New Delhi: Congress leaders admitted they were stunned as results from five state elections showed the party faced defeats in Punjab and Goa and a poor showing in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress was on top in Uttarakhand but short of an outright majority. The only good news came from Manipur, where the Congress was set to sweep and retain power.
Congress leaders quickly rushed to insulate their star campaigner in Uttar Pradesh and general secretary Rahul Gandhi from criticism, saying that a wide variety of factors were to blame for the multiple disaster.
"We are very surprised, we are shocked," Congress leader and Minister of State for Science and Technology Ashwani Kumar said.
"This calls for very serious reflection and introspection on what went wrong," he added, disappointment writ large on his face.
But he said that the Uttar Pradesh and other state verdicts "are a reflection of how people view various political parties in their states".
Congress chief spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi was downcast.
The results in Punjab, where the Akali Dal-BJP combine is set to retain power, a first in the state for any ruling party, were "extremely baffling", he said.
"I am very disappointed," he added, commenting on the overall outcome of the February-March polling in Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Goa.
Rajiv Shukla of the Congress struck a different note: "We are not happy but you cannot say it is a pathetic showing."
Political pundits and opposition activists heaped scorn on the Congress and its leadership.
A Congress source admitted to IANS that the results were "a major blow" and were partly a result of the corruption charges faced by the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"There is no doubt that corruption played a big role in voters' thinking," said the source not willing to be identified.
The source said the Congress also blundered by injecting "communal politics" towards the end of campaign in Uttar Pradesh when it promised to reserve special job quotas for Muslims.
Marxist leader Suhasini Ali said the Congress blundered by not projecting anyone as a possible chief minister even as it sought a clear mandate from voters.
"Then the central government's non-performance and price rise are also factors," she said. "As for the 22 Congress MPs who won in 2009, they were a huge disappointment for their electorate."
Sudheendra Kulkarni of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) underlined that there was "a very strong anti-Congress sentiment" in almost all the states that went to the polls.
Congress-turned-Samajwadi Party politician Shahid Siddiqui said the Congress leadership's "ostrich like attitude" and "refusal to learn" from previous mistakes were major factors.
Minister Ashwani Kumar added: "We (Congress) need to strengthen our organisational structure."
Apart from Uttar Pradesh, where Rahul Gandhi's 200-plus election rallies were expected to give the party a major boost, the Congress was also stunned that it was unable to dislodge the Akali-BJP combine in Punjab.
The Congress-led government was expected to be voted out in Goa but was in the reckoning for power in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand, though not in the manner it would have desired.
Insurgency-hit Manipur was its only saving grace, with the Congress-led government getting an emphatic mandate for five more years, decimating a coalition of several opposition parties.