Independence Day (I-Day) speeches have for long been an occasion for prime ministers to showcase the achievements of their government, and to reiterate their commitment to the process of nation-building.

A Mint analysis of the content of all Independence Day speeches by prime ministers since 1991 reveals that while certain topics, such as nationalism and rural India (or Bharat), have remained consistently popular, some new themes, such as the economy and infrastructure, have gained in prominence over the past two decades.

The analysis is based on the frequency of mentions per 10,000 words in the Independence Day speeches of each prime minister.

Only prime ministers who have completed a full five-year term were considered in this analysis: P.V. Narasimha Rao (1991-1996), Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004), Manmohan Singh (2004-2014) and Narendra Modi (2014-present).

Modi’s Independence Day speeches are the longest in this period at an average of about 8,000 words. His predecessors, Singh and Vajpayee, delivered much shorter speeches (3,600 and 3,300 words, respectively). Only Rao came somewhat close to Modi—his speeches were about 5,500 words-long.

The nature of the occasion perhaps demands a nationalist rhetoric and, hence, words related to the country, or the nation, have been equally frequent across the time period under consideration.

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Such references spiked in Vajpayee’s post-Kargil speech (129 per 10,000 words) in 2000. Another topic that has remained evergreen over time is Bharat or rural India, with nearly every speech containing an average of 50 references per 10,000 words.

While other prime ministers mentioned education infrequently, Singh consistently spoke about education in his Independence Day speeches, with such references spiking in 2007 (71 per 10,000 words), two years ahead of the enactment of the Right to Education Act in 2009.

Interestingly, references to religion and caste have been fading over the past 30 years, with the highest references to religion made by Rao at the peak of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, demanding construction of a Ram mandir at the disputed Babri Masjid site.

Modi’s speeches have retained the thrust on nationalism and focus on rural topics, but on other issues, he makes far fewer references compared to his predecessors.

Even on themes related to religion and caste, Modi seems to have spent relatively less time than his predecessors. The most striking feature of Modi’s speeches is the theme he has spoken much more than any other: Poverty.


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