Dehradun, May 26 (PTI) As campaigning for the Champawat bypoll enters its last phase, Congress general secretary Harish Rawat on Thursday said party candidate Nirmala Gehtori will give a "tough fight" to Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami.

Camping in Champawat for the past several days, Rawat has been galvanising senior party leaders and party workers at Champawat Bazar, Tanakpur, Banbasa, Amodi, Sukhidhang and other places, besides appealing to the people through public meetings and padyatras to vote for Gehtori.

We will make sure that the chief minister faces a "tough contest", Rawat told PTI.

"We will make it a tough fight for the CM. Earlier, voters were vocal about supporting the chief minister, but after our persuasion, they have gone silent and are contemplating what should they do," he said. He claimed that the Congress has been able to connect with the people of the constituency. Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami Offers Prayers at Sharda Ghat in the Tanakpur Area.

After Hemesh Kharkwal of the Congress, who was defeated by BJP's Kailash Gehtori in Champawat in the assembly elections, refused to contest the bypoll, the party declared Nirmala Gehtori as its candidate. The announcement lead to some in the state's political circles saying that the Congress had given a "walk over" to the Dhami.

However, Rawat vehemently denied the allegation saying, "There is nothing like that. Initially people did feel that Congress had given a walk over to BJP when Hemesh refused to contest."

"But later people thought of their long association with Nirmala ji who has been actively working for their development for years and stood with them through thick and thin. It is had a huge impact on the voters," he claimed.

Nirmala Gehtori, who is Congress' Champawat district president, district panchayat member and president of the Social Welfare Department, has been instrumental in setting up the Congress here, he said. "Nirmala ji enjoys the status of a party veteran. She has been in the midst of the people. When she meets them, they are reminded of their prolonged association with her which is proving to be an asset for the Congress," Rawat said.

In the assembly elections held in February, the BJP created history by winning 47 of the 70 seats in the state but Dhami, who led his party to victory, lost from Khatima seat. While the BJP made Dhami the chief minister again, he needs to become an MLA within six months of taking oath to continue as the chief minister.

Dhami was sworn in as the chief minister of Uttarakhand for the second time on March 23. Kailash Gehtori had vacated his Champawat seat to clear the way for Dhami to contest the bypoll which will held on May 31. The result will be announced on June 3.