Despite Sasikala vs OPS, Why Doesn’t TN Have a Full-Time Governor?

C Vidyasagar Rao, the governor of Maharashtra has been given additional charge of Tamil Nadu since September 2016

3 min read
Sasikala Natarajan and Maharashtra Governor C. Vidyasagar Rao, who has additional charge of Tamil Nadu, pay tribute to Jayalalithaa in Chennai on December 6 2016. (Photo: IANS)

When Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa suffered a cardiac arrest in Chennai, acting governor C Vidyasagar Rao was away in Mumbai. He left a ceremonial programme midway and rushed to Chennai, which could have erupted in violence.

Now, Tamil Nadu is facing a crisis again. The Chief Minister has resigned, but his resignation has not been accepted. The ruling party has chosen a new leader, but she has not been invited to form a government. AIADMK workers are out on the streets and the Governor is sitting 1,300 km away at the convocation ceremony of the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai.

That’s because the Modi government has chosen not to give Tamil Nadu, a state with a population of 8 crore, a full-time Governor. C Vidyasagar Rao, the Governor of Maharashtra, has held additional charge of Tamil Nadu since September 2016.


No One to Firefight

Tamil Nadu is not only a large state, it is also politically sensitive and emotionally charged. So, during a time of political instability, the role of a Governor is important.

Common sense demands that the Governor should be in Chennai as the situation is fluid. He also needs to clarify whether he’s going to accept O Panneerselvam’s resignation. Or if he’ll wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict in a disproportionate assets case against Sasikala, which can possibly debar her from holding a public office.

Why this Fixation with Rao?

Generally, veterans of the ruling party are appointed as Governors. Congress did this for several decades and now BJP is doing the same thing.

There was speculation in August 2016 that a senior BJP leader would be sent to the Raj Bhavan in Chennai. But instead of making a new appointment from among the veterans of the party's 'Margadarshak Mandal', Rao was given an additional assignment.

74-year-old Rao has been active in politics since his days as a student leader at Osmania University in Hyderabad.  As an ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad) leader, he took on Marxists on the campus. The influential leader from the Velama community was later instrumental in shaping the BJP in Telangana.


Rao was a minister of state in the Vajpayee government. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Karimnagar in Telangana. Over the years, he grew closer to Narendra Modi. That he has an RSS background make his credentials for the post even better.

Both Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are politically crucial. Maharashtra has a BJP government, but the party lacks a majority in the Assembly. With the Shiv Sena threatening to withdraw support every now and then, the Governor’s role could be pivotal.

On the other hand, the BJP has a negligible presence in Tamil Nadu, a state with 39 MPs. It’s one of the few states where the BJP has tried hard but hasn’t succeeded.

With Jayalalithaa’s death and a possible split in the AIADMK, it wouldn’t be a surprise if BJP smells an opportunity. Having a Governor with political acumen in the state suits the BJP government at the Centre.

That is probably the reason why Rao has been given the charge of Tamil Nadu as well, even though many disgruntled veterans of the party are awaiting their retirement bonuses.

(A version of this article was published in December.)

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