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In a sudden shift, Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao has sharpened his criticism of BJP in recent days, even echoing Rahul Gandhi’s Rafale allegations and speaking up against Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma’s distasteful remarks against the former. Among the states headed for elections next year, Telangana is the only state that has eluded BJP rule so far. But the party seems to have sensed a groundswell in its favour after two recent bypoll victories and an impressive performance in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections.

Like Mamata Banerjee who restricted operating space for CPM and Congress and paved the way for the rise of BJP amid an opposition vacuum, KCR also followed that template. Virtually the entire Congress legislative contingent, which was the main opposition then, was induced to join the governing TRS. With Congress rudderless, all those opposed to KCR have flocked to BJP and it is now faced with a powerful rival who can match him in resources, rhetoric and ground connect.

Read also: Telangana CM KCR to meet Maharashtra counterpart Uddhav Thackeray on February 20

Telangana, and especially Hyderabad, also happens to be the base of AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi with whom BJP is having a running battle across the country. BJP’s jabs at TRS alleging a covert alliance with AIMIM have also hit a raw nerve among voters, which may explain BJP’s performance in the GHMC elections. In his second term, KCR is finding that the novelty of his welfare schemes may be wearing thin and he has made a strong pitch for federalism. If KCR plays the outsider card against BJP like Mamata, the big question is whether BJP’s local leadership can rise to the occasion.

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