'The lion returns' -- Modi fans paint the town saffron

New Delhi (AFP) –


Delirious supporters of India's ruling party banged drums and smothered each other in saffron paint as they celebrated Prime Minister Narendra Modi's landslide victory in the country's giant election.

Across India, supporters of Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress party were both stunned by the size of the Hindu nationalist leader's triumph, with early counts indicating a thumping majority for the BJP.

The normally austere BJP headquarters in Delhi turned into a raucous circus of drummers, firecrackers, dancing and singing with thousands of supporters filling the yard and nearby streets.

Armed police stood guard and special commandos watched from vantage positions, as devotees rode horses in the streets while a half-mile long firecracker was lit, sending a huge cloud of smoke into Delhi's polluted skies.

Some carried effigies of Modi bearing the slogan "singham returns" (the lion returns).

Across town, the Congress main office was a near ghost town. Most activists left by midday as it became apparent that Rahul Gandhi's party had suffered a severe drubbing.

Only a handful of dejected supporters sat in groups under trees, seeking to escape Delhi's blistering sun.

The result was unexpected, said a Congress spokesperson Salman Soz. "We have to go back to the drawing board and see what went wrong."

- 'Time for a Hindu nation' -

Modi was showered with rose petals when he arrived at the party headquarters as rain started to fall.

He is expected to hold a victory parade in the holy city of Varanasi which he represents in parliament.

The city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh was part of a Hindu nationalist wave that swept Modi to power in 2014.

Five years on, BJP supporters told AFP their enthusiasm for the leader had only increased.

"In the past five years Modi has raised India's prestige globally wherever he has travelled," said 48-year-old Deepak Jadhav in the financial capital, Mumbai.

"Modi in five years will take India to newer heights that people could not imagine," he added.

Across the country, at the BJP's offices in the northeastern city of Guwahati, wild celebrations erupted, with people smearing paint on each other in scenes resembling the Hindu festival of Holi.

Thousands of men and women danced to songs devoted to the prime minister including "Akou Abar Modi Sarkar" ("Once Again a Modi Government").

Similar scenes were repeated in other major cities, with supporters calling for India -- officially a secular country -- to become a "Hindu nation".

"Modi will make India great again. Modi is the strongest prime minister India has ever had and will get," said Santosh Joshi in Delhi.

Huge crowds gathered in Delhi, waving BJP flags and Hindu banners and chanting slogans.

"The saffron flag has taken over, time for a Hindu nation" one old man screamed on a handheld megaphone.

Another supporter named Vishal Sharma told AFP, "We have shown the world that India is a great country".

"There will be no place for anti-nationals in the country. Nothing against the country will be tolerated."