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In his first press meet since his release from Delhi’s Tihar jail on bail after 106 days, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram began with criticising the government over the detention of political leaders, without charges, in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

“As I stepped out and breathed the air of freedom, my first thoughts and prayers were for the 75 lakh people of the Kashmir Valley who have been denied their basic freedoms since August 4. Freedom is indivisible, if we must preserve our freedom, we must fight for their freedom,” he said and added he will visit the Valley if the “government allows him”.

During his 106-day stay in prison, he has only become stronger, he told reporters, before he began censuring the government for the economic slowdown.

“The government is wrong because it’s clueless. It (the government) is stubborn and mulish in defending its catastrophic mistakes such as demonetisation, GST, tax terrorism, regulatory overkill, protectionism and centralised control of decision-making in the PMO,” the Congress leader said at the party headquarters in Delhi.

Criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his silence on the “explosive issue”, he said, “We will be lucky to end the year if growth touches 5%. Dr Arvind Subramanian’s caution that 5 per cent under this government, because of suspect methodology, is not really 5 per cent but less by about 1.5 per cent. The Prime Minister has been unusually silent on the economy. He has left it to his ministers to indulge in bluff and bluster. The net result is that the government has turned out to be an ‘incompetent manager’ of the economy.”

“If the diagnosis is wrong, the prescription will be useless, may be even fatal. Even after seven months into the fiscal year, the BJP government believes that the problems faced by the economy are cyclical,” he added.

This slowdown in economy is a “man-made catastrophe” and completely unacceptable, he said.

“The government is calling the present slowdown ‘cyclical’. Thank god they have not called it ‘seasonal’. It is ‘structural’ and the government has no solutions or reforms that would address the structural problems,” he said.

Underscoring that there is less demand because people have less money and less appetite to consume due to uncertainty and fear. “Unless the demand increases, there will not be increased production/output or increased investment,” the former Union minister said.

Chidambaram also claimed that while “the UPA lifted 140 million people out of poverty between 2004 and 2014. The NDA has, since 2016, pushed millions of people below the poverty line”.

Earlier in the day, he went to the Rajya Sabha for the ongoing Winter Session and joined a protest by Congress MPs against the skyrocketing prices of onions.

The 74-year-old Congressman walked out of Tihar Jail last evening after the Supreme Court granted him a conditional bail. Chidambaram can’t travel without the court’s permission and has to appear for questioning when required. He has also been banned from making public statements on the case, giving interviews or contacting witnesses.

The BJP reminded P Chidambaram that he has violated his bail conditions on the very first day. “The court had asked him to not give any public statement on the case as a condition for bail but Chidambaram ji today said that his record as a minster was very clear,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said.

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