The Bharatiya Janta Party has caught the ruling Congress off guard in Rajasthan by fielding expelled Congress leader Sushila Sigra for the Mandawa Assembly byelection. Two rival groups in the Jhunjhunu district unit fighting for dominance in the Jat-dominated seat have added to the misery of the Congress.Mandawa, falling in the Shekhawati region, was earlier considered a stronghold of veteran Congress leader Ram Narayan Chaudhary, who died in 2012, while Ms. Sigra was known to be a supporter of the rival camp of Jhunjhunu MLA Brijendra Ola, who is the son of Congress stalwart, the late Sis Ram Ola. The BJP expects to make a significant dent in the Jat vote bank with Ms. Sigra joining the party with a large number of her supporters.Ms. Sigra, pradhan in the Jhunjhunu panchayat samiti, was expelled from the Congress after the 2018 Assembly election for alleged anti-party activities. She joined the BJP last month. BJP’s Narendra Khinchar, who had won the seat in 2018, vacated it after his election to the Lok Sabha this year.BJP MLA from Lunkaransar, Sumit Godara, camping in Mandawa, told The Hindu that Ms. Sigra was known for strengthening the panchayat bodies in the region and had won excellence awards at the national level. “Moreover, the BJP is willing to accommodate leaders from different political backgrounds if they have selflessly served the people,” he said.Congress candidate Rita Chaudhary, daughter of Mr. Ram Narayan Chaudhary, had lost to Mr. Khichar in the 2018 Assembly election by a margin of 2,346 votes, though she had earlier defeated him in 2008. In her campaign trail, she highlighted the development works and drinking water projects undertaken during her 2008-13 tenure as the MLA.Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot addressed a public meeting to mark Mr. Chaudhary’s death anniversary at Jhunjhunu district headquarters on Friday. Political analyst Ashfaq Kayamkhani said the senior Congress leaders were unwilling to come to Mandawa because of the Jat community’s perceived unhappiness with the present regime.Mandawa Block Congress president Naresh Soni said the voters would trust Ms. Chaudhary for taking forward her father’s legacy and affirmed that there was a “sympathy wave” in her favour because she had lost by a thin margin last time. “People remember her achievement of successful implementation of the ₹3,200 crore Kumbharam lift canal project, which brought Himalayan waters to the remote villages and hamlets here.”As the Assembly seat witnesses a neck-and-neck contest between the two women candidates, the voters expect the rival parties to focus on development of the largely desert region, also known for its fascinating ‘havelis’ (mansions), in order to improve the health, nutrition and education levels of the local populace.