LUCKNOW: On Tuesday, as Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi described the poll outcome in Uttar Pradesh as "a little down", he yet again seemed completely unaware of the reality on the ground, where the Grand Old Party finds itself in an existential crisis.
Forget the days of its supremacy in the state, where it ruled for over three decades, even winning 300-plus seats, like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of today. The Congress now finds itself in a situation where there are not even supporters to hold its flag in most parts of the state.
Having yielded space to alliance partner Samajwadi Party (SP) in 298 of the 403 seats and settling for a paltry 105, "any recovery for the Congress is not just a tall order, but an almost impossible task", feel party workers.
The last time the party did well in the state was in 1985, when it won 269 seats. Since then, the march to the bottom has been relentless.
Between 1985 and 1989, the party nosedived to 94 seats. It slipped again in 1991, with just 46 seats, and further to 28 seats in 1993. In 1996, it bagged 33 seats, won 25 in 2002 and 22 in 2007, when the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Mayawati romped home with 204 seats.
Despite its best efforts, the Congress failed to emerge out of the shadows of the regional parties like the SP and BSP and its tally only marginally increased to 28 when the BSP was voted out and Akhilesh Yadav embraced by the electorate in 2012.
And now it has just seven seats.
Party leaders at the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) blame the central and well as the state leadership for the steady decline of the party's fortunes.
A diehard supporter, who has worked hard for the Congress, told IANS that there was no "seriousness" in its approach for India's most populous and politically crucial state.
"This time, some serious work was done when Rahul started the Kisan Yatra from Deoria to Delhi and interspersed it with the Khaat Sabhas; but it all went phutt when some wise minds suggested joining forces with the SP," he rued, while pointing out how the dismal results had shred the strategy to pieces.
A Muslim party leader is equally cut up. "When elections are managed not by leaders but by hired, so-called strategists and professionals, the results are a foregone conclusion," he said, directly blaming "master strategist" Prashant Kishor for the disastrous show.
Kishor, who masterminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi's successful 2014 Lok Sabha campaign and helped Nitish Kumar make a stunning return as Chief Minister of Bihar, was roped in by the Congress to revive its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh.
"The party in Uttar Pradesh cannot be remote-controlled by people sitting in Delhi. The need of the hour is to cultivate sincere, local leadership in Lucknow," said another ageing leader, who served as a minister in a Congress government.
Worried state leaders now say that Tuesday's appraisal by the 46-year-old Gandhi scion, making light of the drubbing handed out by the BJP, was at odds with ground realities.
"He still seems to be living in a make-belief world that we will rise from the ashes without a sound strategy and serious introspection. Sadly, it is not going to be that easy," said a restless office bearer of the Congress, who has been managing its office at Mall Avenue.
Party leaders also concede that piggybacking on SP, especially Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, proved too costly. The initial flutter -- the 'UP ko ye saath pasand hai' credo wherein two young leaders, Rahul and Akhilesh, were projected as the future of the state -- died down in the face of an aggressive campaign by 66-year-old Modi.
"There was strong anti-incumbency against the ruling SP and its Chief Minister had also failed to manage his own party well enough to give our alliance a head start," averred a senior UPCC leader not wishing to be named. He added that the internal family and party bickerings in the SP also had a negative effect on the prospects of the alliance.
Congress workers in Uttar Pradesh are in favour of the party doing some introspection and a major rejig of the organisation, as also distancing itself from the regional parties.
Akhilesh Yadav has said that his alliance with the Congress, despite the rout, was very much on. There has been no word from the Congress leadership so far. Party workers are waiting to see how and when the much-awaited introspection will start.