Tamil Nadu's main opposition DMK appears to be tacitly flexing its political muscle in neighbouring Puducherry, where its ally Congress is in power.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi last week watched a Jallikattu bull-taming event in Madurai with DMK Youth Wing leader Udhayanidhi Stalin. But that bonhomie is missing in Puducherry, which will vote along with Tamil Nadu in elections in a few months.
DMK MP S Jagathrakshakan, without referring to the alliance with the Congress and lacing his speech with ambiguity to give the impression that the DMK wants to contest all 30 seats in Puducherry, said at a meeting of party workers yesterday, "You need to give me one assurance, I ask you affectionately. Our leader has given me this responsibility. I've come to your soil".
Dramatically, he added: "Only if you win all 30 seats I'd come. Otherwise I would commit suicide on this stage".
Signs of a strain have been visible in recent weeks. The DMK did not attend a special assembly session called by the Congress government on the Centre's farm laws that have led to massive farmer protests. In more troubling signs for the partnership, the DMK skipped Chief Minister V Narayanasamy's public roadside protests against Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi.
The DMK has three MLAs in the current assembly and the Congress has 14. The AIADMK has four seats and the All India NR Congress has seven.
Sources say Mr Jagathrakshakan is looking to contest the polls with the PMK, which wants special category quota for the powerful Vanniyar castes.
Mr Jagathrakshakan's personal ambitions are also believed to have exacerbated alliance troubles despite the strong ties between the parties in Tamil Nadu. The DMK leader is said to be eying the Chief Minister's post, that sets him at cross purposes with Mr Narayanasamy.
There is also a view that the DMK wants to cut its losses in Puducherry after predicting that the Congress led by Mr Narayanasamy is unlikely to return to power.
However, the DMK needs the Congress in Puducherry as much as the Congress needs the DMK in Tamil Nadu. In the last election, the DMK won only two of the nine seats it contested. It won a third seat in bypolls.
The rift has emerged days before Rahul Gandhi's three-day visit to Tamil Nadu to review poll preps and address election meetings.
The DMK, which has been in power in the Puducherry in the past, denies any rift. A senior DMK leader told NDTV, "Our focus is Tamil Nadu. Jagathrakshakan's speech has to be seen as pep talk only. People of Puducherry won't accept an outsider as chief minister, nor would he be interested. We ARE yet to initiate alliance talks with the Congress on Puducherry. Winnability alone will be the key factor and if required, our party will ask to contest in more seats than the Congress".