The first phase districts go to the polls on February 11th. These are mostly western districts where the BSP has traditionally had a strong presence. Meanwhile, in Bahraich district of Northern UP, the SP and BSP are neck in neck. The BSP seems to have given tickets to a wide range of candidates, and certainly not exclusively Dalit candidates. In Bahraich district, for instance, the BSP gave a ticket to a prominent Thakur, in the hopes of rallying Hindus (and not just Dalits), in a constituency that has a large Muslim community.
It is unclear whether the SP will suffer from being the incumbent. When I left in 2015, there were very strong anti-incumbent feelings and many predicted the return of Mayawati. But Akhilesh seems to have benefitted from the recent family feud. Many, in Lucknow at least, would seem happy with a SP sarkar as long as MSY remains sidelined. Akhilesh is also a young candidate, who has invested heavily in rehabilitating parts of Lucknow and seems more in tune with UP’s relatively young(er) voters.