Against the backdrop of a strong agitation for separate Statehood, the ruling Congress and the major opposition Telugu Desam Party face a tough challenge in the coming bypolls to 12 assembly seats in Telangana region.

The byelection to the 12 seats, which should be held before mid-August as per law, has been necessitated as the sitting MLAs - 10 from TRS and one each from Congress and BJP - quit their posts in support of separate Telangana demand.

The two major parties were in a dilemma over fielding their candidates in the wake of demands from the Telangana Joint Action Committee (JAC) and other pro-Telangana outfits to unanimously elect those who quit.

However, a three-cornered contest among Congress, TDP and TRS appears inevitable as the ruling party has already announced it will indeed fight the elections though some party leaders like CWC member K. Keshava Rao were not in favour of it.

State Congress president D. Srinivas met party Chief Sonia Gandhi yesterday and announced later that the Congress would indeed fight the elections.

“We will definitely contest the elections. The high command has asked me to expedite the preparations,” he said.

TDP has indicated that it will field its candidates if Congress did so.

TRS expects a smooth sailing as the bypolls are being held in the aftermath of the fast-unto-death undertaken by its president K. Chandrasekhar Rao and subsequent agitation for separate Telangana.

The sub-regional party has hinged its hopes on the “Telangana sentiment” for ensuring victory and the test for the party is to see that all its 10 candidates who had quit are re-elected comfortably.

The members of the Telangana JAC and students of Osmania University have been actively campaigning for the victory of those who had resigned from the seats.

JAC Convener M. Kodandaram has written an open letter to the Congress and TDP not to field their nominees and urged the people to vote for candidates who had resigned for the sake of Telangana.

Congress and TDP leaders, however, allege that the JAC is an extension of the TRS. The JAC now comprises only the TRS and some pro-Telangana outfits. While Congress had walked out of the JAC, the TDP was expelled from the committee.

TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao has alleged that the Congress and TDP are not sincere in their commitment to the Telangana cause.

“Congress and TDP leaders did not quit their posts in the first place. Now, they want to contest the bypolls and dilute the Statehood demand by forcing a contest,” Mr. Rao charged.

The ruling party leaders indicated that they will go to the people with the slogan that Telangana is possible only with the Congress.

TDP, which has a strong support base in Telangana, is yet to reveal its strategy for the bypolls.