New Delhi: Strong oratory skills have always been associated with great leadership. Speeches have defined the legacy of prime ministers—from Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In more recent times, PM Narendra Modi has earned plaudits for his rousing rhetoric, in sharp contrast to his predecessor Manmohan Singh who was widely criticized for being a ‘silent’ PM. But are these reputations based on reality?

A Mint analysis of over 2,000 speeches by the two prime ministers shows that both have delivered broadly similar number of speeches on average in their official capacity as PM. While Singh delivered 1,349 speeches over 10 years (135 speeches per annum), Modi delivered 713 speeches over five years (143 speeches per annum). But Modi tended to be more loquacious, with his average speech length nearly twice as long as Singh’s (2,263 words versus 1,173 words).

Mint collated all the speeches recorded by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) under both Modi and Singh over the last 15 years for this analysis.

The analysis excludes campaign speeches and speeches made in political settings, and includes only those speeches which were made in their official capacity as prime minister, and were archived by the PMO. The bulk of Modi’s speeches (approximately three-fifths) were in Hindi and, for this analysis, were converted into English using Google Translate.

A key difference between the two prime minister is the use of the first person reference: Narendra Modi has referred to himself more times than any collective word (we, our, us). Singh on the other hand used ‘our’ and ‘we’ more times than ‘I’.

In terms of topics, too, there are differences. Word clouds of both leaders reveal their key focal topics during their terms.

After removing common words, such as ‘a’, ‘the’, etc., ‘India’, unsurprisingly emerges as the most popular topic, in terms of mentions per 10,000 words across speeches. Modi refers to India slightly more often than Singh has (53.5/10,000 words compared with Singh’s 45.5/10,000 words).

While development was the key mandate for Modi’s election in 2014, it is Manmohan Singh who mentioned development-related terms far more frequently than Modi did. Among word-pairs, Singh’s top ones were ‘climate change’, ‘science and technology’ and ‘economic growth’. Modi’s most popular word-pairs include ‘years ago’, ‘whole world’ and ‘first time’—suggesting a storytelling approach to his speeches.

Singh spoke more about the economy, reflecting his training as an economist. Modi has spoken more about farmers and soldiers, with soldiers conspicuously absent in Singh’s second-term speeches.

All this matters, because with elections here, speeches will take centre stage again. What Modi talks about now and how he says it could have important implications for the verdict.

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