Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati announced on Thursday that 21 per cent of all construction related contracts given out by government departments, or by corporations either partly or wholly owned by the state, would be reserved for scheduled castes. Another two per cent would be reserved for scheduled tribes.
“The rule will apply only to small contracts up to a limit of Rs 5 lakh,” she qualified.
Although government jobs in the state are reserved for Dalits and tribals in the same proportion, this is the first time contracts are being reserved as well.
Political observers see the step as an effort by Mayawati to reaffirm her party’s hold over its core constituency, the Dalits.
In recent years Mayawati had been aggressively trying to garner votes from communities other than Dalit — particularly Brahmins and Muslims — realising that Dalit votes alone, comprising barely a fifth of the electorate, could not bring her party to power. Her efforts succeeded during the May 2007 assembly polls, when the Bahujan Samaj Party won a clear majority.
But the reverses the BSP faced in last month’s Lok Sabha elections, winning only 20 of the state’s 80 seats, against the Congress’s 21, appears to have sparked the realisation that the party’s Dalit constituency could not be taken for granted either.
“The Congress has made definite inroads into the Dalit votebank...,” said a senior BSP leader, unwilling to be named. “We’ve to fight back to retain our supporters.”
With the public sector shrinking and the Supreme Court cap of 50 per cent permissible reservation already reached in the state, it is no longer possible for the government to increase job opportunities for Dalits. “The chief minister has found a new means of empowering Dalits,” said the BSP leader.
Mayawati also said her government intended to pick 2000 Dalit-dominated villages, and develop them extensively.