Bhopal: The man who symbolised terror decades ago in the state capital of Indore from his den Bambai Bazaar, Bala Baig, has died at the age of 81 as a Sufi saint.
Suffering from age-related issues, Bala, who once contested against former Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan and ex-chief minister Prakash Chand Sethi, breathed his last on Thursday.
In the 1980s, Bala had earned a reputation for himself in the Bambai bazaar area of Indore, a den of all sorts of unlawful activities. A soft-spoken man, his presence could send chill down the spines of many, say locals who knew Bala closely.
His father, Qaramat ‘Pahalwan’ Baig, had reached Indore from Afghanistan to try his luck in wrestling and after receiving patronage from the Holkars, the erstwhile rulers of Indore, he settled in the city’s Bambai bazaar area.
Baig senior had three wives and 10 sons and Bala was the eldest among the children from his second wife. It is said that Bala was close to Mumbai (then Bombay)’s Haji Mastan and used to handle the late underworld don’s affairs in Indore.
By the 80s, Bambai Bazaar had emerged as a den of all sorts of illegal activities, including gambling, betting and flesh trade. The houses in the area were designed in such a way that they enabled criminals to flee at the wink of an eye whenever any police crackdown happened.
Local women would also stand in the way of police personnel during raids and by the time the narrow bylanes got cleared, these men would flee. Bala’s clout was dismantled by the then Indore superintendent of police, Anil Dhasmana (1988-1991), who later went on to become the chief of the Research and Analytical Wing (RAW).
Following a law and order crisis in the area in 1991, Dhasmana decided to act against Bala and others. One of Bala’s family members threw a heavy object at the officer and his bodyguard, who saved Dhasmana, later died after sustaining grievous injuries.
Soon after, Operation Bambai Bazaar was launched with heavy police force surrounding the entire area and criminals being arrested from their homes.
It is said Dhasmana had personally barged into Bala’s home and arrested him. Police had then dismantled all the illegal dens. Bala and his brother spent three years in jail and were released after the high court altered certain sections under which they were booked.
Shattered by the police action at his establishments, Baig, now a free man, embraced Sufism and spent several years as a ‘khidmatgar (caretaker) at a dargah near Ujjain.
At one point, the Baig family enjoyed considerable clout among mainstream political parties with Bala himself contesting the Lok Sabha election against Sumitra Mahajan and then chief minister PC Sethi in 1989. Though he lost the election despite securing 90,000 votes, he ensured Sethi’s defeat as well.
His step-brother, Arif Baig, had contested the parliamentary elections in 1977 and defeated Shankar Dayal Sharma, who later went on to become the President of India. Arif was a prominent Muslim face of the state for years and had also become a Union minister. He died in 2016 at the age of 81 years.
One of their brothers, Akhtar Baig is a Congress leader and had landed in a controversy after announcing a prize of Rs 1 crore for anyone who chopped off the hands of renowned painter late MF Hussain.
A Bhopal-based historian, who wished to remain anonymous, said Bala was a perfect human being to those who were good to him and became an evil for those who acted against him.
He was a popular figure in Indore and always extended a helping hand to those in need and his step-brother Arif was the first and only MLA from the minority community to have represented Indore till now on a Samajwadi Party ticket in 1966.
Socialist Ram Manohar Lohia had once even paid the security deposit of Rs 150 for Arif’s election, the historian said. Bala had also joined the Janta Dal and was said to be close to late PM VP Singh.