Late on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi blindsided the nation with his biggest step against tax evasion, many Indians turned to Google Inc. for help.
” How to convert black money into white money” was trending on the search engine, with queries surging soon after Modi announced the ban on 500 rupee and 1,000 rupee ($15) notes, rendering 86 percent of currency in circulation worthless. ‘Black money’ is the local term for cash stashed away to avoid tax.
“This one decision will change social culture, in the way people keep money and spend,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters on Wednesday about the government’s move. “The honest person has the satisfaction to be honest and the not-so-honest worry.”
Most of the searches on Google were from Modi’s home state of Gujarat, Google Trends show, a region known for its entrepreneurial spirit, small traders and jewelers that form the power base of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Maharashtra, which includes the financial hub Mumbai, came in second followed by Haryana, which has been in the news over the past months for controversial real estate deals including some with alleged links to the main opposition Congress Party.
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The property sector will be among the hardest hit from Modi’s move, brokerages including CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, Credit Suisse Group AG and Nomura Holdings Inc. predicted. The S&P BSE India Realty Index, comprising 11 property stocks, plunged as much as 16.5 percent on Wednesday, the biggest drop since 2009, before rising 4.6 percent as of 11:07 a.m. on Thursday amid a broader market rebound.
In fact, if you amend the Google Trends query to ” how to convert black money,” Haryana tops the list with Gujarat close behind. Other states asking the same question include Punjab, which is due to hold elections early next year, and the capital Delhi. Unexplained cash often crops up at election time to bribe voters.
Overall, Indians sought more information about the government’s planned new currency notes that include better security features. Questions on these were among the top five searched topics for Google from India on Tuesday. India has 277 million internet users, the world’s largest after China, according to the 2016 Internet Trends report by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
I bet Modi must not have thought about that.