For most of Wednesday when property owned by fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim went under the hammer in Mumbai, ‘4.28’ was trending on Twitter. The number started trending after former journalist S Balakrishnan emerged the top bidder at Rs 4.28 crore for the food joint Delhi Zaika, earlier hotel Rounak Afroz, on Pakmodia Street.
As speculation swirled about Balakrishnan being a front for Dawood or a rival gangster, the 63-year-old journalist-turned-activist said, “I am not under anyone’s obligation. I had sources in both gangs, but never did I take even a refill for my plastic pen. My pen is not purchasable and my conscience is clear.”
Born on October 27, 1952, Balakrishnan spent his childhood at Matunga, before his family moved to Ghatkopar and then to Chembur. It was a journalist neighbour who influenced Balakrishnan to get into the profession. Balakrishnan saw an advertisement for a job at The Times of India. He appeared for the interview and got the job.
“Then, the crime beat was meant for junior reporters, but I decided to keep a tab on the underworld. I used to meet Varadarajan Mudaliar, where I met many people from the underworld,” said Balakrishnan, who covered Dawood’s gang as a crime reporter.
Balakrishnan was offered a Lok Sabha ticket by the Congress, but he refused as “it would have been very expensive”. In 1985, the Congress again offered a ticket for the municipal elections. “I took leave for a month and campaigned extensively at the then Ward No. 149. I was elected and I served as a corporator till 1992,” said Balakrishnan.
A decade ago, Balakrishnan formed Desh Seva Samiti, an NGO that works for slum children. It was on behalf of Desh Seva Samiti that he bid for the Dawood property. Balakrishnan plans to open a computer training centre there.
However, Balakrishnan’s decision has not gone down too well with some. “He lives in Chembur and not far from his residence are the slums of Govandi, where children do not get good schooling facilities. Investing money there would have been much logical. If it was his personal money, then there were no qualms about his choice of investment, but his NGO will be funded by the public.” said a senior Urdu journalist, on condition of anonymity.
Balakrishnan, however, stands by his decision. “There is an idea that stands behind this. A man dictates terms from across the border and there is no one who was willing to bid for his properties earlier except for a Delhi-based lawyer. It is not a piece of property, but a symbol to uphold national honour. I am getting support from Bhendi Bazaar,” he said.