A funereal air hung over the All India Congress Committee (AICC) office at Akbar Road as votes for the Lok Sabha election were counted on Friday. In the early hours after the counting began at 8 a.m., party spokespersons held the fort saying it was too early to call it a day.

But the writing was on the wall. The ubiquitous posters of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi were missing from the compound and not a single senior leader was in sight. Rajya Sabha MP Satyavrat Chaturvedi earned the distinction of being the first non-spokesman to meet the press.

At 10.45 a.m., he said: “We have done a lot for the country in the past decade. We accept defeat. We will introspect on our role in the future.”

The lawns of 24 Akbar Road were filled mainly with media and security personnel. Periodic sweeps by Special Protection Group teams and sniffer dogs led to rumours that either Mr. Gandhi or party president Sonia Gandhi will visit. However, they turned up only in the evening.

Their fans from across the country, however, began to trickle in by noon. Cuddalore District Congress Committee secretary Kulandaisamy was busy sealing envelopes at Munnabhai’s chole bhature stall in front of the Congress Seva Dal office.

“I have come to console Sonia madam because she brought landmark laws like the Right to Information Act, Education and Food,” he told The Hindu.

“Our leaders said she will not be able to meet us today [Friday]. So, I want to post these letters to her on behalf of our workers. But post offices are closed today and I have a train to Chennai at night. I am dropping them without stamps. I hope the postman delivers them,” he added.

The spokesmen tried hard to defend Mr. Gandhi, who led the party’s campaign. Mahila Congress president Shobha Oza attributed the defeat to the BJP’s “aggressive marketing of rumours”.

Meanwhile, Congressmen led by local activist Jagdish Sharma raised slogans demanding that Mr. Gandhi’s sister Priyanka Vadra be given the reins of the party.

A numbers of Congressmen from Mumbai, Aurangabad and Ratnagiri in Maharashtra were also present at the AICC headquarters.

“We need to introspect on how to reconnect with the grassroots. Simply rolling up your sleeves does not win votes. Someone like Jyotiraditya Scindia must be brought to lead nationally,” a Maharashtra-based leader said.

In room 15 of the AICC office, which serves as the office of several MPs, including Sandeep Dikshit, Raj Babbar, P.C. Chacko and Bhakta Charan Das, party staff and security personnel remained glued to the television screens to beat the heat outside. They chuckled over the reasons attributed to the defeat by Congress spokesmen, but gasped in disbelief when the TV screen flashed that the National Conference had not won a seat in Kashmir. When the trends for the Left Front appeared, a constable asked who the Left were. No one replied.

Outside, resident Congress merchandise vendor Bhagat ji was having a dull day.

“I had good sales just before the Assembly elections. I haven’t sold anything today, but this is an old party. There will always be buyers even if they don’t win.”

The sound of crackers being burst by BJP members over at Ashoka Road further silenced the buzz at the AICC office. The acrid smell of burnt crackers filled the air and distracted a few spokesmen from their line of defence.