Policies promoting the ‘joint management’ (i.e. between the state and resource users) of resources such as forests or water are currently in vogue in India and elsewhere. Many see advantage in the decentralised administration that these arrangements imply. However, they also imply a redistribution of power and so are profoundly political, and their success, if real, cannot be fully explained in terms of a rent-seeking, all-powerful, bureaucratic state. This paper lays out the more complex politics underpinning joint management, assessing interaction between the political and administrative wings of government and the influence of semi-autonomous actors such as donors, NGOs and academics, and identifies the potential for and route towards more, if gradual, decentralisation in the future.