While urban voters still back party, rural discontent is rising.

Girish Gaekwad, a school teacher in Dhar town, is upbeat about the Goods and Services Tax and the impact of demonetisation, and cited the measures as steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to usher in a “clean economy”.

Reflecting the importance he attaches to the economy, Mr. Gaekwad also averred that Manmohan Singh was a “great economist”, who didn’t get the “freedom” to perform to the best of his abilities.

Urban Malwa is neatly divided between pro-BJP voices and those who feel that the party may not return to power in the State this time, with the upper castes, particularly traders, still largely with the ruling party. Even the BJP’s staunch backers, however, foresee a keener fight this time.

Deepak Joshi, a more reticent pharmacist, broadly concurred with Mr. Gaekwad. Mr. Joshi predicted that the BJP had a “slight edge” in what would be a tough fight in this month’s polls due to anti-incumbency.

Rural rumblings

This familiar pattern of opinion among voters in the urban areas of western Madhya Pradesh’s Malwa region — traditionally a BJP stronghold — however begins to fade as one travels out to the rural hinterland.

Rural folk are far more critical of the BJP, the Prime Minister and the State’s Chief Minister, and the list of complaints is long: from steeper input costs to below par prices for produce to the Aadhaar “requirement” for accessing subsidies.

And while there is no wave in favour of the Congress, the weariness with the BJP, may make the Congress the default beneficiary.

The key centres of Malwa are Dhar, Indore, Dewas, Ujjain, Shajapur, Rajgarh, Ratlam, Neemuch, Mandsaur, Agar and Jhabua.

In 2014, the BJP made a clean sweep in the Malwa-Nimar region, winning all eight Lok Sabha seats. This time, however, the BJP may find the battle much tougher in the traditional bastion.

There are signs of anti-incumbency against local leaders even in urban stretches.

Shopkeepers and workers at the bustling Dewas Gate area of Ujjain, the religious centre of Malwa, complained that the local MLA and minister Paras Jain was not accessible: something which could benefit the Congress. Mr. Jain has been renominated by the BJP.

“The fight is tougher because the SAPAKS Party is claiming upper caste votes,” said Bhagwan Chauhan, a resident of Ujjain. “However, those who are wise will go with the BJP and the gullible will go with SAPAKS,” he quipped.

Aadhaar woes may hurt

While Shivraj Singh Chouhan is still acknowledged as a Chief Minister who did well in terms of improving roads and providing power over the last decade, complaints of rampant corruption at the “lower rungs” of the administration are heard more frequently.

“He [the CM] was fine earlier,” said Suresh Bhuria, a Bhil from Mohanpura village near Jhabua. “But the present policies of the Central government have not been good for labourers.”

Tribal farm workers said problems with Aadhaar verification were hurting them.

“Our hands aren’t like yours,” said Ramesh Bhuria of Mohanpura. “We are labourers and the thumb impression sometimes changes. The machine may not recognise it, and we are forced to return to the bank the next day.”

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