In the midst of a raging battle between Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N Gopalaswami and his colleague Navin Chawla, the three-member poll panel on Tuesday held an all-party meeting to begin preparations for the Lok Sabha polls with participants stressing on fair conduct of the democratic process.
Expressing concern over the stand off between the two commissioners, political parties across the spectrum appealed to the Commission to uphold the high standards of neutrality in the run up to the elections.
All the parties were also united in their stance that there should not be too many polling phases and the exercise not stretched long, as they got down to discussing the logistics of the elections scheduled for April-May.
Representatives of at least seven national parties and 32 regional parties attended the meeting.
Both Gopalaswami and Chawla walked in together smiling and posed for cameras before getting down to business at the conference room.
An unseemly fracas has gripped India's poll panel with Gopalaswami writing to President Pratibha Patil saying he found Chawla's behaviour to be partisan and demanding his removal.
Participating in the proceedings at the meeting, Minister of Science and Technology Kapil Sibal representing the Congress, said: "We expect that the Election Commission acts fairly. People are expecting a fair attitude in the conduct of elections."
BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who attended the first of a series of meetings before the elections, told reporters: "We are concerned that a constitutional body like the Election Commission has been shrouded in controversy just when it is performing the most important democratic exercise."
"It is not about protecting an individual but about a crucial constitutional body, for a free, fair and impartial conduct of elections," Naqvi said at the meeting.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) was pleased to see all the three election commissioners together. "We are happy to see all the three of them together," party leader Sitaram Yechury said.
The Commission has also convened a review meeting on Wednesday with chief electoral officers of all the states and union territories. Issues related to electoral roll revision and the status of photo electoral roll will be taken up.
Later this week, the Election Commission will hold discussions with chief secretaries and directors general of police of all the states and union territories on law and order issues and the deployment of security forces for the elections.
While the Congress left it to the Election Commission to decide the poll dates, CPI-M's Yechury insisted that the schedule of polling should not be stretched beyond three weeks.
The BJP said the bottom line should be that the people of all sections of the society were able to vote freely and fairly. The examination schedules of schools and colleges also needed to be factored in when planning the schedule.
"Special observers should be appointed and arrangements made to check use of money and muscle power," BJP's Naqvi said.
"We also told the members that there should be a universal policy on poll advertisements of all forms. It is necessary to monitor surrogate advertisements," Naqvi told IANS.
The CPI-M also stressed that single-phase polling should be maintained in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu where elections are usually held over a day.