After one more crushing defeat in Karnataka, the Congress moved to ring-fence its president Rahul Gandhi from any blame. A senior Congress leader in the state lashed out at Chief Minister Siddaramaiah over the Karnataka election results, alleging that his arrogance cost the party.
- Can't blame Rahul Gandhi for Karnataka, say Congress leaders
- It was not Rahulji's leadership: Congress's Veerappa Moily
- Congress's DK Shivakumar says Siddaramaiah was overconfident
Rahul Gandhi addressed 38 rallies in Karnataka and peppered his campaign with visits to temples and mutts.
But even the proposal to accord minority religion status to the Lingayats - traditional supporters of the BJP - backfired. The Vokkaligas, an influential support base of the Janata Dal Secular, also placed the BJP rather the Congress in second place.
The Congress is seen by analysts to have failed completely in exploiting dissatisfaction over farmers unrest, lack of jobs and rising fuel prices.
"Rahul Gandhi did his best, but it is we who have lost the elections. We, the local leadership, should have encashed it (Rahul Gandhi's campaign) in a proper way, because of which we lost it," said DK Shivakumar, looking crestfallen on his birthday.
"Rahul Gandhi did his best. He went to the streets, he went to the people. We are very proud of the Congress party president. It is we who lost the game." After losing Karnataka, the Congress is left with just Punjab, Mizoram and federally-administered Puducherry.
Mr Shivakumar said the party had never expected such a bad defeat. "It is not a good sign for local leaders," he said, commenting that Siddaramaiah was overconfident.
Asked whether he attributed the Congress defeat in parts to a "Modi wave", he demurred and went to the grassroots: "I don't think it is a Modi wave. It is mostly our own defects. We have to be more cautious at the constituency level."
The party's central leader Veerappa Moily, a former union minister, said "caste let us down".
"It was not Rahul ji's leadership," said Mr Moily, even before being asked about the party president. "The caste chemistry did not percolate."
Another party leader in Delhi blamed last mile connectivity and said "no central leader can be blamed for block level problems".