Union Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the new Uttar Pradesh administration’s crackdown on illegal abattoirs and said cow protectionism was the spirit behind India’s freedom struggle. “Over the centuries there had been leather tanning industry...[but] that has not obstructed cow protectionism that has been a part of our freedom movement’s call,” said Sitharaman. She was replying to questions raised by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday on the availability of raw materials for the leather industry.

She also backed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath on the issue and said that it was the “legitimate duty” that he was undertaking. “The chief minister is doing what is the spirit behind the freedom movement,” she added. Later, the House passed a Bill that declared the Footwear Design and Development Institute an academy of national importance.

Opposition parties, including the Congress, the Communist Party of India and the Trinamool Congress Party expressed concerns about the recent spurt of activism by cow vigilantes. During the debate, CPIM’s Mohammed Salim also mentioned the lynch mob that allegedly killed a person in Alwar, Rajasthan, on the suspicion that he was smuggling cows. Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that such people were indulging in “competitive fundamentalism”. He highlighted that while the government was shutting down illegal slaughterhouses on one side, it was still promoting export of beef, reported The Times of India.

Quashing these concerns as baseless, Sitharaman asked the Oppostion why they were suddenly so agitated about what is happening in Uttar Pradesh. She claimed that there was nothing new about the crackdown in the state. She also assured the Opposition leaders that the leather industry will not suffer in the wake of the ban on illegal sluaghterhouses. “We should not exaggerate a situation where a genuine attempt is being made by a chief minister to legalise the matter and to not encourage illegal practices,” she said. “This country has given legitimate leather for the leather industry and that would continue.”

Days after becoming the chief minister of the state, Adityanath had directed the UP police to begin closing down illegal slaughterhouses. He had also ordered a blanket ban on the smuggling of cows in Uttar Pradesh.