting.
Even if Rahul Gandhi steps down, a replacement will be tough to find. Priyanka Gandhi, for one, is yet to prove herself; Jyotiraditya Scindia was losing in his family stronghold Guna in Madhya Pradesh. And the party's strongest voice in parliament, Mallikarjun Kharge, has lost the election from a seat he had been winning for decades.
"I feel like a batsman who has scored a century while his team has lost," tweeted Shashi Tharoor, summing up the party's state.
The Congress may show marginal improvement this time but hardly enough to offset its huge loss in the big picture. The Congress headquarters in the capital is practically deserted. Several leaders left after the results started trickling in.