One day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's massive victory in India's national elections, the country's largest opposition party faces some deeply unpleasant questions about its future in national politics.
For the great Indian National Congress, which governed India too much of its post-independence history, there were no silver links to Thursday's defeat.
The party won only 52 seats out of 543 for grip in the country's parliament. In 14 Indian states, it failed to win a single seat. Even the party president, Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, lost in a constituency that had been by his family for decades.
Now, the party must assess what went wrong and decide whether to change its leadership or strategy in a political scene dominated by Modi and an aggressive mark of Hindu nationalism.
Some fashion critics even said that the failure of the congress in this election meant that it had survived its usefulness. " Congress is going to die ," Yogendra Yadav, an activist and electoral expert, said in a television interview where exit polls predicted great losses to the party.
"Today, it represents the single biggest obstacle to the creation of an alternative," he said.
The historian and colonist Ramachandra Guha called for Gandhi's termination after the party's bad exhibition. "Both self-respect and political pragmatism require Congress to choose a new leader," he said on Twitter. "But maybe Congress doesn't."
The party's highest decision-making body is set up for Saturday. Gandhi, 48, may offer to resign, according to local media reports. But the party is likely to refuse such an offer. Gandhi remains popular within the party, once led by his grandfather, India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Speaking to the media after the results were announced Thursday, Gandhi took charge of the debacle. "I respect people's decision," he said, saying it was not the moment to analyze the defeat.
Despite losing his seat in the Congress Bastion in Amethi, Gandhi will continue as a member of parliament because he won a different seat in a southern state. In India, candidates are allowed to contest elections from two seats, of which they must resign if elected.
Within the party there was no easy answer to the loss. "We're going back to the people, in the streets and villages," said Pawan Khera, a party spokesman. "We need to read what the country wants."
On Thursday of the nearby party's headquarters in Delhi, Ashok Patel, a young party worker, had difficulty understanding what went wrong.
Modi Bharatiya Janata Party "did not win this choice on their government work," Patel said. "They successfully projected Rahul as a directed dynasty and Modi as selfless and hard-working."
He owed BJP's brand of religious polarization, which hit a chord with the voters. The opposition often accused Modi and his party of lifting municipal lines of error between Hindus and Muslims during the campaign.
Some observers said the Congress Party's communication strategy had not marketed its policies to voters, a tax that Khera, the spokesman, admitted. The party spent months preparing a manifesto, but left some time to spread the word about its flagship proposal – a plan to give a minimum income to the poorest 20 percent of the Indians.
The party was also criticized for its inability to sew the pan-India alliance of opposition parties with the potential to counteract the BJP. In key figures such as Uttar Pradesh, with the largest number of seats, the party missed an opportunity to be part of the anti-BJP coalition, which split some of the opposition votes. However, results from the state indicate that the Modi wave would have been unstoppable even with such a formidable alliance.
Modi's march for re-election not only chose the congress, but also left powerful regional parties in disarray. The BJP drew an astonishing disturbance in West Bengal, a state bordering Bangladesh, which was long resilient to its fire of Hindu nationalist politics. In this election, BJP won 18 seats, a big leap from the two earlier.
While the image of the country's opposition looks cloudy, it is not uncommon for political parties in India to rebuild after having suffered some weakening losses. In the national election in 2014, the Bahujan Samaj Party, a political force backed by Dalits – formerly known as "untouchables" – did not win a single seat. This time, the party won 10 seats in an alliance.
The poor party's poor performance in the election was particularly bitter after it was expected to make remarkable gains in this poll, although the BJP was tipped to win. Last year, Congress had fought control of three central North Indian states from the BJP.
But winning at national level against Modi will require fundamental changes, experts say.
"What could defeat Modi is not a party, not an alliance, not a freebie promise, not anti-incumbency," wrote columnist Shivam Vij in the Print. mass leader and captures public imagination. "