It was shadow boxing earlier between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Punjab. It is now graduating into a fight at the ground level. The two supposedly allies are doing everything to step on each others' feet.
Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the Punjab deputy chief minister and home minister, has challenged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop the cultivation and production of drugs in BJP-ruled states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Badal even wants Modi to take up the issue of drug smuggling into Punjab from Pakistan with Islamabad.
The reasons for Badal's latest posturing vis-a-vis the BJP and Modi are not hard to analyse.
Modi, during a recent radio address, specifically mentioned Punjab's rampant drugs problem, upsetting the Akalis. Second, the Enforcement Directorate, under the union finance ministry, summoned and questioned Punjab's powerful Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia for over four hours.
Majithia, the younger brother of union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Sukhbir Badal's wife), had to face the music following allegations by a drug racket kingpin that he (Majithia) was linked to three NRIs accused of money laundering in a Rs.6,000-crore international synthetic drug racket busted by Punjab Police in 2013.
As Majithia was questioned last month, BJP leaders demanded that he quit the Punjab government. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal ruled out his resignation.
The Punjab government has now started a PR exercise to "expose" that the drugs problem was not Punjab's creation but "forced" on it by BJP-ruled states, by Pakistan and Afghanistan and states like Himachal Pradesh and Haryana where pharmaceutical units were producing synthetic drugs.
After the Lok Sabha polls last year, relations between long-time allies Akali Dal and BJP have been on the brink. Both have tried to embarrass one another.
Be it through BJP leader Navjot Singh Sidhu's barbs against the Badals, the BJP-led central government trying to upstage the Akalis by announcing enhanced compensation to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots victims and the Akali Dal trying to hit back when the compensation was not implemented immediately, the controversy around Majithia or their stand over drugs - both are trying to outwit each other politically.
The BJP is starting an anti-drugs campaign in Punjab Jan 22.
At the same time, both the Badals, last month, met BJP president Amit Shah in New Delhi and, after posing for the photo-op, declared that "all is well" between both parties.
Having tasted success in recent assembly elections in other states, the BJP is looking at a bigger pie for itself in Punjab in the 2017 assembly polls. Till now, the Akali Dal used to give 23 seats to the BJP in the 117-member assembly to contest.
The BJP is in no mood to play the second fiddle. In that scenario, the BJP-Akali relationship could head the same way the BJP-Shiv Sena split in Maharashtra before the assembly polls last year.
On top of everything, the BJP has turned down the Akali Dal's demand for the release of 13 Khalistani terorists from prisons. The BJP, its leaders say, is preparing itself for bigger things in Punjab - with or without the Akali Dal.