Several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders on Wednesday attended a virtual satsang, or religious meeting, held by Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, ANI reported.

Singh, who has been convicted of murder and rape, is currently out on parole for 40 days. His temporary release from the Sunaria jail in Haryana’s Rohtak district coincides with the Adampur bye-poll on November 3 and Haryana panchayat elections on November 12.

The mayor of Karnal city Renu Bala Gupta, deputy mayor Naveen Kumar and senior deputy mayor Rajesh Aggi attended the religious meeting.

Aggi said that several residents from his ward have been associated with Singh. “We reached the programme from social connection and it has nothing to do with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the upcoming bye-poll election,” he claimed, according to ANI.

Meanwhile, Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij claimed that he had nothing to do with the granting of parole to Singh and that the decision is taken by the jail department. “If a person from Karnal believes in Gurmeet Ram Rahim and has gone to see him, then what is the connection with Adampur polls?” he asked.

This is the third time Singh has been granted temporary release from prison this year. In June, the sect leader was released on month-long parole ahead of the Sangrur bye-election in Punjab. In February, he was granted a 21-day furlough ahead of the Punjab Assembly elections.

While a prisoner is granted parole based on an urgent demand or need, a furlough can be given without any reason after serving a stipulated amount of time in prison.

Opposition leaders on Wednesday criticised the BJP for attending the religious meeting. Congress spokesperson Shama Mohamed asked whether the BJP needs the blessings of rapists and murderers to win elections. “Does PM Modi approve of this?” she asked. “This is the truth of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao!”

Congress leader and former MP Udit Raj alleged that the BJP was using Singh for political gains, NDTV reported. “They [BJP] don’t care about the law, and all laws are swept under the carpet,” he said.

Singh and four others are serving life imprisonment for the murder of a former manager of the sect. He was sentenced by a special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Haryana’s Panchkula town in October. The Dera Sacha Sauda chief is also serving a 20-year term in prison for raping two of his followers.