With doctors signalling that Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa will not be able to leave hospital soon, O Panneerselvam, who filled in for her when she was arrested two years ago, has been assigned her eight portfolios or departments in Tamil Nadu.
Mr Panneerselvam will also chair cabinet meetings, said a statement from Governor Vidyasagar Rao, adding that the changes have been made on the advice of Ms Jayalalithaa, who is being treated for a lung infection and has been on respiratory support for several days, according to her doctors.
The 68-year-old was admitted on September 22. Her party, the ruling AIADMK, said reports that she was seriously unwell were erroneous and that she was being treated for fever and dehydration. But over the weeks, the medical updates released by Apollo Hospital have outlined bigger problems while stressing that the former movie star is responding well to the treatment that is being supervised by a UK specialist and a team of three doctors from Delhi's AIIMS hospital.
The announcement this evening refutes the opposition DMK's demand for an interim chief minister to be appointed to ensure the state's governance is not compromised especially at a time of a crucial water dispute with neighbouring Karnataka which is being mediated by the Supreme Court.
Mr Panneerselvam was hand-picked by Ms Jayalalithaa as her stand-in when she was arrested on corruption charges. After being acquitted, she picked up where she had left off. Mr Panneerselvam exhibited his loyalty to his party boss by refusing to use her office or the seat assigned to the chief minister in the state legislature while she was in jail. When he took oath, he wept openly.